It’s Time to Double Down on Digital

By Alan Wolf, YSN

With Summit a day away, we’re “doubling down” on this recent column from YourSource magazine.

I’m not much of a Fleetwood Mac fan (apologies if you are), although their 1977 anthem Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow) is particularly pertinent to the moment.

This month marks the first anniversary of the COVID clampdowns and the kickoff of BrandSource’s second virtual show, Summit 21. Both serve as stark reminders that retail as we knew it has changed dramatically over the past year and that in all likelihood, “Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.”

Fortunately for BrandSource dealers and thanks to AVB’s foresight, our group was well-prepared for the unprecedented dash to online shopping that the coronavirus wrought. Long before COVID-19 entered the lexicon, CEO Jim Ristow was imploring members to cross the digital divide and embrace e-commerce. “Your website is your flagship store,” he told attendees at the 2019 Convention. “It’s the most important store in your arsenal!”

His words would prove prophetic after the pandemic hit, when shoppers pulled the e-commerce switch and the timeline for digital adoption shrunk from 10 years to one. But BrandSource dealers were ready: Leveraging a vast AVB Marketing armada that includes state-of-the-art websites, our exclusive LINQ online merchandising tool, a sophisticated payment gateway, and all manner of digital marketing magic, members enjoyed a 718 percent increase in ad-related purchases last year and an 825 percent spike in comparable online sales in the months following the outbreak.

So, now what? With distribution ramping up for multiple vaccines, can we take our collective foot off the digital pedal? Can we return to a showroom-centric retail strategy? The answer is an unequivocal no. As you’ll hear this week at Summit, the shopping habits that consumers adapted during the quarantines have become baked in, and there’s no turning back for either customers or us.

But don’t just take my word for it, listen to the industry. Speaking on a fourth-quarter earnings call, Whirlpool’s chairman and CEO Marc Bitzer warned investors that consumers won’t revert to pre-pandemic patterns any time soon. “Everybody thinks everything will go back to where it used to be post-COVID,” he said. “It won’t. A consumer’s mind is not a flash memory you just erase.”

More recently, Best Buy began trimming store-level staff and will close more showrooms as digital sales continue to escalate. “We are refining our operating model in response to the incredibly rapid change in how customers want to shop with us,” said CEO Corrie Barry.

As a result, she said, Best Buy is moving from “a big-box retailer with a strong omnichannel presence to an omnichannel retailer with a large store footprint for support and fulfillment.”

The good news is that AVB Marketing has been working diligently to keep BrandSource ahead of the digital curve. As Chief Marketing Officer John White shared during the group’s first MarTech (marketing technology) preview, “We are on an unbelievable pace of new product and program releases this year, delivering more updates, upgrades and more digital programs in 2021 than ever before.”

So as Summit 21’s “Double Down” theme advises, this is no time to stop thinking about tomorrow. Rather, it is exactly the time to redouble your digital efforts to continue taking market share and to keep winning and keeping your customers.

See you tomorrow at Summit!

Alan Wolf is Editor of YourSource magazine and a contributor to YourSourceNews.com(YSN). A Senior Communications Specialist for AVB Inc., he joined the co-op in 2019 after covering the appliance industry and specialty retail for This Week in Consumer Electronics (TWICE). You can reach him at Alan.Wolf@AVB.net.