by J.R. Peterson
The COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread disruption to businesses across the globe. Lockdowns, social distancing measures, and supply chain disruptions have made it challenging for many companies to continue operating as usual. However, some businesses were able to adapt to the changing landscape and even thrive during this time.
One of the most significant changes brought about by the pandemic was the acceleration of an already gradual shift to online shopping. With shops forced to close or operate at reduced capacity, consumers turned to online retailers to purchase goods. According to a report by Adobe Analytics, US online sales during the 2020 Christmas period grew by 32.2% compared to the previous year, while data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed online shopping reached a record high level of traffic during the COVID- 19 epidemic, growing by 46.1 % in 2020 compared to the former time. There were significant gains for companies like Amazon and Ocado, with Amazon’s profit in the UK growing by 51% in 2020, and Ocado growing by 35%.
The Covid-19 pandemic was also a time which saw a huge spike in demand for delivery apps like DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Grubhub. The week ending March 22, 2020 saw a 20% increase in US food delivery sales compared to the same time last year, according to a report by Edison Trends. Home fitness companies were also able to capitalise on the pandemic’s lifestyle changes. With gyms closed or operating at reduced capacity, many consumers turned to home workouts to stay active. Companies such as Peloton, NordicTrack, and Mirror saw a surge in demand for their workout equipment and virtual classes. Peloton reported a 232% increase in sales in the third quarter of 2020, while NordicTrack saw a 600% increase in sales during the same period.
With people spending enforced time at home, often without work to fill the day, DIY and home improvement became the focus of a long, hot summer for many. Kingfisher, which owns UK retailers B&Q and Screwfix, saw a 62% increase in deals in the six months leading up to August 2020, with online deals growing by a whopping 225%. The company’s CEO attributed this growth to the fact that people were spending further time at home and investing in their living spaces. Similarly, home furnishing retailer Made.com saw a 63% increase in deals in 2020 compared to the former time – although they have since gone out of business.
However, not all businesses were able to adapt to the pandemic’s lifestyle changes. Many stores that were unable to shift to online sales saw a decline in revenue, and some small businesses were forced to shut down permanently. Additionally, supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic made it challenging for some companies to source raw materials or finished products.
Now with the heights of the pandemic in our rear-view mirror, we are more able to assess the pandemic’s long-term impact on consumer behaviour. Many consumers have become accustomed to the convenience of online shopping, food delivery and services which were not previously available online but find themselves now permanently so.
What is clear is how the pandemic has highlighted the importance of businesses being agile and able to quickly adapt to changing consumer behaviour and the broader economic climate. Companies that have been able to pivot quickly and meet changing customer needs have weathered the impact of the pandemic better. As Dr Nada Sanders, a supply chain management expert and professor at Northeastern University, notes, “The pandemic has just put more pressure on what was already a very fast-moving and disruptive landscape… companies that were agile and able to pivot quickly were able to do well, but those that weren’t were hurt.” Jeremy Gutsche, CEO of Trend Hunter, a research firm, added, “We’re in a period of rapid change, and businesses that were once safe are now no longer safe.” He also says that “The winners are the ones who can adapt the fastest.”
It’s obvious that the pandemic has hugely changed consumers’ lifestyle and the way businesses function. Even after the pandemic, it’s critical that businesses remain alert and flexible in their operations, focusing on the health and safety of their employees and customers. A sudden change in habits forced a new perspective on the relationships between businesses and consumers, especially highlighting the need for connection and community during times of increased isolation. As Dr James Doty, founder of the Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, says, “The pandemic has made us realise just how much we need social connections for our well-being.” He also adds that “Businesses that prioritize community and connection will be the ones that succeed in the future.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a significant change in the way we think about business, consumption, and connection. As we navigate the aftermath of this frightening time, it’s clear that businesses need to prioritise the values of their customers and build a more sustainable, flexible and equitable economy for the future. As Dr Sanders says, “The pandemic has accelerated the future, and we need to be ready for it.”
J.R. is a business analyst originally from Texas, working with a major US bank based in Frankfurt, Germany. In his spare time he restores abandoned bicycles and retro-fits them with electric motors.