Opportunity and changing trends as an outcome of COVID-19

1st May 2020

During this time of unprecedented change across the world challenges facing most ranging from industry giants to local communities have been widely reported and televised in the media. Indeed, at the time of writing media inundates us with reports of stocks and shares plummeting, COVID-19 cases skyrocketing and unemployment figures at worrying levels in many countries directly linked to this coronavirus pandemic. These worrying stories give us is little reassurance to stem the concerns of worried populations around the world but not all seems to be doom and gloom. For example, some business sectors are flourishing as a result of adaptations being made to how we live and work with many encouraging reports of an environmental rejuvenation as a direct result of this pandemic.

At this time of uncertainty, it is easy to miss or to miss judge the success stories and positive business trends that are occurring across the world due to this coronavirus pandemic. In the world of risk, we often only focus on those absolute risks that cause us harm and not those speculative risks that may create opportunity and good fortune. Certainly, the widespread lockdowns imposed to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 amongst populations has seen an obvious boom in media streaming services where market leaders NETFLIX saw some 16 million new users sign up in the first quarter of 2020. 1 Furthermore, numerous breath-taking images are being posted on social media illustrating the positive impacts this pandemic seems to be having on our environment.

Li Edelkoort runs a New York forecasting agency (Edelkoort Inc) and calls this crisis a ‘quarantine of consumption’ explaining how “slowing and shutting down can produce a better environment which will surely be visible on a large scale”. 2 This seems to be supported by the carbon emissions statistics coming out of China as one of the first countries to emerge from the pandemic showing levels falling by around 18% between early February and mid-March 2020. 3 The same pattern is likely to become evident around the world as countries that are practising stringent lockdown procedures are forced to temporarily close factories, reduce transport services and force its population into isolation. It is therefore very likely that reductions in overall pollution levels will be seen during the first half of 2020 and perhaps beyond. Not only are statistics demonstrating the drop in pollution levels but media is also visually illustrating its effects with the water clarity of Venice’s famous canals becoming clearer as the muddy river beds lay undisturbed for the first time in decades, and views of the Himalayas becoming visible for some towns for the first time in years.

The lack of traffic in our countrysides and in our oceans has encouraged flora and fauna to spread out too. UK wildflower numbers are expected to explode and will have a positive knock-on effect for the bee population and other wildlife. 4  Wild boar have been mentioned to roam normally busy Spanish roads with reports coming out of Japan suggesting that herds of deer have been wandering the streets. In the oceans, stingrays in huge schools have been reported off the coast of Dubai. These reports seem to illustrate the impact everyday human activity has on our environment and what little it took to encourage it to flourish once more.

Although retail is an area negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic there are pockets of positive trends amongst supermarkets, convenience stores and not surprisingly towards online shopping. Econsultancy.com a London based marketing firm reports the UK saw a rise of 20.6% in supermarket sales during March 2020, a new sector spending record.  Additionally, buying habits and the demand for some items has changed significantly due to the COVID-19 lockdown measures imposed.  For example, UK sales of garden hammocks are up 1,292%, sales of barbeques and footballs increased by 275% and 1,870% respectively. In the US sales of disposable gloves rose by 670% and bread machine sales rose by 652%, thought to be due to the mass buying of bread early on during this crisis. 5

Grocery analysts Kantar note that UK shoppers have spent £524 million on groceries during April 2020 and saw a 40% increase in sales from convenience stores. 6 Tesco Chief Executive Dave Lewis supports this and adds ‘the weekly shop is back’ as the number of transactions in stores halved during this month but the amount spent had doubled. 7

Streaming services are another success story coming out this coronavirus pandemic. EMarketer analyst Eric Haggstrom adds “Their business is a near-perfect fit to a population that is suddenly housebound.” With the documentary ‘Tiger King’ reaching 64 million households. 8 Netflix has cornered the streaming market with Disney+ a close second with Apple, despite poor handset sales in China, has seen a huge growth in their streaming and online stores with sales increasing 16.6% compared to the same period the previous year. 9 With remote home working and homeschooling becoming the norm in regions where a lockdown has been implemented, this has seen a huge demand for conferencing tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, with Microsoft Teams reporting a user increase of 500% when China went into lockdown alone. 10  Demand for laptops and home office equipment has also grown exponentially as companies stockpiled essential equipment in anticipation of the lockdowns. 11

As we adjust to this new way of living our minds may wonder as to how we ‘start again’ when lockdown restrictions are lifted, people return to work, and life begins to go back to normal. Will things have changed for the better? Indeed, can they change for the better as every country is potentially left with crippling debt, an economic recession, potential business closures and unemployment? Dr Ira Kalish is the director of global economics at Deloitte and suggests that working from home is here to stay. Benefits such as a better work-life balance, no high rent prices for commercial space, less traffic leading to less pollution will all be attractive incentives to continue this trend into the future. Not surprisingly this would extend to international business travel where an increasing reliance on online conferencing products such as Zoom, and Microsoft Teams again benefits the environment with less pollution. Dr Kalish further mentions that stores are being forced out of the market with online shopping becoming ever more popular. The widely published reliance on China for exports in almost every industry is now considered a risk for many businesses with Dr Kalish wondering if countries will reassess our supply chains and consider more locally produced products suggesting “US companies will likely give more consideration to Mexico. European companies will likely look to Africa and the Middle East. Japanese companies will likely look to Southeast Asia. Chinese companies will likely also diversify their own supply chains”. 12

In closure, the immediate aftermath of lockdown may not be bright, and our economic future looks somewhat bleak, but we at least got to see the world slow down a little and allowed us all to take stock. We have certainly learnt about those jobs deemed essential that we cannot live without and seem to have learnt a long due appreciation for those working within those roles. Many have found a renewed appreciation for families and friends where lockdowns have kept them apart and take much joy in the short time allowed outside of their homes to exercise or to buy essentials. Whilst changes seem certain in many aspects of life and for most an uncertain future will undoubtedly cause much fear and anxiety, we can, however, be sure of one thing in all of this and that is where one area flounders another will very likely flourish.