LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 26: A man runs past The Tower Bridge on April 26, 2020 in London, England. … [+]
It’s four weeks into the United Kingdom’s lockdown and it seems that Britons are making a conscious effort to support small businesses operating in their areas.
According to a new report published this week by credit and debit card company, Barclaycard, around 55 percent of consumers plan to shop from local stores and markets. And it’s not just retailers who stand to benefit. Respondents also plan to use local services providers, such as plumbers and electricians rather than relying on national chains.
Not much is open at the moment, but Barclaycard’s figures do suggest that independent specialist food and liquor stores – which can continue to trade under the rules of the lockdown – have already enjoyed a 30.5 percent boost in sales.
That’s just one example of how the Covid-19 crisis is changing patterns of demand. Elsewhere, consumers and businesses are seeking out products and services they might not have considered if it were not for the epidemic. Witness a recent report published by the deVere Group suggesting that usage of fintech apps jumped 72 percent in Europe at the beginning of the crisis. Meanwhile, suppliers of video conferencing software and infrastructure have seen demand surge as home working becomes the norm. With streaming services such as Netflix also reporting rising demand, it seems like this is a good time to be in certain sectors of the digital economy.
Well perhaps. In the midst of a pandemic, everyone is forced to do things differently, whether that means using an app to access financial advice, watching a streamed movie instead of going out to the cinema, or holding the monthly board meeting via Zoom. But what about the longer term? When all this is over, will businesses and consumers simply return to their old ways of doing things or will the outbreak be a catalyst for permanent change?
Will It Last?
It’s a question many digital entrepreneurs must surely be asking themselves, particularly if they’ve seen demand for their own services rise over the last few months.
Bertie Hubbard – CEO and co-founder of MyTutor – is a case in point. Founded in 2014, MyTutor matches students with a community of tutors. Lessons delivered are online by video.
As Hubbard explains, the company has seen interest in its services rising since the onset of the crisis. “Initially, there as a period of uncertainty,” he says. “But then we witnessed a new willingness to try online learning.”
Certainly, there as a gap to be filled. Following school closures, the government quickly announced a system of assessment for those students who had been due to take key exams this year. However, more generally across the school system, pupils face a partial gap in their ongoing education, even with schools themselves providing online classes.
What we’re finding is that people are using our services to maintain engagement with education,” says Hubbard.
But will the spike in uptake last? Hubbard is optimistic that it will, believing that a Rubicon of sorts has been crossed. Traditionally, tutoring has been offered in a physical space, such as the home. Hubbard says online tutoring is more convenient and flexible, but it requires a willingness to experiment. “People often have a low tolerance for trying something new. But the crisis has accelerated adoption. We think people will see the benefits,” he says.
You can hear similar arguments elsewhere – not least in the video conferencing and collaboration tools market where it’s thought that high levels of home working and online meetings will continue long after the lockdowns have ended. Again, the logic is, that concepts are being proved. You don’t have to drive 200 miles to a meeting. You can work just as efficiently from home – at least part of the time – and avoid a commute that is today hazardous but, even in better times, tedious.
Gaps In Healthcare
But the changes brought about by the pandemic may extend beyond variations on the online collaboration and video conferencing theme. The crisis is also highlighting the shortcomings of healthcare systems.
Paul Roberts is CEO of GPDQ, a healthcare business that was founded to supply a range of primary care services. “Our aim was to build a more sustainable healthcare system by delivering more care to patents out in the community,” he says.
The company started by offering private GP consultations, outside Britain’s National Health Service framework. However, it has since been commissioned by the NHS to offer consultations. As things stand, the company offers a range of services including GP visits and teleconsultations.
And as Roberts sees it, the Covid-19 crisis will drive innovation in healthcare, One possible outcome is that it will accelerate demand for remote consultations.
But he also sees a new awareness of problems that need to be solved. For instance, Covid-19 has brought to the surface shortcomings in primary care offered to care home residents in Britain, many of whom don’t get as many visits from GPs as they should. Roberts believes that a clear need to offer better primary care in this area means that companies like his – offering visits and consultations – can fill a yawning gap in provision. A gap that has never been clearer.
Just two examples but they suggest that over the long-term, solutions that come to prominence in the shadow of the Covid-19 crisis will have an opportunity to demonstrate their utility.
We’re all doing things differently now. We’re buying increasing numbers of goods online, accessing more online services, and experimenting with different modes of delivery. Maybe it will make sense to carry those changes into a more certain future. Less commuting and reduced pollution? Even greater volumes of goods delivered online? Virtual services, such as online education, coming to the fore? Healthcare efficiencies? These are questions that won’t be answered until the lockdowns end.