The era of sweatpants and slippers’ economy
Although the current crisis, like every crisis, is temporary, we should surely expect some long-term consequences. The pandemic restrictions might be carefully abolished by governments but a part of the limits will stay with us for a long time. We can forget about participating in the massive festivals, visiting crowded places, and taking around-the-world backpacking trips this year (or even next one as well, depending on when the vaccine for COVID-19 will be invented). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
There will be a lot of small but meaningful, everyday constraints shaping the new mentality and behaviors for years (if not forever).
At least a part of the lifestyle and habits formed by the lockdown will be kept due to the risk of the virus’s return as well as the convenience they offer. Online shopping, remote work, transferring money, paying the bills, and settling other matters with just a few taps on a smartphone’s screen - in spite of appearances, they are not a bread-and-butter for all of us. Well, not even for most people! But after overcoming the first fears and obstacles, they start to realize some benefits of switching online and moving the job to their own bedroom. The same concerns entrepreneurs who weren’t convinced to the idea of a home office, processes’ automatization or digitalization until they were forced to implement these changes by COVID-19.
Considering this wider and more long term perspective, some actions taken to save a company might be successfully continued after the big come back and restart of primal business. Especially, when they are rooted in the people’s new needs and utilize digital tools in most effective ways. So how do exactly entrepreneurs cope with going online? We gathered a bunch of uplifting examples and added some other ideas based on our experience in developing digital products.
Retail is a branch within which we can observe probably the most discernible physical-digital divide in terms of winners and losers of the pandemic crisis. While most bricks and mortar shops are closed and the ones selling “necessities” are forced to limit the number of customers being inside at once, e-commerce exploded. Nevertheless, prosperity isn’t distributed equally. Clients are willing to spend more on food, tv & video streaming subscriptions, tech equipment, and smartphones but they also enjoy the benefits of sweatpants and slippers’ era and save on cosmetics and stylish outfits.
Coronavirus impact on online traffic of selected industries worldwide in the week ending March 22, 2020, source: Statista
The natural e-commerce beneficiaries are supermarkets and big marketplaces with a whole range of diversified products.
The less obvious example is that of companies that provide services for stores that overslept the accurate moment for digitization or offer complementary services and apps. Just like Glovo delivering almost everything on-demand that supported the online shopping in the most popular discount store chain in Poland. Aware of the new shopping habits, social distancing rules, and demand for specific products, some entrepreneurs responded in a flash.
Is online always better?
Small clothing companies completed their product range with cotton face masks in all sizes and colors. To enter the e-commerce industry in a quick and low-cost way, they decided to perform within big marketplace platforms.
There’s still plenty of room for ideas helping to cover the needs sprung from the new ways of selling and buying. Even in courier services, there’s a space for innovations – just check the story of Polish Paczkomaty! Simple shopping list app cutting the time spent in the grocery, price comparison websites that support getting through the tons of e-offers, fintech solutions which can make online payments even simpler (you can check another polish innovation - BLIK to see that it's still possible). They all might catch the new wind in the sails now.
Gastronomy is another branch divided by COVID-19 into winning and losing sides. Traditional restaurants on the brink of death, while delivered food flourishes. Even if joining the online ordering platforms is simple and fast, for some entrepreneurs it might not be possible or profitable to use them (like for pubs or fancy restaurants where the specific ambiance and sophisticated menu build the experience).
Still, most gastronomic companies are adopting to deliver their food to the customers’ doors or at least offer a take-away option. They’re preparing the relevant menu with meals ready for the half-hour trip in a muggy bag. They’re offering hand-made preparations, sauces and juices, or vacuum-packed pre-cooked dishes. They focus on building their brands by sharing their knowledge on their restaurants’ fanpages, blogs, vlogs and podcasts. They write books, they publish recipes. They do all that not only to encourage customers to order their products but also to keep their attention and not let them forget about them. Digital solutions might also serve the marketing purpose and for some businesses, it’s the last resort in fighting to survive under the lockdown conditions.
Mobility reduced to work-shop-home is giving the automotive industry an extremely hard time. And it has already faced problems as most factories limited the production or even suspended it completely to prevent spreading the virus. IHS Markit projected an 18% drop in global new vehicle sales year-on-year under an extended lockdown scenario. Unfortunately, as we already know, the fall-off is even deeper and noticeable across all categories from personal to fleet cars. Industry’s hopes are pinned on increasing demand for deliveries and therefore - vehicles to cover it.
