COVID-19: What impact on companies and brands?

Lockdowns are officially being eased and life is slowly dripping back to the “new normal”, as the media likes to put it. It’s too early to know what long-term impact this pandemic will have. But one thing is clear, change is in the air.

Back to the essentials

Lockdown meant non-essential businesses being closed, people stuck at home and only spending and stocking up on essentials like loo roll! This was particularly tough on physical retailers; a little less so for online brands such as Amazon and those supplying everyday necessities like pasta and rice. Obviously for anyone working in transport or tourism, it’s been a catastrophe that looks set to transform the future of the entire industry.

Unsurprisingly, with falling sales and limited activity, jobs have taken a big hit. Millions more are now unemployed. For those lucky enough to live in countries like France, in the short-term, the government is paying the wages companies can’t afford. At the end of April, this was the case for 12 million workers in France. In the UK, 7 out of 10 private companies had furloughed staff. For those working informally or in countries with less money to splash, sadly this means no income.

All for one and one for all

The good news is that these difficult times are bringing out the most caring side of individuals and brands in an overwhelming show of solidarity – charity initiatives, fundraising and contributions like providing fabric to make masks, donating PPE and repurposing production. Here are some inspiring examples from the fashion industry.

The new normal

But as many countries are slowly unlocking their quarantine measures, the focus is now on trying to establish a careful balance between economic recovery and public health. This means implementing strict hygiene and social distancing measures. Companies need to reorganise their workspaces to ensure no close contact, whether by staggering working hours, keeping people working from home, creating physical barriers or closing canteens.

Inching forwards

With so many logistical challenges and sluggish sales, brands are largely focusing on the here and now. A lot of non-essential projects are on hold and budgets are being reviewed. Yet at the back of their minds, they are also looking at life beyond lockdown and long-term success (or at least survival). Some might spring back, while others may take longer. Or never fully recover.

Against the backdrop of a looming recession, many questions are floating in the air.

  • How can brands (and governments) encourage people to spend the “forced savings” made during lockdown?
  • Can brands survive the impact of high levels of unemployment, uncertainty, and restrictions and less disposable income?
  • How sincere, realistic and wide-reaching are expectations of a greener and fairer post-Covid 19 world?

 Accentuating and accelerating

Although there are, as yet, no clear answers to these questions, it looks like a handful of existing trends are set to accelerate. First of all, the growth of e-commerce. Many consumers have grown fond of their lockdown shopping habits – like home grocery delivery – and will continue to make more online purchases to save time, limit travel and reduce health risks.

Planet first

The pandemic has also given us a frightening glimpse of the impact we’re having on nature and the dangerous consequences of this interference. Not to mention the huge effort needed to undo (or at least slow) the damage. Despite the fact that billions are lockdown, it is estimated that annual emissions will only be reduced by 5% in 2020 – still well short of the 7.6% decrease we need every year this decade to stop global temperatures rising more than 1.5°.

Will this be a real awake-up call? The move towards more sustainable materials, more recycling and more focus on the environment looks set to continue. But how easily can we achieve this in the stormy waters of a major recession?

Close to home

This leads me nicely on to another trend that is already flourishing. Buying locally. And, during lockdown, we’ve been made even more aware of the network of shops and services that bring our communities to life. People have shown solidarity e.g. purchasing excess stock from restaurants and buying directly from farmers in rural areas. Yet more than just solidarity, France has depended on its domestic farmers to keep the shelves stocked in the face of increasingly difficult international transport.

The pandemic has demonstrated just how dependent we are on imports from other countries – masks and protective equipment are the most extreme example. Post-lockdown, many consumers will continue to buy as close to home as possible and the French government may well take steps to make the country more self-sufficient in the future.

It would nice to think that this pandemic has a silver lining. That out of all the suffering, we can create a world that is greener and fairer. It seems inconceivable that we simply carry on as before…but only time will tell.

Do you agree? What changes will shape our future?

Let me know what you think.

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