Adaptability: the impact of COVID-19 on business - a local perspectiveJan 13, 2021
By Andrea Tartaglia – Co-Founder/Director @ The Marketing Leaders
I was thinking about everything that happened in 2020 and decided to write about the impact of COVID-19 on businesses.
I had the list of examples in my mind, ready to start writing. The rise of streaming services! Zoom! Peloton! Gymshark! Lego! And so many others.
But then thought that everything I wanted to write about was actually well represented in the microcosm of my local high street. And I decided to change the focus and share my thoughts using my local community as a proxy for the big corporations, whose efforts are anyway well documented.
It is very clear that the main effect of the pandemic has been the dramatic acceleration of already existing trends.
For businesses, this has created the challenge and opportunity to rethink, reset and react.
For some, it has turned out to be a chance to grow and prepare for prosperity not only in a time of adversity but also for the future.
For others, it has been objectively impossible to face the challenges, as demonstrated by the many closures and record levels of redundancies and job losses.
And everything in between.
Adaptability continues to be the name of the game.
Here are some trends I witnessed and the local examples I chose to represent them:
- Digital and e-commerce acceleration
The new local restaurant was supposed to open on the first week of lockdown. Clearly that did not happen.
Instead, the restaurant started operating for pick up and deliveries only.
In a short space of time, the management team understood they had to radically change their plans, move away from launching a restaurant and start trading as an e-commerce-based pick-up/delivery service.
Quickly, they diverted resources, changed focus and transformed their website from a digital window, aimed at enticing customers to visit the restaurant, to an on-line ordering platform.
- The importance of consumer insights
Like businesses (and everything else for that matter), consumers have been adapting to the situation. Accordingly, it has become even more critical to a business’ success to understand the consumer and follow and adapt as attitudes and preferences are changing rapidly.
I love what the local fish and chips shop did during the pandemic, which I think is a good example of using readily available consumer insights to address a difficult trading environment.
The restaurant owners understood there was a new consumer type interested in them and decided to give these new consumers more of what they wanted.
Once the lockdown was over, the restaurant reopened with a surprising change. In addition to the traditional fish and chips menu, they now offered a good, curated and unique selection of cocktails. And the new young and affluent customers showed up in big numbers.
- Creativity and innovation
The local coffee shop, like many other restaurants, transformed during lockdown and began to sell fresh produce and a limited number of groceries.
It started slowly, basically offering for sale the stock of products that were no longer needed for the normal running of a coffee shop.
They had too much milk, sugar, flour which were no longer needed. Well, they happened to be the kind of things people were running out of in their homes, so it made perfect sense to start selling them.
From there, the step to enlarge the assortment and become a destination for a top up of essentials and fresh produce just made sense. Local, quick safe shopping. Enabling customers to easily find what they need without long queues at the supermarket.
- Flexibility and adaptability
I appreciate all the examples I used so far are also a good representation of how flexibility and adaptability are critical to achieving success.
These are skills that have always been important. Now more than ever before.
A number of local pubs had to change their operating model from a mostly indoor format to a solely outdoor proposition.
This particular pub went all the way, quadrupling the seating capacity and making changes to the serving and kitchen staff to cope with the new requirements.
- Continue with what you are doing well
Not every business had to change. A number of outlets could continue doing what they always did, with little or no need to adapt or diverge significantly from the way they had operated before the pandemic.
Acknowledging that it has been a very hard time for a lot of people, I want to use as an example one of the local churches with its established food bank, which has been in operation for a few years now, helping families in need.
They are the best example of an organization continuing to do what they have always done but at scale, helped by the generosity of the local community and businesses, who have been donating products and time, helping the church to cope with the increased demand for essential food and clothing.
What happens when businesses cannot adapt? When they do not embrace digitization? When they are not in tune with their customer base (actual and or potential)?
Sadly, they become unsuccessful and eventually they are forced to shut down.
There are a few examples (too many) of shops in my neighborhood that did not survive the pandemic.
I think in all cases there were fundamental issues in the way they operated, and COVID-19 just accelerated their demise.
No closure was unexpected, but all are very sad and are leaving a gap in the local community.
None of the strategies the other businesses managed to implement to survive and even thrive worked for these shops. Did they try them? Or could not react at all to the changing circumstances affecting the business?
I am curious to find out what will replace these businesses.
I am sure there will be opportunities and the many shops currently closed will come back to life and add vibrancy to a high street that needs just a little more love to go back to being lively and bubbly as it used to be.