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May 8, 2020

Technology in the Time of COVID-19

Even as COVID-19 shuts down daily activities and derails our routines, technology is opening up new paths forward. This virus has forced us all to assess what technological advancements are at our disposal, and how best to deploy them.

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Never before has the world experienced a pandemic quite like COVID-19, which has overrun all of our lives, all around the globe.

Certainly, there have been deadly plagues throughout history. Most notably, the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which took 500 million lives.

Yet today’s world is vastly different. The wildest futurists of 1918 couldn’t imagine a world dominated by technology the way it is in 2020.

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic shuts down daily activities and derails our routines, technology is opening up new paths forward. This virus has forced us all to assess what technological advancements are at our disposal, and how best to deploy them during this unusual time. 

Digital transformation is defining our “new normal,” connecting us even as we remain socially distant.

A Brave New Virtual World

Practically overnight, the world has gone virtual. Our screens have become windows to the outside. Rather than discouraging extended screentime, we’ve embraced all the ways in which technology can keep us connected.

Our screens now host weddings, serve as school teachers, and enable us to receive virtual healthcare services from remote medical professionals. We use them to work out, to visit family, to indulge in a happy hour with our friends. 

In addition to human-to-human virtual interactions, we’ve also been using our screens to consume more entertainment than ever before. This has led to 47 million additional streaming video subscriptions this year. To keep up with this increased demand for entertainment, traditionally live shows such as SNL, late-night talk shows, and even the news, are still broadcasting new episodes - all recorded at home. Consumers surveyed across multiple countries said they will increase their spend on at-home entertainment. 

Social distancing has also forced traditional forms of entertainment such as theaters, sports, and concert venues to shut down. Universal Pictures was scheduled to release a sequel to their popular kids’ movie Trolls on April 10. The movie studio decided not to postpone, and instead leapfrogged a theatre release and went straight to digital rentals. In three weeks of digital release, Trolls World Tour made nearly $100 million, earning more than the original release did during five months in theaters. 

Recognizing the significance of these newly-popular methods of entertainment consumption, Google and Netflix paired up to develop Netflix Party. It’s a Chrome extension that allows people to watch Netflix remotely with friends, mimicking the theatre experience. Netflix Party synchronizes video playback and adds group chat to your favorite movies and shows, offering an innovative form of digitally shared experiences, while still safely sheltering-at-home.

Online Shopping’s Time to Shine

In addition to shifts in entertainment, our shopping habits have been altered, too.

Daily online sales in the U.S. have seen a 25% average increase when comparing the first half of March to March 13-15, per an Adobe Analytics report. While many consumers already took advantage of eCommerce even before COVID-19, the sudden need to quarantine has accelerated the adoption of such behavior. Target reported that since the beginning of April, digital sales have grown 275%, resulting in their best quarter in 20 years.

Interestingly, while eCommerce sales overall have experienced rapid growth, these increases are very category-based. Leading the charge is virus protection, healthcare products, and online grocery shopping. Millions of first-time online grocery buyers are materializing, and millions of infrequent buyers are now doing so on a weekly basis. Big box retailers and grocery stores who had a strong eCommerce presence, or the ability to deploy such capabilities rapidly, have been able to remain profitable during store closures. 

As reported by McKinsey Digital, this pandemic has not only cemented the importance of businesses having an eCommerce presence, but the need to be agile and quickly implement such resources. 

Reported by McKinsey Digital

Thankfully, with tools such as Commerce Edge, a 2-week B2B commerce store, it is easier than ever before to rapidly deploy solutions to get a business running online. These digital solutions will not only allow businesses to survive in current conditions, but will also have a long-term effect on buying behaviors. 

“Companies need to pay extra special attention to their digital and eCommerce experiences right now,” advised John Copeland, Vice President of Marketing and Customer Insights, Adobe. “Consumers are less forgiving during a time like this, and the companies that meet and exceed their needs will build loyalty and lifetime value.”

Indeed, shoppers are exploring what capabilities are available to them while at home, and commerce is fulfilling this need through convenience and accessibility. 

The Business of Remote Work

Yet even as retailers and entertainment brands are experiencing a heyday, businesses and corporations of all kinds are facing a number of uncharted challenges in continuing operations during this time. 

When it comes to remote work efforts, most organizations were still at infancy or had not yet invested enough in full-blown strategies and enablement. COVIV-19 has made telecommuting a necessity and not a choice. Fortunately, a number of resources are available to make telecommuting attainable, such as video conferencing, project management tools, and  communication platforms. 

Most of these capabilities would not be possible without cloud infrastructure eliminating the need for physical access. “In uncertain times, the public cloud is providing flexibility and a safe haven for enterprises that are struggling to maintain normal operations. Cloud provider revenues continue to grow at truly impressive rates,” said John Dinsdale, a Chief Analyst at Synergy Research Group. While there is still a learning curve in adopting best practices for telecommuting, it is undeniable that this pandemic is accelerating the future of work

Pivoting Services

Brick-and-mortar retailers and other client-facing businesses are also facing their own unique set of challenges on how to operate while observing health restrictions. Many have remained closed, but as shelter-at-home mandates begin to lift, stores and malls are slowly beginning to reopen. Simon Property Groups announced plans to reopen 49 malls nationwide this week. In efforts to maintain safety precautions and stay contactless, a number of retailers small and large have begun to adopt curbside pickup. 

BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store) makes it possible for clients to place an order online, and pick it up at a brick-and-mortar location. However, without a proper process in place to layer on curbside pickup, BOPIS retailers may be trading off one set of challenges for another. For a truly successful curbside pickup experience, there needs to be two-way communication between the retailer and the customer. Our latest technology, Curbside Pickup Now, has built an innovative digital solution, incorporating text messages for seamless customer experience. 

Furthermore, many sharing economy businesses that were largely made possible by technology are now having to pivot to stay afloat. Uber halted all shared-ride options only allowing for single rider pickups. In April they also announced two new initiatives Uber Direct and Uber Connect. Direct is a delivery platform for retail items, while Connect is a peer-to-peer package delivery service, for sending goods to family and friends. 

Much in the same vein, in April DoorDash posted a position for “Enterprise Manager, Retail & Incubation,” as part of a new vertical seeking to capitalize on the last mile delivery market.

While COVID-19 has presented many challenges to businesses of all kinds, it also has paved the way for technology-led solutions which may ultimately lead to greater opportunities. 

Future Focus

This pandemic will leave a permanent mark on how we value the capabilities of digital transformation and subsequent rapid adoption

COVID-19 is a crisis that has had a devastating impact on the health of millions around the world. 

Yet its lasting effects are further-reaching than simply the health and medical industry. This pandemic will leave a permanent mark on how we value the capabilities of digital transformation and subsequent rapid adoption. 

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