Menu Close

Commentary: Tech investments pay off for industries permanently changed by pandemic

What do Disney movies, mosh pits, corporate conferences and home cooking have in common? Their business models have been forever impacted by the pandemic.

In just more than a year, the ways in which we work, play and live have course-corrected into largely unknown waters. But it’s clear the butterfly effect of COVID-19 across industries is only becoming more pronounced as innovative technologies transform our sense of place and experience and create consequential changes in our behaviors and choices.

According to research from the National Restaurant Association, more than 110,000 food and drink establishments closed either temporarily or permanently in 2020, erasing nearly 2.5 million jobs and dropping industry sales by more than $240 billion. Throughout it all, the home cooking industry skyrocketed to record sales and drastic transformation.

Nearly everyone made at least some change during the pandemic in the food we eat or how we prepare it. Working from home forced people to get more creative and confident in their own kitchens, a trend that also helped us save money and eat healthier while our favorite restaurants shut down. The result — 71 percent of Americans say they’ll continue to cook more even after restrictions are fully lifted.

Technology companies are capitalizing on the highly profitable explosion in home cooking by making it easier than ever for people to do it. Dozens of grocery and meal delivery platforms and services have, in a matter of months, seen usage explode, prompting investors to infuse hundreds of millions of dollars into startups now valued at billions of dollars.

While the business world moved its workers from offices to homes, the retail world moved its products from on-site to online en masse. Throughout the pandemic, 90 percent of consumers preferred home delivery over a store visit, sending retailers of all sizes scrambling to improve their e-commerce infrastructure. These shifts in buying behavior translated into an additional $41 billion in digital revenue — during the holiday months alone.

Online shopping behemoths like Amazon were primely positioned for this sudden acceleration, but big-box retailers including Target, Walmart and Meijer also performed well, thanks to the rise of localized micro-fulfillment technology that largely automates operations, maximizes store footprints, significantly cuts down delivery times and reduces order-related costs by as much as 75 percent compared to traditional distribution centers.

Last December, WarnerMedia announced it would debut its entire slate of 2021 theatrical releases on HBO Max at the same time they hit theaters. This prompted other film studios, including Disney Plus and NBCUniversal, to enact similar strategies benefiting their own streaming platforms.

These announcements come as numbers show we are more comfortable entertaining ourselves at home. In fact, a Variety survey found that if new movies were available in both theaters and on a streaming service for the same price, 7 out of 10 people would choose to stream it at home.

Movie theaters were some of the first casualties of COVID-19-related closures, and though the majority have reopened and even innovated the cinema experience with new ticketing, concession and viewing technologies, the troubling trends toward home entertainment suggests they may never see pre-pandemic numbers again.

Will rock fans ever feel comfortable joining a mosh pit again? Regardless of vaccination progress or state reopenings, many people still carry a lingering sense of distance and density aversion impacting live events such as sports, concerts, conferences, theme parks and even weddings. Fortunately, technological innovation is coming to the rescue.

The Internet of Things (IoT), augmented reality, artificial intelligence and machine learning are all becoming vitally important for event companies as sensors, smart screens, wearables and apps allow venues to monitor and control traffic flow, conduct contactless payment and mobile ordering, assign seating in perfectly distanced fashion and even use heat mapping to identify less crowded areas during an event. Smart buildings and air flow quality monitoring are also top-of-mind within large consumer and professional spaces.

On the business front, virtual conference platforms have allowed professionals to network, engage in sessions, break out into groups, interact with speakers and more. While this has kept the conferences themselves alive, the shift has had its own multi-layered effect on the travel and hospitality industries by keeping speakers and attendees plugged in from home.

Countless other industries have been impacted by the pandemic in profound ways, and technology has often played an extraordinary role in how these organizations have adapted, innovated, survived and thrived.

With the expanded reliance on technology also comes a rise in security vulnerability for businesses. Companies of all sizes in every industry now require sophisticated, high-grade tools like VPN, network security, threat management and software that allows IT teams to manage it all.

It may take years for the butterfly effect of COVID-19 to be fully realized in the global economy. What we’re seeing now is simply the start. But one thing is undeniably certain: The time to invest, plan for and expand technology’s role in your business is now.

Irma Clark is senior director of business development for Comcast Business.