August 26, 2020

What We've Loved And Left During COVID

Contributed by FIFTEEN

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, life as we know is evolving as well. What was once considered “normal” just a few months ago (air travel, sporting events, seeing the lower halves of peoples’ faces) is all but obsolete these days, and vice versa. Certain brands, apps, products and services consumers relied upon pre-COVID have fallen by the wayside, and others that were regarded as a luxury or for a niche market are now regarded as essential or have seen their usage significantly increase.

Take the grocery app Instacart, for example. According to the trade publication Grocery Dive, ecommerce and delivery apps like Instacart, Shipt and Walmart have seen upwards of 100 percent growth during the COVID pandemic, and the pressure is on for both the apps and their retail partners to keep the momentum going through updates and offerings in order to sustain consumer loyalty.

FIFTEEN’s PR Manager, Tara Erwin, tried Instacart for the first time during the quarantine, and said it’s become part of her weekly shopping routine.

“Before COVID, I was a little wary about the pricing markups, and not sure if the service was worth it,” she said. (Instacart typically increases the prices for items around 15 percent, plus there’s the delivery fee and driver tip) “But now I can easily justify the cost, especially since our household budget for entertainment and gas are practically nothing. It’s well worth it for me not to have to go into a grocery store these days.”

Subscription services that deliver wine and meal kits are also seeing a huge uptick as well, since many of us couldn’t go to bars and restaurants with shelter in place restrictions. Forbes reported a 441 percent year over year increase with ecommerce alcohol sales for the week ending April 4, 2020, and according to CNBC, we spent around $100 million on meal kits for the month ending April 11, almost double during the same period in 2019. Home improvement is also seeing a huge uptick in activity as well, fueled by the double whammy of hardware stores being deemed an essential business during the quarantine shutdown, and many of us opting to do projects around the house since summer travel plans are at a standstill. Both Lowe’s and Home Depot cited an increase in sales for Q1 2020 in a recent Business Insider article.

Jennifer Fortune, Media Director at FIFTEEN, can relate to the desire to stay in, and says she’s been turning to new(ish) forms of entertainment she can enjoy from the comfort of home.

“I’m not at all a gamer, and haven’t played video games since the OG Pac-Man in the 80s, but at the recommendation of one of our coworkers I ended buying a Nintendo Switch Lite and the game Animal Crossing New Horizons,” she said. “This helps me pass a lot of time; it is relaxing and allows me to be very creative.” The game came out on March 30, at the start of the pandemic, and 13 million copies were sold in the first six weeks, so clearly Jen isn’t alone in her new hobby.

The warmer weather has also meant we’re spending more time outdoors, eager for a cure to cabin fever. The result has been mixed for outdoor/adventure brands according to an article in Outside, a magazine for outdoor recreationalists. Some have been struggling to keep up, since production of goods in China halted when the novel coronavirus struck there earlier this year, and as a ripple effect, warehouses and retailers stateside furloughed workers. Others, especially the cycling industry, saw double digit increases in bike sales compared to last year. Overall, the industry is expected to rebound, with a survey on consumer opinions finding people are strongly motivated to continue with new habits they developed during COVID, including outdoor recreation.

FIFTEEN Partner Zack Schneider is a testament to this. He says a product he’s purchased during the pandemic that he and his family have gotten a lot of use from are the Camelbak hydration packs for weekend hikes.

“They are so much easier than hauling all the kids’ water bottles everytime we go on a hike,” he said. “We find so many little treasures stuffed in there along the way. Best purchase of COVID so far. Well, that and our puppy,” he added, “which also came with a number of add on purchases.” (Zack may be onto something: since the pandemic hit, animal shelters across the nation have reported increased animal adoptions and fact, our local SPCA posted on social media at the end of March that all of the dogs at its West Seneca shelter were adopted).

These booms in business come at a cost, however, with the entertainment, travel and restaurant industries all but decimated during the pandemic. Some recent highlights (or lowlights?) include:

- As of August 6, over half of Americans surveyed said they still don’t feel comfortable flying, and industry experts are predicting the number of passengers won’t return to 2019 levels for at least another three years.

- The head of the National Association of Theatre Owners said at the end of July, “If we don’t find a way to reopen, a lot of jobs will be lost and a lot of companies will go away.” (Since then, Disney announced its anticipated live action “Mulan” remake will premiere on the Disney+ streaming service instead of theater distribution).

- At the end of June, Yelp reported 53 percent of its restaurant closures are listed as “permanent,” and according to the National Restaurant Association in July, the industry had already lost $120 billion and predicted doubling that number by December.

As to what the future holds for any industry, it’ll probably depend on what our “new normal” looks like long term. If a vaccine is brought to market, will it allay peoples’ fears, allowing them to venture out again, especially to crowded venues like concerts, movie theaters and sporting events? Or will this tendency to turn inward and focus on smaller social circles prevail? One thing is certain, however: a brand’s ability to stay nimble and quickly adapt with the ever-changing times will directly correlate with its longevity success.

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