2020 is undoubtedly a landmark year. The last time Wimbledon got cancelled was in 1945 during World War II. This is the first peacetime cancellation of the premier tennis event. As it is with the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, which stands deferred by a year. The COVID-19 lockdown has created a war-like situation with the cessation of a normal life as one knew it. In India, with the last war fought in 1971, this is an experience that’s unprecedented for everyone under the age of 50 years. That’s almost the entire Gen-X!
Economic liberalization moves in India in 1991 brought in dynamism in the business ecosystem and led to a plethora of choices with brands pursuing an ever-indulgent consumer. The last 10 years had also seen the emergence of digital-first businesses such as Flipkart, Amazon, MakeMyTrip, and BigBasket. Digital provided consumers with a 24X7 access to brands for them to explore and compare, read reviews, and buy. For brands, digital meant quicker access to a bigger market footprint, well into the hinterland.
An almost continuous 30 years of the unbridled run was brought to a grinding halt with the COVID-19 lockdown. As businesses gear up to emerge out of the lockdown, it’s pertinent to look into how lives were impacted at large. These observations can then be kept in perspective when looking at the possible implications on specific categories as we move ahead.
Making do with less
With no avenues to out of home consumption, realization dawned upon many that life can be sustained with less of consumables. Rising insecurity on jobs and possible pay cuts have pushed many categories out of the realms of consumer’s minds after being forced to go in hiding during the lockdown, with the label of ‘non-essentials’ firmly stuck by the government on most categories of consumption. Men and women with the help of kids at home took on the roles of the cheap, invisible domestic labor which is the bulwark of many households, as housemaids and cooks. A lockdown that was a cutdown at many levels. Daily new experience with diverse domestic chores filling up the time that an urban family otherwise spent on commuting or socializing outside of the home.
Adapting to the unthinkable
While a few sectors like IT had already built in Work-from-Home (WFH) as a viable option pre-COVID-19, albeit with some in-built restrictions, WFH has been a surprisingly pleasant adoption in many of the core businesses with video conferencing apps like Zoom being fairly widely used to stimulate not just work-related business conversations but also team bonding sessions.
Homes as the new focal point
With life almost confined to homes barring sporadic forays outside to get essentials, homes have emerged as the leitmotif of one’s existence morphing into dynamic forms- as an office, gym or a hangout for virtual socializing. Cooking and watching content has also taken the center-stage, ranging from an epic like Ramayan on linear TV to OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ Hotstar.
Connections overcoming the contagion
The absence of physical connect has led to creative ways of connecting both with immediate neighbors through balcony concerts as well as socializing virtually over an app like Zoom. Families, friends, and batchmates have connected virtually over food and drinks for reasons like Birthdays or even without one, with the forced confinement acting as a catalyst for a behavior that was never ever seen earlier.
Engaging with the local economy
With large grocery stores- both offline and online- reeling undersupply and distribution pressures, consumers have reconnected with local Kirana stores which have been resourceful and innovative in getting their supplies running and coming to the rescue of customers in the moment of crisis. The other interesting trend has been of farmers reaching out to RWAs (apartment blocks) and selling their farm produce directly. It will be interesting to watch out if this new channel, discovered out of expediency, survives when normalcy returns completely.
Safety and social distancing in money transactions
Sanitizers and masks are the obvious symbols of a changed, careful behavior during COVID-19 but there’s another aspect of one’s daily routines. It’s the reluctance to use handheld currencies. Transactions through UPI, wallets like Paytm, and contactless credit card have increased during the lockdown.
A return of old values
Heroic stories of doctors and nurses, security forces, and key members of the administration have deservedly received accolades for their selfless service. What has also not gone unnoticed are acts of individual service by citizens at large like donations to NGOs, distribution of food packets, and creation of community kitchens. Just when the world seemed to be getting consumed by mindless personal pursuits, humanity has emerged from relative obscurity. Corporates have also risen to the occasion with the likes of Mahindra & Mahindra developing a very affordable ventilator for the country’s fight against COVID-19. Higher purpose rather than immediate, personal, or commercial motives seems to have gained currency.
Implications for key categories
Fashion: For an industry that’s so cyclical with its typical Autumn Winter & Spring Summer lines or some that are truly trendy as fast fashion, COVID-19 has been disruptive from a planning and placement perspective. There’s a growing indication of trendless or seasonless fashion that can withstand the vagaries of disruption of trade calendars as well as cautious purchases by customers unwilling to splurge on the whims. Brands are being forced to look at sustainability as a business predicament if not an environmental one.
Travel & tourism: One of the obvious fallouts of COVID-19 is the impact on travel and tourism. While at an overall level the sentiments are expected to be subdued, there is the likelihood of exploration around one’s city, to driving distance getaways in the midst of nature. Localized travel of these kinds can act as an antidote to anxiety-filled and high scrutiny travel that’s likely to be the shape post-COVID-19 for some time to come. Leisure travel on airlines and trains could decline in favor of road travel in one’s personal car. The likes of Airbnb which stood for an immersive, cultural experience at a host’s property may give way for conventional branded hotel rooms which offer an assurance on hygiene and sanitation.
Sharing economy: Fuelled by startups and consumers who were increasingly comfortable with the idea of shared ownership, the sharing economy was one of the biggest emerging economies pre COVID-19, with brands offering shared cars, bikes, furniture as well as shared office and living spaces. This segment is likely to see significantly reduced usage in the near term with the ability to bounce back determined by adoption of new hygiene policies and social distancing policies by brands and consumers alike. Shared (coworking) office spaces may have to look at hygiene practices and larger individual work-stations which ensure reasonable social distancing as the key selling points, with users increasingly wary of working in spaces that are not personal. While initially post COVID-19, there could be a decline in users, corporates farming off a portion of their existing office spaces as a rationalization measure could result in some positive demand for coworking spaces. Moving on, a company like QuickRide which offers shared rides on a peer to peer computing platform is looking at reimagining its offering and is advocating social distancing with only one familiar co-passenger as ride sharer in a car, significantly altering it from a ride that was more than a commute. It was also to meet new professionals and socialize during the ride.
Home décor: Home has emerged as the nerve center of one’s activity and even as one looks forward to a gradual withdrawal of the lockdown, there is a lurking feeling that God forbid, the virus could make a possible comeback. The lockdown has provided residents an opportunity to appreciate its versatility as the space to work, virtually socialize, exercise and e-learn. It has also stirred imaginations on how these spaces could be enhanced to be ready to play the new multi-faceted roles in any emerging lockdown like situation.
Authored Article by Vigyan Verma – Founder, The Bottom Line- Brand Impact Solutions