Despite its disastrous economic impact, the financial crisis of 2008 served as a catalyst for innovative business ideas that launched multi-billion-dollar enterprises. Limited disposable income paved the way for companies such as Uber and Airbnb to cater to customers’ needs for affordable transportation and travel accommodation at a time when new car purchases and luxury vacation rentals were off the table for many consumers.
More than the right ideas at the right time, these companies were borne out of a philosophic shift in how business could be done; indeed, some postulate that without the Great Recession, the innovators behind Dropbox, Instagram, Uber, Airbnb and “sharing economy” businesses might have simply joined the workforce rather than found ultra-successful enterprises.
With unemployment rates matching those of the Great Recession and a new layer of challenges brought on by social distancing, business closures and supply disruptions, companies must ask: how will the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis change the world of business? Which new consumer behaviors will continue once the pandemic ends? What opportunities will emerge for business growth, and what does that mean for pivoting existing businesses or launching startups?
To help spark inspiration, the following lists 20 ways the world might be different after COVID-19 and how businesses can use these insights to succeed post-pandemic.
1. Regionalized production and supply chains
Companies that depend on supplies from distant sources have struggled to maintain operations during the pandemic. This is especially true for manufacturers, retailers and ecommerce sellers that source from faraway places such as China – which supplies 50 to 70% of the world’s copper, iron ore and nickel.
Moving forward, businesses might seek production and supply chains closer to home. Doing so will not only help protect against future disruptions, it could result in cost savings due to reduced shipping and transportation expenses. Saving money and securing against potential disaster are benefits many companies are likely to explore; at the same time, a revitalized market for regionalized production and sourcing presents new opportunities for entrepreneurs to pivot towards or start manufacturing facilities, warehouses, online sourcing platforms and other related businesses.
2. Ongoing remote employees
A recent Gartner survey revealed that 74% of CFOs plan to shift some employees to permanent remote work after the pandemic ends. Of those, 25% said 10% of their workforce will remain remote, 17% said 20% of their workforce will remain remote and 4% said half of their workforce will remain remote.
Remote employees save companies money and enable businesses to retain top talent that seeks flexibility and the ability to work from the comfort of their own homes, avoid commutes and perhaps even travel without missing work time. It also presents an opportunity for entrepreneurs to cater to the work-at-home employees who need powerful, reliable equipment, software platforms and related accessories. Many of these products are expensive at the enterprise level, but some companies might pivot toward equipment leasing, accessory add-ons such as headsets and office furniture and SaaS platforms that streamline remote communications and enhance productivity.
3. Increased delivery and curbside pickup
No longer the exclusive domain of pizzerias and Chinese takeout, delivery and curbside pickup services have expanded to other types of restaurants – and indeed, other industries – during the coronavirus crisis. The safety measure is likely to outlast the pandemic as people are falling in love with the convenience of McDonald’s on their doorsteps.
Services such as Door Dash and Uber Eats were already bringing favorite treats to homes (one might imagine how those businesses have surged during the pandemic), but there’s room for more players and new markets. From nationwide franchises to local restaurants and hardware stores, every retailer and eatery can identify opportunities to boost sales with delivery and curbside pickup – and other entrepreneurs can enter the game by offering third-party delivery services that eliminate additional overhead for businesses.
Opportunities also exist for companies that can support or augment delivery and pickup services. For example, software and app developers can build platforms that make it easy to order, fulfill orders and track order status.
4. Contactless shopping
Already implemented in the aforementioned delivery services, customers are likely to seek shopping options that limit or eliminate contact with other people and surfaces. This presents an opportunity for certain companies to develop new solutions that cater to contactless demand or bolster sales for existing products in new markets and with new customers.
Automatic doors are a simple example, especially since many businesses do not have them installed. Contactless credit card machines are another idea, given that many will be reticent to manually input their pin codes at checkout. Necessity is the mother of invention, and a society wary of contact presents excellent opportunities for innovative companies to cash in.
5. Greater reliance on ecommerce
Ecommerce grew by 14% over a one-week span in March, illustrating how the pandemic has shifted buying to the online environment. That makes sense given social distancing and stay-at-home mandates, but what might be lost in the ecommerce surge is the fact that many people are buying goods online for the first time. After their initial introduction to the convenience of online shopping, populations such as senior citizens and rural shoppers are likely to continue buying online.
