COVID-19:

an unforeseen catalyst of the digital transformation

Whole countries are under lockdown, universities, schools, and airports stay closed for an uncertain time. Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus in the western world, affected states are following China by taking measures to slow down the spread.

An unprecedented situation confronts our society and above all politics and companies with a significant question of rethinking past approaches, decisions, and processes. It is putting personal and business lives in front of enormous challenges, especially those that haven’t touched the digital sphere yet, are struggling to adapt smoothly to the latest developments. On the other side, innovative and creative solutions of courageous companies spring up like mushrooms.

COVID-19 – the unpleasant digital disruptor

COVID-19 is probably the biggest unforeseen and unpleasant digital disruptor worldwide in this past decade. But this is actually not a surprise. With the SARS outbreak in China in 2002/03, this unfortunate event had been a tipping point and trigger for the development of the eCommerce landscape in China.

Today, our western world is facing a similar crisis, and it reveals that many organizations missed the adaption to the digital age. The digital transformation – in private as well as in the public sector – has often been seen as an enemy and been associated with non-compliance with company security measures or making workers redundant. It usually has not been taken into consideration as a worthy investment for the future.

While in China, the economy slowly accelerates, most industries in the west still find themselves in a shock phase. The ones that have underestimated the power of digital are now forced unintentionally by COVID-19 to understand the necessity to digitalize their processes or even businesses and innovate their working models.

The questions arising have changed: Do we need to store all our invoices physically, or does a Cloud solution make sense also for us? Wouldn’t be a digital signature with a certificate sufficient? Why not invest in better cashless payment solutions for our clients? Would an online application to take appointments to be more efficient than letting people queue?

Remote working suddenly doable

For the past 12 months, the term “remote work” has had worldwide a stagnant and rather low search volume, according to Google Trends. However, since March 8, the graph depicts a sudden increase with its peak between the 15th and 21st March. As a side note: “coronavirus remote work” stands at number one of the related queries.

At this point arises the question if a spreading virus has to be the catalyst to change and adapt partly outdated working environments. Of course, not every industry can support remote working. Still, as the Google Trends search has shown, for most companies, it hasn’t even been much of a topic before. Today, what seemed before the outbreak of the Coronavirus impossible, is suddenly doable: doing daily stand-up meetings via video conferencing tools and working even more efficiently from home. 

Nevertheless, businesses enhance their working policies with the option for remote working quickly, it leaves no time to teach employees efficient working from home or managers and project managers how to lead a remote team. Companies also have to make sure that the remote working actually works in terms of processes and structures.

A new landscape of digital offerings

Great digital solutions and innovations have already disrupted many markets and industries, as consumer behavior changed overnight with the beginning of quarantine. People are not only in the search for alternatives for their daily habits and hobbies but also search for new activities against their boredom in quarantine.

A representative of Daily Burn told in an interview with Business Insider that in only one week, they had made a 268% year-over-year increase in membership sign-ups. As the usage of online fitness apps has increased, also gyms are starting to offer virtual workout classes. Not only pre-recorded videos on YouTube but also Instagram Live videos have increasing popularity. 

Furthermore, E-Learning platforms are widening their offerings, and language teachers have taken the chance to continue their lessons online. Besides, streaming services and online gaming, as well as well-built and functioning online presences for online shopping, are other winning leaders of this current economic crisis.

Also, the public sector has started working on its digitalization. A bunch of countries introduced online classes for schools, where pupils have to check-in online every morning and follow as usual the lesson. The health sector will experience a revolution. Some apps already give a first perspective of the potential: applications that help localizing zones with a certain amount of COVID-cases, or developing apps for self-treatments in quarantine. Healthcare technology leaders are pushing digital solutions to improve the management and operations in hospitals and not at least patient care.

Digital solutions become more attractive for older generations

Mintel has collected some interesting insights in their past market research. So did numbers of a survey from 2019 show that in China, only 12% of consumers older than 55 years did online shopping, and only 5% ordered food online. Now, however, online purchasing appears a great opportunity. As a consequence, community supermarkets in China have responded by simplifying and improving online shopping experiences. Orders are now taken via WeChat Groups, and even delivery within the same day gets promised. This has put them in a good position for competing with giant supermarket chains.

While consumers are discovering new online customer experiences, companies should not see their offer of online services in the short-term. In these days, consumers are getting used to new standards. This raises the question of a long-term view on how many consumers would continue using their online offers, as soon as the situation goes back to normal. As we know, humans are creatures of habit.

Advertising and sales are shifting from offline to online

During these past weeks, lots of businesses have found their way to the old teleshopping concept to now advertise in live sessions on social media. Some companies shine with original ideas. Winegrowers from Germany are selling tasting packages in their eCommerce and then taste them together with their audience via live stream. What substantially differentiates this way of advertising from TV, are the live interactions allowing the viewers to engage and interact with the brand.

While one of the hardest-hit industries must be the event industry, we can also see first digital alternatives. UX Copenhagen should have had to be held physically at the end of March. Instead of canceling the whole event, the organizer transformed it into a full online-live event. Participants from all over the world could listen to the talks live, and even questions from the listeners, entered on a specific platform, got answered by the speakers. Furthermore, workshops and polls have been available also conducted entirely digitally, and missed discourses can be rewatched in well-managed recordings.

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Takeaway

Often a crisis generates new opportunities, and innovative solutions emerge. COVID-19 has obliged us to reassess our past and current ways of doing things. This tidal wave brings us to change our mindsets, and previous operations and processes need to being reconsidered.

Most likely, many organizations will need to position themselves differently in the market. We will see big changes when it comes to ensuring the safety of employees and also consumers. One particular field which will definitely gain more importance is touchless experiences and solutions. Be it in the further extension of cashless payment or maybe even withdrawing money at the ATM without touching the pads.

Not at least the upcoming weeks or months will reshape consumers’ expectations. They will get used to new standards and the variety of online offerings for all different parts of their life, such as ordering groceries from the couch.

We are curious to see what digital will be capable of in the future!