The year is 2020. An unexpected disease outbreak has the whole world on its knees. No one seems to have an answer. Yet. The stronger of the pack are searching for solutions while the runts of the pack are waiting on the strong to come up with a solution(s).
The month is May. It has been six months since the first case of the disease was reported in Wuhan, China. Since then, over 3 million cases have been recorded across the world while over 1 million have recovered from the viral disease with over 230,000 deaths recorded. In March, The United States replaced China as the country with the highest number of cases which stood at over 1 million as at May 1, 2020.
The date is May 2, it has been three months since Nigeria reported its first Coronavirus case. The novel virus seems to spread in ten folds on a daily basis. Nigeria has recorded over 2,000 cases, less than 1% of the world’s total cases and 5% of Africa’s total cases. Of the 2,170, 351 patients have recovered at 16% recovery rate while 68 deaths have been recorded across Nigeria by May 1, 2020.
The virus also known as COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on global healthcare systems, economies and cultural practices. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared it a pandemic as it has spread to over 80% of the countries around the world. As at April 30, 2020, there are 13 countries yet to report any Coronavirus case; ranging from Islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans like Marshall Islands and Kiribati, and countries where information is tightly controlled like North Korea and Turkmenistan. At this stage, if there are cases in these authoritarian nations, the world may not know until it is too late.
To curb the spread of the pandemic, countries across the world instituted varying degrees of lockdown in major cities and this is where it gets interesting and has psychologists going back to their textbooks to understand human behaviour. First, many countries across Europe and Asia had citizens stockpiling and hoarding toilet paper in preparation for the lockdown. Yes, toilet paper. Who would have thought?
Then here in Nigeria, a lot of the residents paid no heed to the calls for social distancing and restricted movement till law enforcement officers had to drive compliance. Churches with thousands of congregants were still holding services because ‘it is not our portion’. Thankfully, the state governors were able to put their feet down to curb some of the large physical gatherings. If you were to ask me what we have achieved from the one month plus of lockdown, I’d say we should make that another day’s discussion.
These restrictions to movement have not been without its disadvantages as it has put a strain on many economic activities while sectors such as aviation have been grounded to a halt. There’s been conversation about sectors that are gaining from the pandemic while others are losing. I don’t think that’s the right construct, we are fighting a war and in war you either lose or you survive, nobody wins.
Groceries and pharmaceuticals have witnessed a surge in demand and on many occasions an inability to meet demand as supply chains across the world have also been disrupted.
At the onset of the pandemic, the tech industry across the world provided organisations the tools they required to work remotely as businesses were forced to rejig their operating models. Companies such as Microsoft, Zoom, Slack and Google have witnessed significant growth during the pandemic. The health sector has also relied heavily on technology to develop tools required to track the spread of the disease as well as identify infected cases pending when a vaccine is developed and certified ready for commercial use.
Another sector that seems to be surviving the pandemic is telecommunications. As businesses have been forced to adopt changes in their daily routine, schools switching to virtual classrooms and online education, people have relied on telecom services to remain connected with the people and things that matter to them. When the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) prescribed social distancing and #StayHome as one of the measures to flatten the curve of the disease spread, many feared that the increased pressure from work and leisure activities may break the internet, the European Union asked streaming companies such as YouTube and Netflix to downgrade the quality of their video content to ensure networks remained stable while the world battled the pandemic. Countries across the world adopted similar measures to defend their network infrastructure as a result of the disruptions caused by the pandemic. In Nigeria, the mobile network operators advised through the Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria that the lockdown in the country is not the right time to offer customer acquisition schemes or freemiums as any additional pressure on the network may lead to unexpected downtime.
However, on a further end of the spectrum is the retail sector which has recorded significant shocks from the Coronavirus outbreak. Lockdown orders have caused major retail outlets to shut down while those deemed as essential services have recorded significant drops in footfall due to government restriction on movement and public transportation systems.
As a marketing communications professional, my day job involves understanding consumer psychology and how they respond to different case scenarios, I penned down my thoughts on how I think the retail industry can position to recover from the impact of the pandemic in the sector.
First, accept that in the long term, human behaviour may no longer be the same, people will increasingly shun physical contact and prioritise healthier options over short term comfort.
Secondly, think durability over trends especially for the fashion industry. The era of hypes and fast fashion may have come to an end and the industry will need to re-evaluate in its entire value chain as consumers will be looking toward more ‘investment pieces’ and adopting responsible buying given the state of the world.
Thirdly, every B2C business needs to re-evaluate its CCC (Cash Conversion Cycle). Retail is highly dependent on cash for stock inventory, real estate obligations and staff costs. It is advisable that retail businesses take advantage of the tax and moratorium extensions governments are offering while also speaking to their financial service providers to either renegotiate existing contracts or refinance loans.
Fourthly, prioritise employees. Oftentimes, employees have to sacrifice their health and safety to meet up with consumer demands. Companies need to show employees that their health and security needs remain priority.
Lastly, talking to the customer. In the current situation, a strong customer relationship is a strong revenue base. Businesses have to ensure they are accessible to their customers through the platforms the customer finds most convenient.
I am not sure anyone knows the extent of the impact COVID-19 will have on our health, economic and social wellbeing. While we hope that the efforts of governments and health agencies to curb the spread of the virus will be successful, may I suggest that we (individuals, families, social groups) map out various scenarios and plan adequately in the event that any of them becomes our reality?