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This article was published on September 30, 2020

Why listening to your customers’ needs is key to outlasting the pandemic

Innovation should revolve around the needs of your customers

Why listening to your customers’ needs is key to outlasting the pandemic
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Did you know we’re hosting a discussion on the importance of technology in times of economic and societal uncertainty at TNW2020 this year? Check out our session on ‘Innovating to survive’ here.

Back in April, experts from the International Monetary Fund warned global lockdowns are likely to push us into the worst economic slump in years. They weren’t wrong.

A recent survey by the US Census Bureau found a third of businesses reported experiencing an enormous negative effect from the COVID-19 pandemic, with roughly one in 20 owners expecting to shut doors within the next six months. And with a second wave looming over us, things might get even worse.

Although the coronavirus has put a dent in the operations of numerous businesses, a handful of ecommerce companies have experienced a healthy hike in demand. But while dealing with a sudden surge in popularity is a good problem to have, it comes with a whole new set of challenges — and technology could be at the core of solving them.

But what exactly are those challenges and how are tech companies addressing them? We turned straight to some of the world’s leading ecommerce innovators to find out.

“When the pandemic hit, we saw a massive and sustained increase in demand for online grocery service,” says Paul Clarke, CTO at Ocado — the group transforming online grocery with cutting-edge technology and automation. “I suppose the pandemic has provided a very strong validation of our underlying business model, which is a highly automated platform for doing online grocery scalably, sustainably and profitably.”

Over in Germany, CEO and co-founder of Outfittery, Julia Bösch, has experienced a similar boon to her business, which acts as an online personalized shopping platform.

“The shift to online has accelerated massively — by around five years at least,” Bösch says. “And with that, we see new expectations from consumers. Our approach is centered around personalization, and we’ve seen that consumers have valued this more than ever. It will be very interesting to observe how things unfold going forward.”

Across the pond, CTO and co-founder of US-based Poshmark, Gautam Golwala, has also been closely observing and listening to consumers’ evolving needs.

“We didn’t know what to expect when the pandemic first hit us,” Golwala says. “So what we really did as a company is decide to focus on the variables that we do control — stuff like cost, marketing budgets, and so on. But really, what we decided is to understand the needs of our customer during this timeframe, and then focus on speed of execution — a variable that we could really control.”

But paying attention to the needs of customers is only one part of the equation. The more difficult bit is rejigging priorities to adapt to the so-called new normal while also building a future-proof business model.

We often hear anecdotes about the importance of moving agile in the face of adversity, but for Clarke, Bösch, and Golwala it’s also important to combine innovation with a strong devotion to the principles their businesses were founded upon.

If you’re curious to find out more about how these innovators approached these issues, make sure to tune in to our Innovate to Survive panel at TNW2020, where Clarke, Bösch, and Golwala will go more in-depth about the difficult calls they’ve had to make in order to adapt to the needs of their customers during the pandemic.

Hosted by Financial Times technology editor Malcolm Moore, the session will also touch on a number of issues businesses are faced with, including maintaining their company culture, easing into the new work-from-home reality, and attending to the needs of not only their customers, but also employees.

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