For the first time in a long time, “the news” impacted the day-to-day life of basically every American in 2020. The coronavirus, first identified in November 2019, has ravaged the world in a global pandemic and has tragically killed over a million people worldwide, including more than 250,000 Americans as of November.
While there was some (overly optimistic) hope back in the spring that the pandemic would be in the rearview mirror by December, it won’t be the case that COVID-19 will be remembered as just a 2020 problem. Still, there is reason to be positive as several pharmaceutical companies have announced very good news about upcoming vaccines.
The pandemic will continue to be a definitive factor of the economy in 2021. It has already accelerated some economic trends, like the pivot to a more digital life, and has vastly disrupted others, like the expansion of the tourism industry. These trends are expected to continue into 2021. Hopefully, a vaccine will be widely distributed by next summer and the pandemic will end—a scenario that will create a whole new economic reality.
Here are some industries and macroeconomic trends that are likely to boom next year.
The 2010s were defined by the rapid rise of e-commerce, a field that absolutely exploded once the coronavirus and lockdowns confined millions of people to their homes. E-commerce will likely continue to become more and more dominant in the retail industry. Related industries, like shipping, packaging, and web design, should be buoyed by this surge caused by the pandemic.
In Ad Age, IAB CEO David Cohen predicts that the continued e-commerce boom will begin to radically alter media into becoming more “shoppable,” i.e., online ads will become mini e-commerce storefronts allowing for purchases with as little effort as possible from consumers.
“There is no doubt that virtual engagements are replacing stores,” Cohen hypothesized. “Media and advertising increasingly will focus on driving participation in these events. Successful publishers, brands, retail brands, and experience providers will partner to promote and fulfill live experiences and to enable live shopping directly within the experience.”
Don’t expect e-commerce to recede once the pandemic is over, either. It is probable that many customers who tried buying products like groceries online for the first time during the pandemic will not give up this habit completely.
The pandemic drastically changed how Americans work, as well as how they learn. E-learning grew exponentially as a field in 2020 as schools and universities went remote. While many students and parents find e-learning suboptimal compared to learning in-person, this trend will become part of modern life even when school buildings reopen for good.
Not only will video conferencing using services like Zoom be integrated more into education, so will online educational content and platforms.
Like shopping, working, and learning, healthcare is also going remote. There are some hard limits to this trend—you can’t do surgery over Zoom. But many health consultations were happening remotely before COVID-19, and this field is expected to grow steadily in 2021.
“The fact that physical healthcare facilities could be sources of contagion means many are now focusing their attention on new models of care that avoid physical contact between clinician and patient,” Wintergreen Research asserted in November. “For clinicians who are self-isolating or under quarantine, video consultation allows them to continue treating patients.”
The Future of Work
The coronavirus will likely alter the American worker’s relationship with the office for a generation. As the pandemic clears, many workers will probably want to do at least some work from home. The growth of this newly semi-roaming workforce will have rippling impacts on many sectors, from business-to-business tech to conferences to restaurants in downtown areas.
The key for businesses in the near future is adaptability, suggested Rick Villars, the group vice president of IDC, in a note.
“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted that the ability to rapidly adapt and respond to unplanned [and] unforeseen business disruptions will be a clearer determiner of success in our increasingly digitalized economy,” Villars wrote. “A large percentage of a future enterprise’s revenue depends upon the responsiveness, scalability, and resiliency of its infrastructure, applications, and data resources.”
Expect many, if not most, workers in the coming years to advocate for working some days in the office and some days at home. This new rhythm of American life will create a new economic landscape.
Cleaning and Janitorial
The janitorial sector is now squeezed between 2 facts: sanitization has never been more important, but many public places are shuttered.
As the pandemic wanes, the cleaning industry will be a critical element of bringing on the post-pandemic era.
“The large and mid-sized cleaning contractors will be stimulated by the coronavirus crisis—including disaster restoration firms,” firm Marketdata predicts. “More facilities will need to be ‘deep cleaned’ in the aftermath of the virus, and building managers will probably increase the frequency of cleaning to prevent future outbreaks. COVID-19 may well redefine the industry, with many small or heavily-leveraged businesses shutting their doors.”
The Next-Generation Tech Sector
As tech is interwoven into our lives like never before, expect the tech sector of the 2020s to be more mature, more monetized, and more regulated than ever. Cybersecurity, 5G connectivity, and streaming content will be front-and-center issues in 2021.
“We are likely heading into a year of legislation unlike anything we have seen,” Cohen said of the ad-tech advertising industry. “Our top priority is to work with Congress to introduce and pass a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind, nationwide privacy reform bill.”
While in 2019 it seemed like everything was becoming digitized, in 2020 it actually happened—learning, working, communicating, shopping, and leisure became completely online activities for millions. In 2021, most of us will likely commit to a hybrid of digital and real-life.
Pent Up Demand for Post-Pandemic Life?
The open question for 2021 is, “Will the demand for activities and businesses prohibited due to the pandemic explode once the virus is defeated?”
There isn’t an easy answer, which is not what restaurants, hotels, artists, or amusement parks want to hear. Logically, it seems like once restrictions are lifted, demand will boom, but recent examples show this isn’t necessarily a sure thing. For many small businesses, it is best to proceed into 2021 with caution and explore how you can make your company as recession-resistant as possible.