Thriving industries – the (hidden) winners of the pandemic

Author:

Jil Maassen

Since the end of 2019/beginning of 2020, everyone has heard the term COVID-19 or coronavirus. During the first couple months, most of us did not know what to expect. We did not know that this virus would rule our day-to-day for more than a year. No one imagined that schools would go virtual, shops and restaurants would shut down or operate at “take out” capacity only or that borders would be closed. 

When the first lockdown and quarantines happened, most businesses did not know how hard they would be hit. Some say that the economic shock has hit us harder than the financial crisis in 2008. Others are predicting a recession that will last several years post-pandemic. 

According to Nariman Behravesh, Chief Economist at the consulting firm IHS Markit, “It is mostly the uncertainty and the fear of catching the virus that is stopping consumers from going to the places they normally would, and that’s hurting the economy. […] It’s not quite as bad as the Great Depression in the 1930s, where the output drop was sustained over a three to four-year period, and the unemployment rate went up to 25% in the U.S. This time, so far it only went up to 13% in the U.S., but it’s the worst downturn we’ve had globally since the 1930s.” 

Globally, there has been a huge hit. Some countries and regions were hit harder than others and some have not yet seen the light at the end of the tunnel. The western world is slowly recovering with up to 30% growth predicted for country GDPs by experts in the third quarter of 2021. 

Looking at the “Global Economic Prospects” report by the World Bank, the world economy shrank by 4.3% in 2020, similar to that of the Great Depression and two world wars. But what are the costs? According to The Economist, the calculations should start with an estimate of how global GDP would have evolved if COVID-19 did not happen. 

“One simple baseline is the World Bank’s projection released this time last year, when it was still blissfully unaware of the lurking viral threat,” said The Economist, 2021. “Back then, it expected global GDP to expand by 2.5% in 2020 to $86 trillion. Compared with that figure, the shortfall of global GDP last year was probably more like 6.6%. That is equivalent to about $5.6 trillion (at the market exchange rates and prices prevailing in 2010, which the bank uses for analytical convenience).” 

But it wasn’t all bad. There are several industries or sectors that managed to thrive greatly. Let’s have a look at those:

Online shopping and shipping

It’s the most obvious one as we all benefited from it – online shopping. Some businesses reacted quickly and created webshops and ecommerce services that did not have any before. Others re-focused their resources from brick and mortar to online. 

I am sure we all relied on Amazon and other online retail businesses a few times during the pandemic. However, more interestingly was the rise of online grocery shopping. Due to strict lockdowns, some countries nearly forced it upon their people. This helped grocery stores really take off in the online shopping sector. 

Of course, one should not forget those that actually conduct the delivery and perpetuate the supply chain. Shipping and mailing companies had a very different COVID-19. They had more work than ever, tighter schedules, more volume but also fewer people (due to government restrictions). It presented a very different challenge, but financially is still seen as one of the winners of the pandemic. 

The question that remains is how the retail industry will continue to function post-pandemic. Will consumers continue buying online as we’ve adapted to the convenience or will we have a whole new appreciation for brick-and-mortar stores? 

Video conferencing and distributed work tools

We have all been there – days where we feel we spent our entire day on a Zoom call. According to The Verge, Zoom, a video conferencing and webinar platform, “surpassed 300 million daily Zoom meeting participants” in April 2020. It was one of the fastest growing apps during the pandemic, as it was the first choice made by most businesses, governments, schools and households to connect with each other more closely during the lockdown. Let’s have a look at some Zoom Statistics

  • $2.6 billion revenue in 2020, equal to 317% increase year-over-year
  • Meeting participants increasing by 2900%
  • 470,000 business customers as of December 2020 compared to 82,400 in 2019
  • Over 90,000 schools used Zoom during the pandemic
  • Over 45 billion minutes of webinars were hosted on the platform
  • Downloaded 485 million times in 2020

Similar to Zoom, other digital work platforms thrived. One of the most known online collaboration tools is Miro. The business model was designed to help people in a remote working environment. As of 2020, nearly all industries experienced some form of remote work. This helped Miro and tools similar to it grow to support more than 100,000 customers and made it on The Forbes Cloud 100 list (rank 57). During the pandemic it “experienced 301% growth; measured by unique users, it grew 449% year over year,” according to Okta, Business at Work Report, 2021.

Experimentation for remote work tools:

  • Running experiments as a B2B Marketing team can be hard, as traffic numbers are usually the problem. For Video Conferencing or Collaboration tools right now, this should no longer be an issue. Use this chance to run experiments on (sign-up) forms to optimize for higher completion rates. If needed, use Stats Accelerator to run tests, which will aid in reaching statistical significance faster through automatic allocation of visitors into variations.
  • Marketing campaigns or “flash sales” can be tested through Multi-Armed-Bandit tests that allocate traffic into the winning variation without opportunity cost. 
  • Use Feature Tests to run experiments in the application to continuously optimize for adoption such as testing how to encourage users to use the chat function more. 
  • As traffic is high and these tools are being used around the clock around the world, disrupting the service is not feasible. Mitigating risk while deploying a new feature or functionality is key. In order to do so, feature flags are crucial. It allows the product team to roll out new features gradually, but it also has a “kill switch” that anyone can toggle on or off, regardless of engineering abilities. 
  • Product teams might also want to look into exploring new features and understand how these features will resonate with customers. In order to do so without having to build and deploy the entire new feature, a painted door test could be run using a feature test by installing an image without any functionality in the tool. Once users click on it, this can be measured. However, be mindful of this to avoid negative user experience and make sure to inform the user with a pop-up upon click that this feature is being explored/still in development. 
  • Performance is key. Lagging videos or clunky mouse movement in these collaboration tools directly impact user experience. By running performance tests using Optimizely Full Stack, the product team can test how to improve this continuously. 

