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The Impact on our Way of Life
Since its inception in late 2019 to mid-April 2020, COVID-19 has infected more than two million people around the world with fatalities exceeding one hundred and thirty four thousand. The widespread “lockdown”, which is the current protocol for the pandemic in many countries, has seen families required to stay at home for the foreseeable future while governments work to suppress the pandemic and reduce new infections to an “acceptable” level which would allow the resumption of normal activities.
The ensuing chaos began with the population stockpiling toilet rolls, pasta and vitamin C, resulting in the underlying commodities for these items yielding higher than gold in Q1 2020. In the 12 weeks since the first coronavirus cases hit Europe, retailers have been amongst the first business casualties. As reported by the BBC, popular fashion retailers such as Oasis and Warehouse have been the hardest hit, going into administration only 15 weeks after the annual Christmas shopping splurge.
According to studies by Harvard University, social distancing may need to be in place until 2022, which could make social distancing the "NEW normal", impacting how consumers perceive and use service businesses in future. A two-metre social distancing rule will certainly hinder restaurants, coffee shops and marketplaces which will find it difficult to conduct business with customers queuing outside.
We have already had a taste of what is to come: when the restrictions were lifted in Wuhan, for example, people rushed to their favourite breakfast shops for a traditional plate of hot noodles and then stood outside the shops maintaining the two-metre social distance requirement. Yet how will a barista in Italy cope with serving espresso whilst observing the same social distancing protocol between customers as has been practised in China? This will undoubtedly have a profound effect on our culture and on life as we knew it.
British pubs and New York bars will struggle if customers insist on the two-metre rule. Certainly, social interaction in public spaces like pubs, bars, cafés and clubs would be severely dampened. How will cinema seating be reconfigured to ensure customers are not touching elbows and will sporting events be organised with social distancing or even precautionary infra-red heat checks before entry to stadiums?
It is inevitable that restaurants, pubs, sporting events, cinema and concerts may be required to reinvent their business models to provide their post-COVID-19 customers with peace of mind away from home.
During the international lock-down, the E-Sports industry has been pushing virtual sports to draw in younger viewers to attend live streamed events. Companies such as Activision and EA sports are racking viewers, sponsorship and digital product revenues while conventional sports venues are shuttered. Other stay-at-home companies such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime have officially surpassed long-time rival Disney’s capital net-worth just with their online streaming business.
Conversely, despite not selling tickets at their amusement parks, Disney has made billions launching their Disney+ online streaming service at the peak of the pandemic. Many singers and bands have provided free live concerts on Facebook and Instagram live with no special equipment except for their mobile phone devices. These events have drawn millions of viewers online without advertisement or sponsorship. Home beer brewing is on the rise with yeast being sold out before flour at many supermarkets while Corona beer has become a somewhat taboo brand on the "lonely shelf" in the drinks aisle.
Online businesses, such as Amazon, have seen record highs of $2,300 per share with investors anticipating record-breaking sales outside the usual Christmas or Black Friday peaks. Similarly, Ocado, which describes itself as the “world’s largest dedicated online grocery retailer”, saw record highs in their share price of over £15 per share – a 5x growth in 5 years. Certainly, it is clear that consumers are embracing companies which allow them to stay at home while still receiving the food and products they need (and/or want).
It appears that society has adapted to this new norm in the short span of 12 weeks, simply applying technological tools that have been available for the last two decades in new ways.
Seasonal fashion retailers are the first casualties on a long list of retail business to be affected by these changes. Conversely, companies like ETSY which promote and sell a quality homemade product may be the future of fashion.
Customised products, which emphasise quality over quantity, may be the way forward, as indicated by Instagram fashion social influencers and other social media channels such as Pinterest, which have seen a spike in viewers seeking inspiration for both men and women’s fashion.
The travel and hospitality industries may be some of the most heavily-impacted by these changes. Flights, cruises, hotels may see long-lasting revenue depression. The high maintenance costs will be the first test for the industry to ensure equipment and facilities’ integrity after months parked in the yard or on the runway. The second test will be the marketing effort required by operators across the travel, hospitality, visual arts and entertainment industries to entice people to move about again.
Many of these companies will likely focus on possible bailouts by governments to help with initial cashflow requirements to restart operations – if they can outlast the current costs of overhead and latency. However, it remains to be seen whether younger demographics will be able to afford travel or entertainment after months of being at home on furlough. It is possible that we could see a spike in travel to places like Taiwan, Singapore or New Zealand which are perceived to have managed the COVID-19 pandemic better than other countries.
Low interest rates would doubtless be a driver for people taking on more credit to fuel the economy again, but how long can governments extend credit to consumers and SMEs before interest rates increase?
For the moment, society is just getting comfortable staying at home and coping with the reality of a COVID-19 world. The focus on flexible working arrangements, healthy eating and lifestyle will no doubt determine the next steps for consumers when the doors can be reopened to a brave new world.
About the author(s)
Alex Koh is an independent analyst, writer, and economist. Harold Alby is a managing director and chief operating officer at Inova Capital. Justin Inniss is a managing director at Inova Capital.For more details on our insights please get in touch with us at Inova Capital AG on +41 415616905. Inquire about our ideas and nowcasting capabilities.