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5 Tips to keep your business thriving digitally during COVID-19 shutdown

Here are five tips for keeping your businesses digitally productive during the coronavirus shutdown.

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Photo by Johnson Wang from Unsplash.com

COVID-19 isn’t only a global health crisis. As the lockdowns continue to stretch, its socio-economic impacts are also being highlighted, with millions of companies worldwide at risk of being forced out of business. This is particularly more apparent among MSMEs (micro, small and medium-sized enterprises) and their workers.

But being stuck at home (or wherever you may be, as a business owner) need not be entirely futile. True North Social, an L.A.-based digital agency that specializes in small to medium-sized businesses – and that is constantly testing new ways of reaching potential customers for clients – shares five tips for keeping your businesses digitally productive during the coronavirus shutdown.

1. People are home, and they are shopping online.

No one wants to go into a public place if they can avoid it. Consumers who are used to consuming, and still have the means, are prepped for digital spending.  E-commerce brands should have ads ready to coincide.

2. Take Advantage of the “work from home” users.

Currently there are 113 million Instagram accounts active in the US alone. In a 2018 survey, 29% of US workers said they could work from home without any issues. Double that number during this pandemic and you get a potential 65.5 million people staying home using their devices and reachable with your message/product.

3. Stay the course.

In the words of the 1999’s comedy classic, Galaxy Quest, “Never Give Up. Never Surrender.”  Even if your business is shut down temporarily you can keep its message alive online. Positivity is an immune booster. Pivot and be creative. When the dust settles, plan to come out kicking. 

4. Do all those digital marketing tasks you’ve been meaning to.

You definitely have a website, have you posted a blog recently? Maybe do two?

We know you listen to podcasts. If you always thought, “I could do that” – draft useful info from your field of expertise; set up a microphone and post your audio links to social media!  

Haven’t yet spent money reaching out to Influencers?  They’re home now too.  Direct message targeted influencers and get some conversations going.

5. Try new avenues to increase your reach.

Did you know for about $20; you can reach around 18,000 Facebook users? You have time now to test and scale ads – and reach people hiding from the virus. 

Need to spruce up or create Facebook ads?  Try apps like Mojo, Story Art, or Unfold.  Did you know video on Facebook has a whopping 86% higher reach than YouTube?

Google too complicated for you? Third party tools like SEM Rush are user friendly and can help you determine keywords that are less competitive, thus less expensive to compete over.

Strategies

Rebuilding retail after the pandemic

To help retailers understand the new normal, Zebra Technologies has identified the pandemic-related industry changes as the 3 Waves. This outlines the recovery process of most retailers, spanning the immediate changes that ensured stability in the early days and the longer-term, strategic changes that will become institutionalized.

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Photo by Kaique Rocha from Unsplash.com

The pandemic has caused a noticeable change in consumer behavior, which in turn necessitates a corresponding change in every retailer’s business processes. As the Philippines reopens its economy, businesses are reassessing their strategies and recovery plans differently. In fact, about 45% of business owners are hesitant to resume their operations, according to a survey by the World Bank, National Economic and Development Authority and Department of Finance.

Retailers are used to reacting to evolving market demands, and they understand that the pandemic’s impact on the industry is likely to be long-lasting, even after a vaccine is found. To help retailers understand the new normal, Zebra Technologies has identified the pandemic-related industry changes as the 3 Waves. This outlines the recovery process of most retailers, spanning the immediate changes that ensured stability in the early days and the longer-term, strategic changes that will become institutionalized.

WAVE 1: MAINTAINING BUSINESS STABILITY

Wave 1 started when global economies began to shut down in early March 2020, and many retailers were forced to stop operations in response to quarantine protocols. Many had to cut back on costs to stay afloat. Those that kept their operations had to optimize resources and labor hours while ensuring employee health and safety.

When panic buying started to strain supply chains in the early months of the lockdown, retailers realized that conventional demand planning models no longer worked. They had to find new ways to meet consumer needs without compromising their employees’ safety or incurring greater costs.

Retailers immediately started investing in technologies that could give them a crystal-clear picture of what was happening within their four walls and their supply chains. Many retailers increased their use of mobile computing and scanning solutions, helping boost their capacity to replenish orders, speed up end-to-end fulfillment and accommodate customers’ basic needs and wants both in-store and online.

Based on the collective feedback from retail leaders and store associates, the biggest lessons during Wave 1 were the importance of:

1.  Real-time operational visibility

Retailers should invest in technologies that improve their capacity and speed in managing their inventory to cope with the demand, while providing them with real-time visibility across the supply chain at the same time.

