The Digital Normal

The year 2020 is finally coming to an end.  And it really did blur the lines between fiction and reality. The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced our generation to situations we have only heard of and feared. As some of us wait for the upcoming vaccines with bated breath, and others wait for the political tyranny to end, we can only wonder how much worse life would have been if it weren’t for technology.

Imagine yourself stuck in the Bubonic Plague era; perhaps our best point of comparison with the present, with no access to the internet. No new deal on Amazon to browse through and take advantage of during the Christmas sale. No Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals on that sweet PS5 you have been saving for. 

Or fast forward a few hundred years to 1994. There is no new Netflix show to mindlessly waste away the hours on. In fact, if you wanted to watch something, you would need a TV guide and a box. You’d also need a lot of patience and wait for numerous ads to take over the screen while you got to watch bits of your favorite sitcom in between. 

Technology and digital platforms have fundamentally shaped the way we reacted to this crisis. Interestingly, while most of us spent months within four walls in 2020, brands still had a hard time grabbing our attention. Businesses struggled with reaching customers or convincing them to come out and buy. As sales are plummeting even now, engagement has never been more important. Smart businesses, regardless of size and industry, found a way to manage their customer relationships despite the gap in communication. 

In 2020, with decreasing footfalls in restaurants, cloud kitchens have started becoming a popular option. The lack of a physical location enables the food industry to attain some hard-to-gain profits structured in a new model. Food delivery platforms have also provided an additional avenue for this affected industry. People living during the Spanish Flu couldn’t exactly order takeaway via a dozen food-ordering apps; each with its own set of exclusive discounts and offers from a range of different restaurants. 

If this were 1982, before the advent of the internet, you would still have to stand in a queue in a store to buy groceries to stock up the pantry. But not in this day and age, when every house is fitted with a router. With the risk of contagion rampant in physical brick-and-mortar stores, people no longer flock to stores as they did previously. Companies had to innovate and create e-commerce platforms or online stores, in case they didn’t have any previously. In doing so, they managed to serve their customers, either to survive or simply to meet the growing consumer demand for a more convenient and safer mode of purchase. 

Online retailers not only survived but have thrived during the pandemic. On March 12, at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown, Amazon’s stock price stood at $1,676.61 – then one of the world’s largest companies. By the end of 2020, however, it soared past $3200. 

When the digital camera was introduced, Kodak refused to alternate its existing product lineup. Instead of adapting, it doubled down and firmly reaffirmed its trust in the microfilm. The rest, as we know, is history. This is just one of the many examples of big brands acting in a myopic manner and falling into the trap of Creative Destruction. But the global pandemic of 2020 forced their hands in this regard. Organizations that have been shying away from embracing technology are getting the wake-up call to bolster their conventional setups, and take advantage of readily available services to enhance their possibly depleting revenue streams. 

A good example of a company that made the transition to a more digitally equipped platform is Shopify. Shopify doubled down on the effort to shift its operations online. They opened 62 percent more new stores from March 13 to April 24 than the previous six weeks as locked-down retailers rushed online. They overtook eBay to become the second-biggest e-commerce group after Amazon by US market share last year, processing $61bn worth of merchandise globally. The pandemic provided an opportunity that Shopify took and benefitted from, doubling its valuation since the start of 2020.

Regardless of how 2020 turned out, it is coming to an end, with new hope for both consumers and businesses. But there is a lesson for all of us here. With the advantage and comfort of the 21st century, every basic commodity that you can possibly think of is figuratively and literally within the reach of your fingertips. It really is up to us to take full advantage of the technology available to us to make our lives easier and better.