The Jetson family wave as they fly past buildings in space in their spaceship in a still from the … [+]
When The Jetsons came out as a popular cartoon show in the 1960s, it illustrated a futuristic life powered by tech. And to be fair, humanity has achieved some extraordinary things since then, like drones, self-driving cars, smartwatches and robots. But when the world flashed forward into a fully digital future overnight a few weeks ago, we were caught unprepared.
While many businesses over the past two decades have leveraged technology to have an omnichannel strategy covering both offline and online, COVID-19 put on global display just how much of the world is unable to function digitally. For example, last year, online sales only made up 11 percent of the $5.5 trillion made by American retailers. There are 15.5 million Americans who rely on brick-and-mortar locations with foot traffic to make a living; this includes everyone from mom-and-pop shop clerks to fitness instructors to Tiffany salespeople. And most, if not nearly all, the $3.74 trillion of domestic business investment deals were made based on face-to-face, old-school interactions. Commercial real estate brokers stage and show prospective tenants offices in person. Tractor salesmen still walk farmers through the bells and whistles of John Deere’s new models. Most venture capital investments and public company roadshows require in-person meetings. Based on the current rate of adoption of technology, we weren’t forecasting a fully digital life until 2050.
With the rise of COVID-19 and a full quarantine in place, businesses were forced to jump into and function in a fully digital world literally overnight. This not only gave us a trial-run of what entirely online interactions and commerce look like, but it also exposed the areas of opportunity for building online-first solutions for the trillions of dollars that exchange hands offline.
We are in an adapt-or-die moment, with most businesses facing an existential threat. Many of them have made a heroic effort to pivot, transition, digitize over the past several weeks. However, there still is a technological gap in essential areas of our lives that has made this transition into the ether of the internet painful. The way we teach, sell, coach, feed, etc. have all been upended, which presents opportunities for innovators.
In a fully digital life, what broke?
How We Teach
There are more than 33 million public school students out of class, and now for the first time ever, tens of millions of students are now taking classes virtually. This is significant. Unfortunately, the transition for both teachers and students hasn’t been seamless. Many schools were slow to figure out the right video infrastructure; others have had a difficult time translating curriculum and homework online. A one-size-fits-all video solution like Zoom also makes it challenging to replicate what actually happens in a classroom and it becomes increasingly difficult for teachers to engage students without distractions.
But there are also amazingly hopeful examples of adaptation to these changes. One 6th-grade teacher in D.C. is using an education-specific video-conferencing app giving her an extra degree of face-to-face contact she finds valuable for engaging students remotely. A San Francisco high school art teacher has turned his students’ lack of laptops into an opportunity for them to design using a free app on their phones. And nearby in Silicon Valley, a school district planned for many of its students not having computers or internet connections, so it started a program in March to deliver mobile hotspots to students’ homes.
How We Workout
Gyms are facing a crisis. Solidcore, a pilates studio in New York, laid off 98% of its workforce due to the pandemic’s effects on sales. Other major brands such as Orangetheory and Equinox had to either lay off many employees or implement pay reductions and furloughs for employees unable to work due to club closures. Planet Fitness—a publicly-traded company—has seen its shares plummet as much as 60 percent.
However, other gyms are finding ways to reach audiences digitally. Exercising has slowly been moving in home, but this accelerated it. So in response, many gyms are becoming content creators, going virtual with online classes, Instagram stories, live streams and conducting personal training sessions via Zoom. The fitness company Beachbody has reportedly experienced a 200% growth in subscribers (approximately 1.5 million subscribers) since shifting to online classes. Every gym will need a way to have online content for their audiences.
How Way We Eat
For restaurants going into this pandemic without an online revenue stream, or even presence, this has been a wild ride. Many have turned their large retail spaces into a take-out only location. Others have scrambled to convert into a cloud kitchen and do delivery only. Some have even shipped raw ingredients to their customers and hosted online Zoom classes on how to cook favorite dishes.
While these are all great initiatives, they are not sustainable without technology. Most of these restaurants are doing all the above with pen and paper and cannot predict demand or optimize delivery routes.
Some restaurants were early adopters and are better positioned to know their customer base and reach them without relying on foot traffic. For example, even before this crisis began, more than 8,200 pizzerias in 2,200 cities use an online pizza-ordering platform called Slice, which helps their locally owned pizzerias compete online with Domino’s, Papa John’s, etc.
How We Sell
Retail—everything from mom-and-pop corner stores to coffee shops—has been devastated by the loss of foot traffic. U.S. retail saw a 60% decline in foot traffic in March. And 90% of shoppers were “hesitant to shop in-store” because of the disease,” per a March report. Now, mom-and-pop shops are competing with e-commerce giants like never before. Creating an online revenue stream is now life or death.
Fortunately, because offline retailers’ problems have been long in the making, there are many companies with products ready-made to help mom-and-pop shops into e-commerce players. Shopify, for example, is an out of the box solution for building an online storefront. Over the past weeks, Shopify has seen record traffic to its sites as offline stores realize an online presence is their only way to survive. Another example, ZigZag Global, allows a local store to effectively outsource the logistics of your customers’ returns.
The Digital Future
We are all hopeful that life will return to normal soon. Many speculate that the consumer will just bounce back and resume their habitual offline activities. However, this time has shown us all a glimpse of the future and has exposed gaps where we will need technology advancement and adoption to prevent a complete upheaval of life. Transitioning from offline to online should be instant and seamless for almost every industry, but that will require some serious heavy lifting to bridge the state of the world today to a fully digital future that is coming to stay.