According to Zebra’s APAC Shopper Study, 88% of retailers agree that maintaining real-time inventory visibility is a significant challenge. And up to 85% say their companies need better inventory management tools to ensure accuracy.

Having access to data on operations in real time will help retailers to address consumer needs immediately and avoid either under- or over-inventory situations. This enables retailers to ensure operational efficiency and business resilience even amid pandemic constraints.

2. Distributing actionable intelligence to store associates and supply chain partners

In any given day, especially during the pandemic, store employees and supply chain partners face challenges in assisting customers. Retailers must provide them with the right tools to attend to customers’ needs by swiftly locating inventory within their stores and knowing how much inventory is left so they can get it replenished. This prevents loss of sales and translates to greater customer satisfaction thereby improving business outcomes.

This is where prescriptive analytics, intelligent automation, wearables and handheld mobile computers become exceptionally handy.

3. Overcommunicating with customers, especially when you aren’t going to be able to deliver what they want on time or at all

When stay-at-home orders were issued, many consumers had to stop going to physical stores and relied solely on online shopping for their groceries and other essentials. Being unable to see store shelves, consumers had to rely on real-time stock inventory information presented on the website or mobile app to know whether an item was available.

According to a study conducted by Nielsen during the Enhanced Community Quarantine, 27% of Filipino consumers switched brands in certain categories because the products from their preferred brands were out of stock. In such cases, the lack of communication about what is available and the inability to provide alternatives to consumers created frustration among consumers. This compromised their trust in the retailers’ capability to meet their demands and needs.

4. Prioritizing worker and customer safety above all else and compensating associates for the risks they’re taking on the front lines

Some retailers provided financial aid to their employees to help them during the pandemic. But beyond the monetary assistance, store associates are more inclined to come to work and give their 100% when they feel they are being taken care of and are physically protected. Employees expected and appreciated efforts by retailers to maintain strict social distancing and sanitization measures, especially during the early months of the quarantine when paranoia about the virus was so high. These measures included frequent disinfection of shared scanning and mobile devices and the investment in “personal” protective wearables. 

WAVE 2: A NEW RETAIL NORMAL

As operations started to stabilize, essential retailers were able to focus on institutionalizing new ways to engage customers with online and in-store experiences. Retail leaders made efforts to get people in and out of stores as quickly as possible. They ensured physical distancing through several measures, such as limiting the number of people allowed in the store at any given time, setting up directional flow lines and installing dividers to prevent contact. Temperature checks, regular disinfection and other cleaning regiments helped provide a safe environment for both shoppers and store associates. 

Even when the pandemic quiets down, retailers will still take precautions to maximize the health and safety of both customers and employees in stores, corporate offices and warehouses. Services such as “buy online, pick up in store” (BOPIS) with curbside pickup options, contactless purchases and increased integration between digital and physical experiences will become the standard means of engaging with customers.

WAVE 3: LONG-TERM TRANSFORMATION

At some level, the long-term transformation in Wave 3 should occur simultaneously with Wave 2. The pandemic is accelerating retail digitization by several years. As retailers prioritize new technologies and solutions to ride the tide of increased online shopping, such new approaches will be part of efforts to ensure retail business viability moving forward.

Retailers have no choice but to accelerate planned efforts to increase product sourcing diversity, leverage intelligent automation and scale e-commerce fulfillment capabilities. As such, businesses should consider prioritizing increased product sourcing diversity, intelligent automation and optimizing last-mile delivery to achieve greater resiliency and backend efficiency.

When demand for certain non-discretionary products spiked as news around COVID-19 broke, Philippines’ Department of Trade and Industry imposed limitations on the purchase of basic commodities to prevent supply shortage. Many retailers, however, have not yet diversified their product sources to a point where backend shortages remain “invisible.”  This reinforces the need for product sourcing diversification to ensure enough supply. 

The combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics can bring data-driven approaches to supplier quality, merchandising, distribution, and logistics and fulfillment, giving retail leaders the insights necessary to maximize value capture. Instead of reacting to external forces and rapid changes in consumer behavior, intelligent automation creates opportunities to operate more proactively.

As the pandemic emphasizes the need to improve e-commerce and logistics capabilities, retailers are realizing the need to enable and optimize last-mile delivery to satisfy customer expectations, reduce marginal costs and improve overall efficiencies. To optimize last-mile delivery, retailers can provide flexible delivery options based on delivery method and location, create a collaborative network with suppliers to maximize visibility on the backend, leverage brick-and-mortar stores as fulfillment centers and use technology to maximize the value of delivery routes. All these will help ensure a safer and more efficient business flow that minimizes the impact of the pandemic while positioning the business for future success.