Greater reliance on ecommerce presents multiple opportunities for companies that can cater to specific segments – for example, simplified shopping platforms for seniors or parent-restricted access for minors – and it underscores the importance of having a strong online presence. Local businesses that do not have websites or social media presences (or that leave theirs untended to) could be left behind. Web designers, app developers, social media and online marketing experts have an opportunity to grow their businesses by reaching out to those who need their services now more than ever.
6. A newfound need to be clean
No one likes shopping in a dirty store, but the coronavirus pandemic has made the need to be clean even more important – especially since the real threats are invisible. Retailers, restaurants and other companies that have foot traffic must convince their customers they won’t get sick if they shop at their facilities.
Sanitizing wipes for shopping carts, hand sanitizer dispensers at the door and checkout lane wipe-downs between customers are a start. Such measures also present opportunities for entrepreneurs to manufacture, distribute and sell sanitizing products. Janitorial companies can offer sanitization services to retail stores and restaurants. Supply companies can keep sanitizer and wipe dispensers filled. Moving forward, businesses will need to prioritize cleanliness and opportunities abound for ingenuitive companies: perhaps new technology will be developed or incorporated in a new way to offer in-store cleanliness, such as UV lights in checkout aisles.
7. Consumer trust is paramount
There’s no doubt many companies already prioritize consumer trust, but the very real health risk of COVID-19 takes the need for transparency and authenticity to new heights. Maintaining a clean facility is part of the equation, but on a broader level it’s likely customers will choose to buy from businesses they view as ethical and that have their best interests in mind: quality service over profitability.
A company’s actions during and post-pandemic could have a direct impact on its bottom line, so it’s important for businesses to have their fingers on the pulse of public sentiment. It’s likely a reason Shake Shack recently returned the $10 million Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan it received as part of the stimulus package: the burger chain was publicly criticized for taking money that was supposed to go to small businesses. Though the company wasn’t nefarious for accepting the loan, it recognized that keeping it could do more long-term damage than returning it, which likely elevated consumer trust in the franchise. The act illustrates how businesses that work to earn trust are positioned to enjoy success once the pandemic ends.
8. Less group entertainment
Even when stay-at-home mandates and social distancing end, many will be reticent to attend events packed with large crowds. Karaoke nights might be tough since people will be wary of sharing a microphone with dozens of others. Bars and nightclubs could suffer. Attendance could be low at live concerts and sporting tournaments.
Businesses will need to adapt and innovate. Already, online concerts featuring top performers have commanded millions of views. Gaming tournaments once held in arenas might shift online permanently – or at least for an extended period. Sporting events might be held in empty stadiums.
Entrepreneurial minds will prevail, however: bars can position stools and tables at least six feet apart. Concerts could be held in outdoor venues with dedicated seating and spacing. Performers can continue online shows, but with new levels of interactivity: live video viewer streams or software that controls in-home lights, speakers and other devices. Sporting events can institute interactive fantasy games or online betting (perhaps for charity). And of course, companies will be needed to develop the technology needed to make events more interactive.
9. Greater emphasis on health and wellness
The coronavirus crisis has brought public and personal health to the forefront. The threat itself is scary enough, but people understand they’re more vulnerable if they’re in poor health. Moreover, the act of visiting the doctor or going to the hospital is considered risky. Post-pandemic, that means many are likely to place greater emphasis on their personal wellbeing and healthcare companies will invest additional resources into providing remote care.
Enterprising companies can launch interactive health and fitness classes so people can work out at home. SaaS developers can create personal health tracker platforms and devices to help people achieve and maintain their health goals. Companies can work with doctors and hospitals to develop remote care platforms. Though video doctor visits are available now, it’s possible opportunities exist to develop devices that take key medical measurements at home – perhaps there will be a return to the traveling doctor, albeit via machines that feed data to hospitals. Companies that innovate new medical technologies that cater to remote care could usher in a new era of healthcare accessibility.
10. Quality of life decisions
Post-COVID-19, some predict that employees will be making more decisions based on quality of life versus work opportunities. For example, those who have been forced to hunker down in city apartments will decide to move to the suburbs or rural areas where they can enjoy the great outdoors – or even just a lawn.