We have found a new way of working and being productive. Remote work has become the norm and we need tools and software to allow us to do so. These existed pre-pandemic, but did not receive the attention that they do now. The pandemic has helped them dominate and transform the workplace. The question that remains is how open will businesses be to continuing remote work post-pandemic? There are many conflicting views and it seems that some senior leaders have not fully trusted in remote work despite the nearly a year and half worth of proof that production levels either sustained or increased. 

Other fortunate corporations out there are not only shutting their doors for good, but using the extra money in which they would have invested for leasing costs and utilities to provide equipment for their employees so they can work from home at full capacity.

Gaming and gambling

When the pandemic first started, some gaming and gambling sites saw the biggest user rush ever, to the point where they installed virtual waiting rooms to admit users to the sites to prevent them from crashing or overloading. 

Whether it was the additional time that some had to spare due to lack of commutes or potentially even lost jobs, or if it had to do with the uncertainty of the future to be more willing to take risks while gambling, both industries saw huge successes throughout the pandemic. 

Experimentation for gaming and gambling:

  • For many sites, it is hard to reach statistical significance with their regular traffic numbers, especially further down the funnel. Due to the newly gained popularity and higher traffic numbers, reaching statistical significance even farther down the funnel has become more attainable. 
  • As new users have joined and the pandemic has caused a shift in user behavior, run A/B tests again on areas such as minimum “free” games, risk levels or other thresholds that have been determined prior to the pandemic. 
  • Furthermore, the pandemic has sparked different user needs such as a much stronger need of belonging and community. I would look into exploring how games that incorporate a community and collaboration aspect work for your users. Add a new category to your page around this or try to push these games more on the homepage/game listing page by adding a badge “collaboration” to it. This can be easily done with the Optimizely Web Visual Editor
  • Through Personalization and Adaptive Audiences, you can explore which game types work best for your users and customize their experience accordingly. Think about adding a Recommendation widget to your games to encourage users to try out new/different games once they have completed the current one.

One must not forget the role that Netflix played with its very popular series “The Queen’s Gambit”. The site “chess.com” became one of the most visited gaming sites and acquired more users than ever before during this time, experiencing its 10-year growth plan in just three months

According to CNN, “Since March [2020], it has added 12.2 million new members, including 3.2 million who joined after the show’s debut in late October.” (CNN, 2020). There was another dimension to this: female chess players. According to CronkiteNews, “More importantly, the role of a female chess champion in Beth Harmon sparked a movement for [women] to play a game that has been mostly played by men.”

Restaurants

Restaurants had to close their doors to customers for months on end throughout most of the world. One could say they were hit the hardest during the pandemic. So, why are they here on the hidden winners list? Well, the pandemic forced many restaurants to get creative. 

Of course, delivery services existed previously, however, these were mainly offered by pizza businesses. However, the pandemic allowed all eateries, even Michelin-star restaurants, to rely on delivery services. One could experience fine-dining quality at home, or prepare a meal themselves with clear instructions on final preparation presented by YouTube videos. They even provided QR codes that activated different dinner playlists to accompany the meals for an added bonus. 

Before the pandemic, this would have been unheard of and, let’s be honest, most chefs (and customers) would have not been open to this. It is a winner in the sense of business model innovation. Financially, it might have not been a winner and many restaurants have struggled throughout. But, the pandemic has inspired creativity to flourish. 

Experimentation for restaurants:

  • Online booking systems are still playing a huge role, as some countries are requiring COVID test results or vaccine passport proof upon entry. Thus, online booking systems are being used frequently and a larger part of the user experience prior to restaurant entry. In order to provide the user with a holistic positive user experience, the booking engine needs to work smoothly. In order to improve this, running A/B tests using Optimizely Full Stack can be helpful to provide a better ease of use. 
  • Some restaurants have opted for online menus and orders at the table using QR codes that are activated via smartphones/iPads/tablets. This might continue in post-pandemic times, thus optimizing the experience and usability of these is crucial. Test the experience while ordering on an iPad using Optimizely Full Stack to create an easier order flow. Furthermore, look into adding Recommendations to the ordering process to encourage larger AOV. Lastly, use the Visual Editor to simplify the menu and ‘where’ to find the right dish. Through Adaptive Audiences, one could also look into creating a more customized menu for the user. 

The same thought applies to gyms and online classes such as yoga. Online courses or apps for fitness were a huge market even prior to the pandemic. However, they have also experienced new levels of demand throughout and post-pandemic. 

A positive outlook 

The pandemic has shown the world the need to work together to solve a problem. Without “working together as one,” we will not succeed in fighting a pandemic or working toward climate change, or any other issues that will keep our planet happy and healthy. 

Also, in an effort to mitigate the personnel shortage and long hours for those working in healthcare like we saw during the pandemic, this rise of robotic assistance will provide stronger and faster aid to nurses more in the future so that patients can get the care they need and healthcare workers can get the respite they deserve. 

The impact on industries like travel and tourism will continue to improve, as we see a surge in vacation bookings as the world opens its borders to those who are fully vaccinated. 

I believe there will be more (hidden) winners emerging from this pandemic, despite the costs and struggles that the global economy has experienced. We can come out of this stronger than we were before and be better equipped should something like this ever happen again in our lifetime and prepare future generations for a full recovery.

If you want to learn more, please download our latest ebook: COVID-19: Returning to a new normal