The pandemic has stressed the need for retailers to reassess their business processes and study the importance of innovation. Understanding the industry and choosing the right combination of solutions will assure business continuity for retailers, and service reliability for their customers. Retailers that can strengthen their digital capabilities and ensure a better online shopping experience will gain end-user trust and encourage more online transactions. This translates to greater business success not just during the pandemic-recovery phase but also in the future.

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Maintaining credit health during this pandemic is key

When borrowers honor their obligations, there’s no reason to see credit in a bad light, especially as it helps the economy grow faster this way. But how do you manage credit in the middle of a pandemic?

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Keeping your physical and mental health in check during the COVID-19 pandemic is crucial, but global information and insights provider TransUnion emphasizes that financial health must not be set aside. For most people, this generally entails having a steady flow of income, looking after any savings, and maintaining bill payments and other financial commitments.

But with the severe economic impact of COVID-19 globally, this isn’t always possible and it is vital that consumers truly understand how certain aspects of finance work to find or even create opportunities amid these difficult times.

There is no standard measure of financial health as each person’s circumstances are unique, but there is one aspect to finance that is often misunderstood, and that is credit. Credit is an important part of the economy because it allows entities and consumers to engage in transactions now that may not be possible if they only rely on their current capacity.

Anyone who has a credit card, loan, bank overdraft, or other similar credit agreements has a credit report – a record of how they manage their credit obligations, collected and aggregated by credit agencies like TransUnion. When borrowers honor their obligations, there’s no reason to see credit in a bad light, especially as it helps the economy grow faster this way. But how do you manage credit in the middle of a pandemic?

“A healthy credit history can help determine a consumer’s ability to access financial products and their ability to get competitive deals. At TransUnion, we are working with financial institutions to help them better understand consumers so they can continue to provide them with the financial services they need. TransUnion’s data quality assurance team stringently reviews credit data contributions and ensures that consumers are being accurately represented so their access to financial services remain unhampered during the challenges presented by COVID-19,” said Pia Arellano, TransUnion Philippines president and CEO.

Regulatory and institutional safeguards notwithstanding, there are a number of habits that consumers can practice to maintain good credit health even amid a pandemic.

1. Pay bills on time

Make it a point to not miss any payment deadlines, even if you can only pay the minimum amount. Automate it if possible or set alarms if you must. The purpose of a credit report is to help lenders see whether or not you miss payments and predict a behavior pattern for the future.

There are grace periods accorded to consumers during the pandemic, so it’s best to be aware of the policies implemented by your bank or financial institution for your convenience. Depending on your case, you may need to contact them directly to arrive at a repayment plan that suits your needs at present. However, if you can pay as soon as the bills come in, do so and you’ll have less to worry about.

2.  Set a budget and stick to it

The economic impact of COVID-19 is likely to extend over many years and having the discipline to stick to a budget and not over spend now will benefit you in the long run. In addition, do not apply for several new accounts at a time. Having a lot of simultaneous inquiries on your credit report worries lenders as it is a sign that you might be using credit and loans to supplement your income because you are spending beyond what you can actually afford.

3. Maintain low balances

Credit cards are considered “maxed-out” when you have spent 90% or more of the credit limit. When you maintain lower balances, lenders view you as someone who uses their credit responsibly. To achieve this, you should be able to pay your bills in full, on time, every time.

4. Build a strong relationship with lenders by being a responsible borrower

Lenders recognize that with higher credit limits comes increased responsibility. Credit limits tend to be reflective of both your wider financial standing as well as historic account conduct. A high credit limit reflected in your credit report can signal to lenders that you are a trustworthy candidate for new lines of credit. Should an unprecedented event such as this pandemic arise, you know that you’re in a position to access financial products at competitive interest rates if you need to.

5.  Beware of phishing and other scams that proliferate even during crises

A recent TransUnion report found that fraudsters are decreasing their schemes against businesses but increasing COVID-19 focused scams against consumers online. With the rise in digital transactions in banking, make sure you do not fall victim to fraud activities like account takeover or unauthorized account opening schemes that can taint your credit report. As a general rule, steer clear of offers that sound too good to be true. Legitimate financial institutions can never provide miraculous results in the short-term.

Other precautions include doing a regular review of your bank accounts for any suspicious activity, never providing sensitive information such as PINs and One-Time Passwords, and keeping your information secure against phishing attacks. It’s worth looking into password managers and updating your passwords on your bank accounts every so often. If you need to communicate with your bank, stick to its official channels.

