(Photo by Pixabay user mohamed_hassan, used under a Creative Commons license)
If you’re not Netflix, Amazon or Walmart right now, you’re probably bracing for a rough few months or more.
The New York Times estimated the unemployment rate is already at 20%. The ad industry is estimated to see nearly $26 billion in lost revenue. Supply chains have taken a massive hit, and even Apple has hit some turbulence, with iPhone shipments reduced by as much as 10% in Q1. All conferences and live events have been canceled; the music industry and the tech event industry are poised to lose billions.
But here’s the good news: There is opportunity for growth. I work with some of the country’s top brands in media, technology, retail, finance and information services, and I have seen what leads businesses to fail and what leads them to succeed. And the truth is that businesses need to lean into their digital strategies right now to have the best chance of weathering this crisis and coming out of it stronger.
Yes, in the midst of economic uncertainty, I’m suggesting you make an investment in growing — not just sustaining — your business. COVID-19 isn’t just changing how we’re doing business this spring; it’s going to change how we do business far into the future.
Take the retail space for example: If you’re not online in retail right now, you’re not in business. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, but in March, retailers across the country cut 46,200 jobs; that number could rise into the millions. Retailers with a strong digital presence, on the other hand, have seen a surge in business as people are relying on ecommerce and mobile for nearly all their purchases. There is so much new business coming in that some — such as Walmart and Amazon — are planning to hire hundreds of thousands of new employees.
Even companies that already have an established digital presence are working to beef up their existing infrastructure to catch up to the industry leaders. For example, Best Buy just launched curbside pick-up across the country in late March. Now, its 1,200 stores are closed to customers but delivering orders to cars in their parking lots. Another example is Giant-Eagle’s new Pick-Up Centers, which are converting traditional stores into dedicated pick-up locations that enable customers to perform the expensive last-mile delivery themselves. These examples could become the new normal, as customers become accustomed to mobile app ordering and seamless curbside pickup.
The reality is that people’s buying habits are changing, and while brick and mortar is sure to make a comeback when lockdowns are over, there will likely be more demand for digital platforms in retail — whether that means more digital payment options, virtual showrooms, in-store recommendations based on your online search history, or digital price tags.
Or consider healthcare. The healthcare industry’s transition to telemedicine has rapidly accelerated in the face of COVID-19. Online pharmacies like UpScript are booming. IoT and remote patient monitoring are already proving to be extremely helpful in the midst of the pandemic, with organizations like Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center using this technology to continuously monitor patients and get real time updates. This technology is already being deployed in various use cases across healthcare, and we will likely see it deployed more and more as a way to provide better real time care to patients.
Telehealth startups are in the forefront of the news. A large portion of the $2 trillion stimulus bill was focused on expanding telehealth access for Americans, and federal policy will surely follow the easing of rules around telemedicine that we’re already seeing at the state level. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine just signed an order allowing social workers, family counselors and marriage counselors to offer telehealth services. To be HIPAA compliant, these organizations will need to invest in buying or building true telehealth software — not just spinning up a noncompliant FaceTime or Skype session. This creates the opportunity for multiple new telehealth providers to enter the market.
Media is another industry that is facing dramatic transformation. With live sports on hiatus, we’re streaming more media than ever. Americans streamed 85% more video in March 2020 than in March 2019, on platforms and channels from Netflix to YouTube to PBS. More streaming services are being launched, such as HBO Max, NBC Peacock and Quibi. COVID-19 could accelerate subscriptions as people become more accustomed to paying for content they appreciate.
Additionally, live events are shifting to virtual events. Financial Times predicts that many won’t want to go back to “airless conference centers” now that they’ve seen what events are like from the comfort of their own couches. Lady Gaga’s virtual concert held in mid-April drew 20 million viewers.
Investing in new products and platforms is always a risk, and maintaining the status quo is the easiest path during times of economic uncertainty. But many businesses that plan to stand still right now will end up backsliding. Taking the risk to improve your organization’s digital infrastructure could ensure your current and future viability.
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