I’m a fairly optimistic person. Some would even call me Pollyanna-ish. I’d like to believe we’re going to get past COVID-19 and that we’ll all end up healthy, safe, and well on the other side. I suppose, like many, with extra time on my hands at home, I’m getting back into things I enjoy doing, but had little time to do. For me, that means writing about trends and riffing on the intersection of tech, marketing, and consumer behavior…with a COVID-19 lens.
I don’t think I’m overstating when I say, things will change dramatically post COVID-19. Here’s where I think we’ll see persistent, long-term change across the world. I looked to emphasize the “positive” change we’ll see.
- Accelerated Shift to Digital Commerce: For companies that hadn’t fully embraced digital commerce before COVID-19, we’re going to see a rapid acceleration to play catch-up. Off the shelf commerce platforms like Shopify and payment platforms like Stripe will become major beneficiaries of this surge. This will have a massive ripple effect across retail.
- The Acknowledgment that Maybe It’s Ok to be Big: Large companies and wealthy people are often quick to receive blame, hear calls for a break up under anti-trust laws, and be derided. But, take a look around, who’s stepping up. Who’s keeping your pantry stocked, funding the innovation needed to battle COVID-19, and investing the most to keep life as normal as possible? It’s those same large companies and wealthy people. Here are 3 great examples:
- The Acceptance that Cash, is No Longer King: Contactless payment really hasn’t taken off. In most countries, cash transactions still represent more than 25% of all transactions. But, with COVID-19, merchants are emphasizing credit card or tap to pay transactions. Credit card transactions still require some level of human interaction and physical touching. But, ApplePay, Google Pay, and similar phone-based tap to pay transaction platforms will grow exponentially.
- An Evolving Employee Experience: The ability to “work from home” has been one of the most covered shifts, but it’s only part of the equation. VPN, company email on your phone, video-conferencing, cloud-based document access, and instant-messaging are just a handful of other spokes that are going to modernize and become part of a new normal for how people work. Physical corporate real estate may shrink and become more WeWork in style. Additionally, new classifications for what constitutes “work” will need to be created to ensure proper timekeeping and compensation.
- A Short-Term Renaissance of Experiences: Read a book. How many times have you heard that as shelter in place, reduced gathering, or self-quarantining measures were introduced? How many people fell back in love with vinyl, took up knitting, or started learning how to cook. Can’t go to the movies, right? But, what about drive-ins? The very nature of a drive-in means you’re appropriately practicing social distancing. You’re in your own car, separated by metal, glass, leather, plastic, and yes distance. I emphasize the short-term, however; I don’t see many of these trends sticking long-term.
- The Rapid Modernization of Laws: We’re going to see a lot of policy changes that essentially extend provisions put in place during COVID-19. For example, do you know why most telemedicine platforms struggle to scale? It’s because in most states the physician you speak to must be licensed in that state. So, if you live in Idaho, you can only speak with a doctor via a telemedicine platform, if that doctor is licensed in Idaho. By default, it’s nearly impossible to scale and provide care to those who most need it.
Separately, if you’ve been to Europe and South America, and parts of Asia, you’re familiar with the ability for the habit of people drinking a beer on the street or taking their un-finished cocktail to go. If you’ve tried that in the U.S.A (nearly all states), you’ve probably received a ticket. But, measures being taken in response to COVID-19 include ordering a cocktail for delivery. There are going to be a number of policies that were put in place, with the intent to be temporary, that will expose the unnecessary red tape in place, and lead to them becoming permanent.
- The Reinvention of the Education System: Many universities are still charging students tuition, as classes shift online and become virtual. They’re also waiving the room and board fees. Both of these make sense. But, they call into question – why weren’t we doing this all along? Online Universities were once mocked and considered second or third rate. But, it’s likely that the idea of a virtual education will resonate with potential students and administrators. Costs become controlled, if not reduced, and educators can scale beyond the physical constraints of classroom sizes. But, I’ve always felt the real reason one goes to college is not for the book knowledge, it’s for the knowledge you gain from social interactions, relationship dynamics, and the introduction of a more diverse set of people to interact with. How will we replicate those benefits in a virtual world?
- The YOLO and Save for Tomorrow Dichotomy Will Widen: I don’t think 9/11 is a good parallel for COVID-19, but given that it’s often used as a reference point, let’s explore what happened post 9/11. Snopes, yes Snopes, has a wonderfully eloquent passage about the changing behaviors…or not, of adults.
“The September 11 attack on America caused many to take a long, hard look at their lives. For some, that re-evaluation led them to realize that the time to start a family was now. September 11 was a major shock to their systems, jolting them from a state of somnambulistic “We’ll get around to it someday; we’ve all the time in the world” complacency into the wide-awake appreciation that life was both precious and uncertain, and that the perfect tomorrow they were waiting for might never come. There were those who in the wake of the attacks quit putting off what they’d previously been half-hearted about, and they started families, got married, or recommitted to their existing marriages. Times of crisis cause us all to look into our hearts and see if we’re truly concentrating on what really matters rather than stumbling along in unthinking routines. But that realization is a double-edged sword, a fact the pundits who predicted a startling upsweep in the number of weddings and births failed to take into account.”
I think we’re going to see a wider dichotomy post-COVID-19. There will be those who thank the fact they saved for the rainy day, minimized debt, didn’t take that random vacation to Hawaii, passed on the 3 Star Michelin restaurant, and kept at it with the same 12-year-old Honda Civic. And, there will be those who take a, “anything can happen at any point, so live for the moment” approach to life. The space in between those fence posts will be wider than it’s ever been.
- Infrastructure Investments Will Scale, But Not Where You Think: When we often hear the word, “infrastructure”, we think of roads, bridges, and plumbing. But, what the mass shift to work from home and spending more time in the house will expose are the needs to improve the pipes for network traffic. What you once thought was good enough at home, for speed is likely to be stressed under the surge of increased usage, traffic, and activity. But, it’s not about just upgrading those pipes, what about the main pipes being offered by Comcast and others? They need to be upgraded. Then, tack on cellular. We’ve started to hear about 5G, but the reality is, the real question should be how can we get to 6G faster, and will that finally be the point when cellular speeds become fast enough that they can be used as the default pipe for people?
Additionally, and completely separately, what has become clear is that many businesses rely on labor in China and the rest of Asia. With supply chains disrupted and normal business operations impacted, it’s likely we will see companies diversify their manufacturing footprint and start to invest more in local supply chains. Doing that will require significant infrastructure improvements across water, rail, and roads, but will only be possible with additional deregulation initiatives.
- The Environment Will be the Biggest Beneficiary: Fewer people driving, fewer people eating out, fewer people using straws, cups, bottles, etc. The big winner – the environment. As an example, “The European Space Agency released a new video this weekend that shows air pollution vanishing over China as the country goes into COVID-19 coronavirus lockdown, then returning as business resumes.” That’s one of many examples where the reduction in activity is simply making the environment better. While it’s unlikely that this will persist at scale, it’s not crazy to believe we will see a permanent, small, positive bounce.