If that happens, businesses would be wise to consider the need for employees to lead quality lives when they make their hiring and policy decisions. It lends credence to the idea that companies that allow remote work will be best positioned for success post-pandemic; otherwise, they risk losing top talent that deems a pay decrease acceptable in order to achieve better lives.
It also represents an opportunity for businesses to provide quality of life-related products and services. Real estate companies can market city-to-suburbs relocation services. Moving companies might see a boon. Communications and technology firms can provide the connectivity needed to maintain operations from afar.
11. Another baby boom
Many are predicting a baby boom resulting from the coronavirus; if that occurs, companies that sell products and services to parents can expect surging sales.
A baby boom could affect businesses that do not sell children’s products, too: now might be the time for companies to reevaluate their maternity and paternity leave policies so they can cater to top talent. It also makes a good case for remote work training, as many parents could continue performing their jobs – even part-time – if they can work remotely. Cross-training is also important: when multiple employees can perform the same job, it makes it easier for companies to adopt ample leave policies for pregnancy and childrearing.
12. More DIY
Right now, people can’t go to the salon. They have time on their hands to cook and clean. Most can go to home improvement stores, and they have the time to paint their living rooms. A trip to the grocery store might be deemed risky, but planting seeds is easy. Collectively, people have the need and time to do things themselves, and that’s a trend that could outlast the pandemic as customers realize cost savings and even find enjoyment in doing their own hairstyling, cooking, cleaning, remodeling and gardening.
Companies that offer related products and services will either need to find ways to entice customers to come back after the crisis or cater to the DIY trend. A salon, for example, can sell DIY at-home hair dye kits. An ecommerce company could promote in-home gardening kits and dole out advice with recorded videos or live, interactive online workshops. Startups could develop new, innovative ways to help people do things themselves (perhaps providing on-demand support when they get stuck) and rapidly become household names.
13. The digital classroom
The coronavirus crisis has disrupted education across the board, from elementary schools to colleges and universities. Many have quickly adapted by employing digital classroom apps to maintain learning in the absence of face-to-face instruction – but there is room for improvement.
Post-pandemic, some schools might recognize the cost-savings associated with digital classrooms and move part of their formal curricula online. Perhaps students and parents will have a choice between learning online or off, or in-person school sessions will be reduced to three days per week with the other two held online.
No matter what the future holds for education, opportunities exist for companies to develop products and services that cater to a digital classroom generation: interactive online learning platforms, video streaming, tutors and more. Companies in the educational technology field – and those who want to enter it – would be wise to survey students, parents, educators and administrators to discover pitfalls in current solutions and identify ways to enhance the digital classroom experience.
14. Reduced travel
The coronavirus pandemic has proven it’s not necessary to meet face-to-face to accomplish many business goals. Once the crisis ends, that might cause some companies to put the brakes on business travel: a considerable expense for many firms. Taking that a step further, even business conferences could be held remotely in the not-so-distant future.
At the consumer level, many people are taking virtual tours of famous landmarks. That trend might continue beyond the coronavirus not only due to safety concerns, but also due to reduced disposable income. Hospitality and travel companies would be wise to develop deals that entice customers to travel (perhaps group discounts); other companies can develop new ways to immerse customers in the virtual tour experience.
15. Rediscovery of outdoor recreation
Gyms are closed, yet people have plenty of time to pursue personal fitness. That means many are taking to the great outdoors for recreation. Though playgrounds might not be open, hiking and jogging in parks and along trails is quickly becoming the daily norm for those who would otherwise find themselves in the gym – as well as those who are using the COVID-19 crisis as inspiration to jumpstart their personal wellness programs.
Innovative companies might see this as an opportunity to keep people outdoors once the gyms reopen. Outdoor training equipment, obstacle courses and water stations could be sought by public entities; businesses that are prepared to offer such enhancements could find themselves in a prime position. Moreover, outdoor athletic clothing, accessories and devices could see a boon post-pandemic.
16. Focus on financial planning
Not just a health issue, the coronavirus pandemic is an economic crisis that has put a stranglehold on the average household finances. In fact, 40% of Americans do not have enough savings to cover a $500 emergency – certainly a crisis when unemployment rates have skyrocketed.
