Many traditional aspects of business and commerce have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic. Workers around the country are working from home instead of the office, sanitation practices have quickly been upgraded at most businesses and many more things are changing the business landscape.
A “new normal” has developed for businesses of all sizes across nearly all industries, with changes likely to endure even after COVID-19 is a thing of the past. Here are 10 business trends likely to last far longer than the coronavirus pandemic.
Cashless and contactless commerce
Businesses that are still interacting face-to-face with consumers, including restaurants and stores, are implementing changes to reduce close contact between workers and customers. One big way is to cut out cash and only accept credit cards or digital payments. Fast-food chain Chick-fil-A, for example, has made some of its stores cash-free and advised customers to use its app for ordering instead. Independent restaurants across the nation have also shifted to cashless for safety purposes. Several stores have added contact-free pickup and delivery service as well, and it’s likely this level of convenience and safety will remain popular.
With so many people working and spending time at home, it should come as no surprise that companies of all sizes are hiring additional delivery workers. Retailers, restaurants, grocery stores and more are hiring local delivery drivers to make shopping safe and simple. Industries that you may not expect to move to delivery are going that direction too, including car shopping and custom-made cocktails. All of this adds up to a future with more delivery options and the likelihood that most new consumer-facing businesses will offer a delivery option.
For years, consumers have purchased goods from retailers online, including big brands like Amazon and Walmart and small shops that sell through platforms like Etsy and eBay. This e-commerce trend has intensified during the coronavirus pandemic due to many traditional “non-essential” stores being closed and people being less comfortable to go out to buy items. As more consumers adjust to the convenience of e-commerce or invest in subscription services like Amazon Prime, many people may not want to go back to crowded stores. The growing e-commerce trend also includes local shops moving sales online in order to compensate for lost in-person sales and to reach non-local customers.
The implementation of robots into workspaces and factories already felt like an inevitability due to automation. But the category of robotics is getting more attention because, quite simply, robots can’t get sick and can help fill worker gaps. New examples of popular robots include mobile machines that can clean and disinfect and drones that can deliver light packages such as prescriptions. This is just scratching the surface of where robots will be in a few years.
"Most of the automation equipment in the industry is used to replace manual labor in repetitive and simple processes,” Felix Yang, Accelerated Digitalization Lead, Greater China at SF DHL China, told ZDNet. “However, in the future, we believe collaborative robots will increasingly participate in complex production processes.”
Clean businesses have always been attractive to consumers, but in the age of coronavirus and post-coronavirus, sanitation will be a large part of the conversation. The hospitality and travel industries will especially be under pressure to deliver a “beyond clean” experience, writes Dr. Robert Hebeler.
As the coronavirus pandemic disrupts global supply chains, more people are looking at local suppliers and shops to help them fulfill their needs.
Shop and source local
As the coronavirus pandemic disrupts global supply chains, more people are looking at local suppliers and shops to help them fulfill their needs. When it comes to consumers, people may not want to travel far to get items and instead rely on convenience stores and farmer’s markets. And when it comes to businesses sourcing materials, international uncertainty may force a renewed look at local suppliers.
“Companies will be loathe to trust all the supply from one foreign country or even from outside U.S.,” Forbes contributor and University of California, Davis professor Suzy Taherian wrote. “Companies will look to diversify their suppliers and to favor local suppliers, even at higher costs.”
While companies have been investing in modern technologies for years, supporting a fully remote workforce has pushed many to invest more in IT, cloud and cybersecurity services. Box CEO Aaron Levie told Business Insider the tech transformation is also about more than just supporting remote workers with tech like video calling and productivity software.
"The amount of business transformation we're going to see from a technology standpoint in literally the next few months is going to be completely unparalleled to any other time in history," Levie told Business Insider, adding that it’s going to end up being about completely new ways of doing work.
With so many people working at home, video conferencing tools have become a staple for meetings that try to keep workers connected. Don’t expect these video services to go anywhere after the pandemic ends, as these tools are becoming integrated into normal workflows and can help cut down on travel time between meetings. Video calls and webinars have also been adopted as a customer retention tool by small businesses.
Many in-person events have been canceled or postponed because of the pandemic, but virtual events are on the rise. Some large companies that have canceled events created new virtual events to help fill the gap, including Microsoft and Salesforce. While the biggest events may still take place, virtual counterparts will likely exist down the road as well. Additionally, small companies that have built out infrastructure and best practices to host their own online events will likely keep those in place even after the pandemic to reach customers online.
Working from home
One of the most prominent trends during the coronavirus era has been the shift of employees working from home instead of in offices. This has created a new normal for companies that are realizing they can function without a physical office. Companies that have invested in employees’ work-from-home setups will also likely be more amenable to those employees working remotely some of the time even after the pandemic ends. There will also be a higher expectation that people who are sick do not come into the office, with them either taking sick time off or working from home if they are not feeling well.