Taking stock of the new world

By Loretta McCarthy, Managing Partner of Golden Seeds

February 4, 2021

Life today seems to be in a constant state of flux, but in 2020, the pace of change increased dramatically. COVID-19 and the resulting shutdowns and restrictions have accelerated trends that were slowly reshaping the way we live and work.

Consumers have new priorities and preferences, and businesses are reimagining everything from their products and services to the systems they use, the way they interact with their customers and their goals.

Though industries such as travel, hospitality, retail and food service have been hit hard by the pandemic, other sectors are thriving. Companies in both camps are weathering the storm by adapting to the new realities. Some of the innovations are likely to stay with us even after the pandemic ends. Contactless delivery, online conferencing, remote learning and telehealth have become part of the everyday routine for many consumers.

Here’s a look at some of Golden Seeds’ observations of the changes reshaping key business sectors and the impact they’re likely to have in the future.

New ways to dine

COVID-19 has caused major disruption in the restaurant business and overhauled the way Americans eat and cook. Some of these changes may disappear after the pandemic ends, but others are likely to become part of the new landscape.

Many people sharply curtailed dining out last spring; in fact, 45% of respondents in one survey said it was one of their biggest budget cuts. Some have since returned–especially to restaurants with outdoor seating—and polls show that safety and sanitation have become diners’ top priority. Three out of four consumers surveyed said cleanliness would continue to be more important to them in the future.

The desire to minimize personal interaction and touch points has popularized contactless ordering and deliveries, another development that may have lasting impact. Consumers prefer to order meals at a drive-through window or by phone, online or through an app, followed by contactless delivery or curbside pickup. They’re also opting for contactless options such as Apple Pay and Google Pay.

Americans have also embraced home cooking and baking. They’re not necessarily sticking with comfort foods but experimenting with new cuisines. To keep pantries stocked, they’re having groceries delivered, and when they do visit grocery stores — among the retail establishments where they feel most comfortable — they go off-hours to avoid crowds.

Other trends likely to persist include greater interest in tamper-proof and single-serve packaging, a preference for local and U.S. food sources, and a desire for greater transparency in the supply chain.

Though restaurants unquestionably face many challenges, the situation may not be as bleak as news coverage suggests. Industry experts are optimistic that the industry will bounce back, though it won’t look exactly the same. One encouraging sign is the fact that restaurants are continuing to lead the way in food and beverage innovation. And once conditions stabilize, consumers are likely to return to restaurants because the experience satisfies so much more than the simple need to eat.

Read more about how the pandemic is transforming the restaurant industry in this blog written by Marie Molde, a registered dietitian and food industry expert, who was a featured speaker last year at a Golden Seeds Trend Talk.

Retailers revamp

Another Golden Seeds Trend Talk featured Deborah Weinswig, CEO and Founder of Coresight Research, a leading retail and technology research firm, at which she explored “How, and when, will the world go shopping again?” Below are some of the highlights.

The new world of retailing looks a lot different than the old one. Mandated shutdowns and a sharp upturn in online shopping have taken a huge toll on brick-and-mortar stores. Some projections show as many as 25,000 stores went out of business in 2020. The survivors are overhauling their offerings and operations, resulting in more innovation in the retail industry in a few months than there’s been in the previous 10 years.

The move to online shopping has been the biggest game-changer. With all but essential stores required to close and consumers sheltering at home, buying has shifted to online, where much of it may remain now that shoppers have grown accustomed to the convenience.

Retailers have been forced to optimize their supply chain inventory, revamp their merchandise mix and forecast demand in an uncertain, fast-changing market. Unable to travel to suppliers and in-person markets, retailers are relying on technology and virtual showrooms to help them stay on top of fashion trends.

The shopping experience itself has evolved, and shoppers may find a different and leaner assortment of goods. Retailers have reconfigured their calendars for apparel and footwear, downplayed seasonality and fine-tuned their offerings to tighten up on inventory. Stores now display items on the floor but sell fresh, packaged items from the backroom.

Customer interactions with sales associates are becoming more personalized. With fitting rooms closed, some stores are offering “virtual try-ons.” Shoppers are likely to find specialty brand retailers based within department stores, and could be receiving more digital and social media outreach from retailers as well.

It’s likely there’ll be more shutdowns, acquisitions and consolidations in the retail industry, and online shopping will remain a major factor. But brick-and-mortar stores aren’t going away. Many are trying to win wary shoppers back with curbside or drive-through pickup and contactless delivery and payment.

Many shoppers want to see and touch products and take them home right away. In-person shopping will continue, but stores won’t look the same, and consumers will find a new shopping experience.

Healthcare goes high-tech online

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically accelerated a major shift in health care that has been under way for years, pushing new technology and innovative practices to the forefront.

This topic was explored in another Golden Seeds Trend Talk with Dr. Laura Forese, Executive Vice President and COO of New York-Presbyterian.

According to Dr. Forese, the rise of telemedicine is one of the most significant changes. With healthcare facilities overburdened and rising concern about the risk of in-person contact, virtual visits have become a popular alternative. Doctors and patients routinely meet in video conferences conducted over the Internet. Both clinicians and consumers have become more comfortable with telemedicine, which has proven not only to be safer, but also cost-effective, timesaving and convenient. That trend is likely to continue.

Technology is coming into play in other ways as well. Devices that communicate with hospital systems electronically enable doctors to monitor patients at home, providing accurate data that can guide treatment.

Artificial intelligence, too, will continue to play a growing role in medicine in the years ahead. Smart devices and machine learning can enable a layperson to take sophisticated measurements that normally require trained experts.

Looking for positive change

There’s no question that these are uncertain and challenging times. But society is resilient, and we’ve come through many crises in the past and emerged stronger and better. We’re seeing that now. The innovation taking place on many fronts holds promise for a brighter tomorrow.

Learn more about the work of Golden Seeds and how we propel women entrepreneurs.