The devastation the Covid 19 pandemic brings about goes beyond sickness and death. Many parts of the world, including Singapore, has already gone into one form of lock down or another. Non essential businesses have been told to either stop operating or operate from home. Workers have been told to stay home, to help break the chain of transmission. But this is no holiday; at the back of many people’s mind is inevitably this… will there be a job to go back to, especially if the Covid 19 crisis rages on for a prolong period of time.
And these worries are legitimate; the Straits Time had just reported on 14 April that there is an uncertain future for some amid emerging wave of retrenchment.
And we are not alone in this crisis. As early as 11 March 2020, The Independent, in the UK made this alarming prediction – The Coronavirus Will Bankrupt More People Than It Kills. And to make matters worse, a record 8,663 businesses folded in the month of April 2020 alone.
So whichever way we look at it, our future seems bleak.
Time For a Reset
But predictions of gloom or feelings of hopelessness are counterproductive. Worse still, you risk the danger of falling victim to what psychologist term self fulfilling prophecies, where your actions (as a result of your negative thoughts) trigger the exact negative outcome you anticipated and feared.
So while our Government aims to break the chain of coronavirus infections during this Circuit Breaker period, let us too use this down time to reset our thinking and prepare for the opportunities to come.
From Adversity Will Come Opportunities
Just days ago, I read a blog post by Becky Lee about her receiving a bright spark after attending a funeral online. In her post, she shared that she was inspired by the Singapore Funeral Group who helped her relative overcome the Government imposed group size restriction of 10 pax for funeral gatherings, by streaming the funeral online. She argued that if the funeral industry, long regarded as traditional in their approach, can change with the times, so can the rest of us.
Her reminder of Alibaba’s rise to dominance, triggered by their “watershed moment” when the company was locked down after a staff member developed symptoms of SARS, was inspiring.
After reading, I couldn’t help but agree that from adversity will come opportunity, especially for those ready to latch on.
Demand Will Not Disappear
Sure there will be industries hit harder than the rest e.g hotels, airlines, travel etc. But by and large, demand for goods and services will not disappear overnight. True, in bad times people may buy less, but what’s important is that they will still buy.
What will change, perhaps is the way they buy and what they buy.
The Way They Buy
The boom of eCommerce in China came after they were hard hit by SARS. Because SARS was brought under control pretty quickly when compared to this novel coronavirus, few countries outside of China felt the devastation it bought. But during SARS, retailers in China were experiencing a downward spiral in their sales, as people naturally feared going out to shop. Forced by circumstances, the Chinese turned to online shopping and this change in behaviour led to the boom of eCommerce in China. Alibaba aside, another company often quoted as a major beneficiary of this consumer behaviour change is JD.com, known then as JD Multimedia.
What They Buy
In times of economic hardship, it is natural to see people will cut down on their spendings. Luxury goods will probably take a hard hit but consumers will still need their basic necessities. Whenever there are cheaper options, these will likely go off the shelf first.
In the F&B sector for example, the longer this crisis last and the poorer the economic outlook becomes, more will want to cook at home or if that’s not possible, patronise a hawker stall. High end F&B outlets will likely be hardest as people gradually tighten their belt.
Where Does That Leave Us?
For SME Owners
It’s now time to reinvent yourselves. Is your business model obsolete? How has consumer behaviour changed, in terms of the way people buy your goods or services? You will need to be on top of these changes, if you wish to position yourself for this next stage of growth.
It’s not good enough to conclude that you need a website. A website is not a magic pill for your troubles. You will need strategies to attract consumers to that site of yours. Eventually, its targeted internet traffic of wallet ready customers to your website that counts and not how nice your site design and layout is.
Think in terms of joint venture deals with other website owners who already have the traffic you seek, social media marketing to build your brand and search engine marketing including SEO and PPC.
Outside of the digital arena, if the Covid 19 situation prolongs for half a year or more, people will be increasingly used to telecommuting, working from home plus home base online learning. In addition, to save on office rental, companies may prefer to have some department operate from home, relying on telecommuting to communicate instead.
Training providers too may consider holding classes via webinar rather than having physical classes.
Telemedicine too may become the norm as patients get used to consulting their doctors remotely.
Office space rental may drop and mall operators may likewise be negatively impacted as business and retail transactions move online.
The above is just the tip of the iceberg; business owners should take this time now to do a comprehensive study their competitive landscape, envisioning the changes that will come about as the coronavirus scare forces people to change their behaviours
Those who prepare well, will thrive; those who don’t will struggle and eventually fold.
While business owners should have a longer term perspective, when it comes to individuals, short term bread and butter issues are important. You should therefore be asking yourselves if your skillsets are still relevant? Because if they are not, it’s just a matter of time before you are made redundant, with or without the coronavirus.
But are there in-demand skillsets you can pick up quickly? The WordPress web design course as suggested by Becky Lee is a good place to start. It’s a skill that’s relatively easy to pick up and with more businesses now aware that they need to move their retail operations online, the demand for web designers will be on the rise.
Thereafter, you may wish to pursue a course on digital marketing. Courses like SEO, PPC and Facebook Marketing are a good bet but be sure to learn them from a reputable training provider. Such skills will be in demand too, as business owners will soon discover that a website alone won’t bring them customers. They need strategies to attract people to their website as well.
For the academically inclined, you may wish to move towards learning big data analytics, mobile and web development or cloud skills. These seem promising skills to have in the post Covid 19 economy but they are not skills you can easily pick up in a day or two.
For those among us with a bigger risk appetite, it’s also a good time to think about starting a new business in post Covid 19 Singapore. The shift in consumer behaviour, as noted above, will present opportunities as out-dated businesses start folding one by one.