The coronavirus epidemic has caused a short-term economic downturn, but there are also new opportunities for digital transformation that companies need to think through clearly to plan for their recoveries, a consultant says.

Writing for WARC, Clement Yip, Partner and Experience Centre Leader for Mainland China & Hong Kong, PwC, recalls the impact of SARS in 2003.

“It led the way in speeding up the development of e-commerce in China,” he notes. “B2C e-commerce platforms such as Taobao and JD all started out during that time, and they both became two of the most successful marketplaces in China.”

The current crisis shows how products and services powered by digital channels provide maximum convenience, efficiency and accuracy, both empirically and emotionally, he says in his article, COVID-19 proves digital transformation is a business imperative that marketing must lead.

But some companies are responding within organizational silos – the procurement team is driving supply-chain efforts, sales and marketing teams are working on customer communications, and so on – and adopting cost-cutting measures.

Contrast that with the reaction of brands whose ability to take quick and effective action has been several years in the making. Tsingtao beer, for example, launched a new 'Be a Distributor' digital sales program within days of resuming production and got 40,000 applications with three days (target: 10,000 within a week).

That was only possible because the brewer had been planning for a “community commerce” system in advance.

“Without a robust O2O ‘new retail’ strategy, a strong digital framework, a process for innovation, and supply chain management capabilities, there will be no foundation for the beer brand to resolve some of its pain points as the coronavirus spreads,” observes Yip.

“I strongly believe that businesses should escalate their digital transformations to the next level, and certainly, to be able to react to any epidemic or pandemic,” he added.

Sourced from WARC