6. Contribute to a savings fund

Building an emergency fund is generally considered good practice in your overall budgeting and serves to keep your credit health in check as well. Having enough funds on hand will help cover credit obligations, keeping you in good credit standing until you recover and things stabilize again.

Navigating the road to economic recovery

Build and keep the above-mentioned habits and you’ll maintain a good credit standing and overall financial health. Now, what should you do if you still cannot pay your bills at this time due to sudden loss of income or other extreme circumstances?

Consumers should coordinate with their bank or financial institution to explain their situation. Generally, consumers can request a payment holiday, lowering of monthly payments until they have fully recovered, or restructuring of a loan or credit facility for a smaller payment amount and longer tenure. Needless to say, it helps if you are in good credit standing to begin with.

As a seasoned and trusted global data steward, TransUnion recognizes its unique position to help consumers as they pursue economic recovery by helping financial institutions address current uncertainties using the power of information. Building on its database of 25 million account points that features a more holistic and insightful view into consumer behavior, TransUnion has started harnessing trended data that looks at richer information from a longer period of time (24 months payment history) to determine a consumer’s current and likely future financial situation. This, in turn, gives businesses quality information to continue supporting customers even in uncertain times such as the pandemic. When done right, everyone contributes to helping the economy bounce back stronger.

“We’ve been called to do bayanihan to recover as one, which essentially recognizes the need for us to work together to fully address current financial challenges. Our mission at TransUnion is to use the data that we have to help businesses and consumers make smarter finance decisions, especially during difficult times like this pandemic. We hope to continue creating a virtuous cycle of empowered businesses that empower consumers to gain access to financial services which can uplift their lives and financial health, as we believe this contributes a great deal to their physical and mental well-being too,” said Arellano.

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8 Best practices while working from home

Whether you are still adjusting to your new working setup or you just feel like you could use a little more tips to improve it, then here are eight ways you can start with.

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Since the start of lockdowns and community quarantine, organizations across all sectors saw the need to keep their employees safe from contracting COVID-19 while ensuring business continuity. This led to the adoption of new, flexible working setups, such as working from home, as part of the ‘new normal.’

Adapting work-from-home protocols, however, can be a challenge since it requires employees to have new skills and equipment. For Vertiv, a global provider of critical digital infrastructure and continuity solutions, creating new habits can help you adjust to the new setup and continue working at your best.

Whether you are still adjusting to your new working setup or you just feel like you could use a little more tips to improve it, then here are eight ways you can start with:

1. Plan Your Day and Set Office Hours

Work from home requires most of your activities to be done at home, which will clash with your other recreational and familial activities. The best way to handle this problem is to create to-do lists and set up check-in breaks to ensure you are aligned with your plan. 

2. Define a Workspace

Ensure that you have a suitable and ergonomic working space at home. One advantage that you can get from this working setup is that you get to work in any matter that suits and comforts you while remaining professional. 

3. Communicate Your Work Schedule to Your Family

Family duties will often clash with your responsibilities at work. Set up boundaries between you and your family, but never disregard one obligation for the other. Schedule all your duties well, and let your family know about your office hours to respect your timelines.

4. Take Good Care of Yourself

You can take care of both your career and family responsibilities, but never forget your responsibility for yourself. Take time to get up from your desk and do some movements. Plan some time for regular exercise, ensure healthy snacks at home, remember to drink plenty of water, and give time for your recreational hobbies.

5. Stay Connected

Plan time to talk with your team every day or on alternate days. Remember to use shared folders and synchronize files. Make sure you are easy to reach via email, phone, or other virtual conferencing apps.

6. Improve Your Communication Skills

Because you will be doing your work remotely, you will need to have excellent communication skills. Often you will not have the visual and verbal cues that generally help guide a conversation. You will need to make sure that you can convey what you mean clearly and concisely.

7. Avoid Multitasking to Stay Focused

It’s easy to start one project and then bounce to another without finishing the first. Stay focused on what you are currently doing to complete your planned activities on time. If you are having trouble finishing one task, take a break to relax and compose yourself, then get back to the activity you are finishing but never start a new activity.

8. Use the Correct UPS to Work from Home

Have you ever been working from home, unexpectedly had a power outage, and lose all your information? Make sure you have power protection to safeguard your data and equipment. An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) with line-interactive topology provides reliable and cost-effective protection against power surges, brownouts, and blackouts, allowing you to save work in progress and adequately shut down connected equipment.

Getting a UPS for your work-from-home setup will ensure that you never have any fears about losing significant work progress since it will help you maintain power for your workplace to have enough time to save your work files. I can also protect your equipment from any software or hardware damages when emergencies that can harm your equipment happen.

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