The second biggest task is to ensure shorten and less in-person buying process which will still provide great customer experience. And that’s quite a challenge, especially in the US where the cornerstone of car sale is a chain of showrooms run mostly by big dealer networks or family-owned individual entrepreneurs. Although the former do have some technology introduction behind them, the client’s “must touch and feel before buying” approach resulted in a digital sluggishness within car dealerships. Now it seems like the pandemic broke it down and solutions like online configurators and chatbot consultants ready to help customers find a dream machine or online forms that support taking a loan became a necessity rather than a fad.
At the opposite pole of the mobility’s world are two-wheels vehicle producers and sellers (excluding motorcycles which, in terms of prices and client’s expectations, position themself closer to cars). The social distancing made bikes and electric scooters the perfect way to get from point A to B in a pretty safe and fast way. That led to a large boom which caused some to name bicycles a new toilet paper - a deficit good of the pandemic era.
Now, even if bike retailers, in contrast to car dealers, need to handle the overwhelming demand for their products, the digital tools used to manage the problems of both are similar. In the end, the goal is pretty much the same - to make selling contact-less, available in just a few clicks, and meeting both client’s needs and hygiene requirements. The companies which adopted the tech solutions before the coronavirus outbreak, now have to cope with the traffic going through the roof, while others are looking for ways to catch up rapidly. But let’s just say that’s more of a luxury than a problem in a current situation.
New Learning and Practising
For a huge number of people, the worst shut down during the coronavirus pandemic concerned schools, preschools and nurseries. They found out the hard way why it is said that it takes a village to raise a child. Parents of school-age kids had to take another part-time job as teachers while the real teachers needed to face the challenge of conducting remote classes.
E-learning became a duty and new dailiness. Even in countries where it’s already been extensively applied, implementing a fully remote education on every level was an uphill battle. To provide pupils with lessons every day, countries decided to bet on their own gov systems or commercial solutions big enough to cope with tremendous loads. But that covered only the basic educational needs so parents started to look for other digital support.
Here’s space within which we still might find some gaps to fulfil. Educational games, apps and cartoons might be given a small head start in terms of obligatory homeschooling. Video conferencing tools are useful not only for business meetings but also for private classes with tutors. A renowned Polish event company, for instance, has just started their new project of remote education after it was forced to adjourn the main business activity. Now they offer the services of animators and teachers who organize games and help with homework while the parents are doing their job next room. Video conferencing is a powerful solution in e-learning and although it seems like Zoom conquered this market, there's a lack of more specified tools, for instance, to prevent or detect cheating during remote exams.
Of course, e-learning isn’t reserved only for students. For the childless people, it offers a reasonable way to kill some time. And since we were asked to #stayhome, plus at least some of us do the job remotely, we spend about 18-24 hours in one place. We save time we used to spend going to and from work, meeting our friends (sadly!) or just hanging around the mall. That’s quite a lot of extra hours!
The potential of learning online was quickly recognized by language schools which didn’t want to stop the courses after they closed their stationary classrooms. Then a lot of other entrepreneurs followed their footsteps and started to share the knowledge online. This is how we can now boost our professional skills or gain new ones and change career paths (maybe by learning programming? There’s an infinite demand for software developers across all industries and countries). It can be more than useful in crisis times. And that’s not all! The lockdown encourages companies from branches being under threat of bankruptcy to teach, coach and advise through the screens of their clients' laptops, TVs and smartphones.
Michał’s GF and her yoga class
Broadcasted fitness classes live cooking sessions, beauty consultation - they all might be alternative ways of providing services during the isolation and enriching the company’s offer once it’s over. Home workout can go beyond youtube training videos when it harnesses the IoT technologies and implements them in sports and gym equipment. The coach armed with data sent by them will be able to analyze our progress on an ongoing basis and react rapidly to make the exercises more effective. Not to mention that a private home environment is just more comfortable than a crowded gym for some.
New dawn, new day, new life...
..but not everyone is feeling good. Let’s be honest - we can’t pretend like nothing bad is happening and every entrepreneur should just go online and do their business as usual. Passenger transportation, hospitality, cinemas - they can’t just digitize services and offer virtual accommodation in Barcelona or transform buses into face masks factories (although a part of airlines does use their planes to ship packages and even remove seats to gain extra space to stuff it with cargo). They are unable to provide the service and their businesses are basically bleeding.
Some actions might cut the losses but in a big part of cases, the entrepreneurs will need to start something new or/and change the sector of operation. When they bear in mind the re-arrangement pandemic made in consuming habits, they will be able to see the possibilities for responding to the new needs. This might not be a bad time for startups and new projects at all if only companies can act fast and flexibly.