Trends that will endure | Business Standard Column

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Shailesh Dobhal gives his list of three trends that will endure, strengthen, and affect all businesses, no matter what their wares

Nothing had prepared us for what would betide us all in 2020. We could not do anything the way it was normal to do for millennia. We could not go to work, play, study, shop or socialise. Our world was turned topsy-turvy with a once-in-a-century pandemic in Covid-19, and yet we had to carry on with our lives. The jab is here now, and so are mutant virus strains, but hopefully things will return to normal or near-normal eventually. Surely, this public health emergency will lead to some enduring behavioural change, a legacy beyond wearing masks, shunning personal and social contacts beyond the household/family, working-from-anywhere or eschewing travel and out-of-home entertainment. Here is my list of three trends that will endure, strengthen, and affect all businesses, no matter what their wares. The pace, and innovation in adoption of these three will also separate the winners from losers:

Direct-to-home: Herd immunity or not, the habits picked up during months of being cooped up inside the house and receiving everything from products to services at your doorstep will be hard to kick (who would have thought of a barber visiting home). Surely, there will be revenge-shopping sojourns, but the novelty will wear out quickly. Consumers may still throng high streets or malls for high-priced, high-involvement things like the wedding trousseau or that Rolex watch, but not for mundane, everyday things like a soap bar or bag of potatoes. Perhaps doorstep delivery is the biggest business opportunity thrown open by the coronavirus crisis. And inevitably, new leaders will emerge from this landscape. Come to think of it, would a delivery firm like DoorDash in the US have had such a successful market debut, over $70 billion valuation on listing day earlier this month, had it not been for the coronavirus-led surge for home deliveries? Or the Tatas reportedly paying over a billion dollars for what essentially is just home delivery of wet and dry groceries in BigBasket?

Give me digital: Work is where the computer/laptop is. And so is retail, media, entertainment, even health! Digitisation was a distant goal brought forward by the Covid-19 pandemic, and it affects the producer and consumer of all products and services. Who would have thought that consumers would turn to internet in such large numbers as not just a big source of information on health and wellness, but also for remote-delivery of professional help through telemedicine platforms? Reliance Jio was a successful business all right, but it wouldn’t have attracted the worldwide billions from investors had it not been for the acceleration of digitisation of 3Cs in its case — communication, commerce and content.

A recent global research by management consultant Bain & Company found almost two-thirds of people using videoconferencing are hooked on to it, and they plan to use it as much, if not more even in the post-Covid world. In Fintech alone, one research puts the digitisation opportunity at over $100 billion! Already unicorns and decacorns are being minted from firms that were mere fledglings not so long ago. Businesses need to move quickly on their digital journeys to make all their production and consumer touchpoints digital in order to make quick, anytime/anywhere decisions and capture the market and the investor value concomitant with it.

Sustainability: Though it almost sounds like a cliché, but consumers are turning more and more towards sustainability—environmental, financial, health-wise and socially —due to life changing experience because of the zoonotic Covid-led pandemic. A recent global study by management consultant Accenture reported that over 90 per cent of Indians have made lasting changes “to how they live, work and shop and there is no going back to the pre-pandemic world for consumer brands.” Consumers are buying more local, limiting waste, and more sharply evaluating environment, health and social metrics while choosing products and services. Equity and equitable growth are back on the agenda, and this time it will be consumers that will drive the change with top echelons in policy-making and boardrooms. The worker-employer social contract is already frayed even in the organised sector due to Covid-led mass layoffs, and it will need careful nursing back to health. It doesn’t matter whether you’re hawking colas or cars, as a marketer you can afford to ignore this sustainability groundswell at your own peril.

Why even in the hard-nosed world of managing businesses and investing, ESG or environment, social and governance-led practices developed stronger roots this year. Even during times of a raging pandemic, global sustainable bond issuances touched $100 billion for quarter ending June, almost a third more than the same period last year. According to fund tracker Morningstar, even during the worst phase of the pandemic globally, the first three months of the year, inflows into ESG funds were over $45 billion, and this when the broader fund universe was witnessing over $384 billion outflows. Global pressure from marquee investors, stricter compliance by domestic regulators like the Securities and Exchange Board of India making business responsibility and sustainability reporting for the top 1,000 firms voluntary this year but mandatory from the next will willy-nilly make most big, listed businesses in the country embrace and internalise sustainability as an essential practice.

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