Post-pandemic, it’s likely many people will focus on financial planning so they’re prepared to endure if disaster strikes again. That presents opportunities not only for financial planners, but also businesses that can develop online financial education suites and self-help financial platforms that help people stay on track with their budgets, savings and emergency fund goals.
Non-financial businesses can also prepare by developing emergency repayment plans. Rather than offer forbearances if another emergency occurs, a formal reduced repayment policy might allow businesses to remain solvent during a crisis.
17. Newfound passion hobbies
Afforded extra time, many people are rediscovering (or newly discovering) their passions: reading, cooking, writing, photography, knitting, dancing, music and bicycling, to name a few. That interest is unlikely to wane once things return to “normal,” so companies that cater to such hobbies could experience a surge in sales.
Moreover, new opportunities might exist for startups and existing businesses to help people enjoy their hobbies. Online tutorials, for example, or subscription boxes packed with items enthusiasts will appreciate. Another idea might be a mentor matching service, where new hobbyists can directly interact with and learn from experienced practitioners to enhance their skills and capabilities.
18. Expanded gig economy
As mentioned, it’s likely many top employees will want to continue working from home once the pandemic ends. Companies that offer such flexibility are well-positioned to attract and retain top employees – but they might not be employees at all.
Unemployment, layoffs and outright terminations have caused many former employees to seek remote work online. Some are likely finding they prefer the freelancer role over the corporate 9-to-5: it offers diversification, so they might feel more secure in knowing they’re not necessarily out of a job if another disaster strikes.
Businesses should consider how they’re going to keep such employees in-house; or, whether they’re better off hiring contractors instead of employees. The cost savings can be substantial, even for the highest-quality work, but shifting to gig workers also means investing in the right collaboration platforms and developing policies specific to non-employees. That said, companies that are willing to hire gig workers can tap into top talent pools as needed and avoid the overhead associated with maintaining a full-time staff as well as related taxes and benefits.
19. Focused disruption
Though companies such as Amazon offers nearly everything under the sun and probably at the lowest price, it doesn’t stop other companies from competing and earning greater market share in their respective sectors. One of the keys to small business success in an era of Amazon, Walmart and big box stores is focused disruption: identifying the one thing the company does best, delivering it in the most convenient way and focusing only on that.
Airbnb and Uber are outstanding examples of focused disruption. One offers affordable vacation rentals just about anywhere, the other offers affordable transportation with the tap of an app. During the coronavirus crisis, companies such as Tushy and Farmbox have enjoyed skyrocketing sales – Tushy sells installable bidets, while Farmbox delivers fresh produce to customers. In fact, these companies have struggled to keep up with demand.
The common thread between each of these companies is a focus on doing one thing and doing it better than anyone else. Customers respond well to authentic companies that deliver on their promises, and having a singular focus makes it much easier for small business to cater to targeted segments and outcompete large enterprises that are too big to maintain such focus. While it’s difficult to predict what, exactly, customers will clamor for post-pandemic, it stands to reason that businesses that are able to focus have a better chance of success once the crisis ends.
20. Business disaster planning
More than 40% of businesses never reopen after a disaster, underscoring the need for companies to have an emergency response plan. Unfortunately, many businesses do not and were forced to close their doors permanently due to COVID-19. Once the pandemic ends, businesses that survived should place a new emphasis on disaster planning: those that do not have plan will create one, and those that have a plan will reevaluate it to ensure it’s adequate.
That means businesses must dedicate time and resources to developing a strong emergency response plan. Every business is impacted by the need for disaster planning; however, it’s also an opportunity for B2B businesses to develop disaster planning resources: emergency plan workbooks, for example, or disaster plan audits and consulting services.
A lot of things are going to be different once the coronavirus crisis subsides. Right now, it’s important for businesses to consider how those changes will affect their companies and how they should respond. It’s also critical to consider how customers’ lives will change and what opportunities exist within those predictions. In doing so, companies can identify ways to improve their businesses, provide what their customers need, innovate new products and services, and position themselves for success post-pandemic.
Toolkit: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Stay up-to-date on ways to advance your business during the outbreak.
Subscribe to the Toolkit
Get tips to keep you, your employees and your business going