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COVID-19: An onward gear for some, and how that is likely to shape the future of their industry

(1) E-commerce of food items and groceries
Electronics, books and garments have been the most popular items in the e-commerce segment among Indian consumers. However, COVID-19 seemed to have altered this situation, as e-groceries have taken the centre stage, ever since the pandemic (and the panic shopping!) started in February 2020. As per a press release by Razorpay, one of the largest payment gateways in India, online grocery shopping in India grew by 9% for the first time in just one month.1 The Indian e-grocery stores, such as BigBasket, Grofers and Amazon India Pantry were allowed to continue supplying groceries, and have seen a skyrocketing rise of their app downloads and new customers in each of last months, as per MoEngage, an AI-based customer engagement platform.2 Their businesses are bound to shoot up and this is when their operations have not been smooth due to the lock-down and their sites are consistently slow due to high traffic.A large percent of consumers who now finds online grocery shopping easier, convenient and, more than that, safer, is most likely to continue shopping groceries online post the pandemic situation. This consumer behaviour would lead more businesses to digitise their business operations, especially in the food and beverages industry.

(2)Digital Conferencing
With more enterprises offering their employees the options to work-from-home as ‘social distancing’ is being practiced, video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, WebEx, etc. provide social ‘office-like’ company. Even though privacy and security concerns have emerged in using said conferencing platforms, especially in case of Zoom, and the Government of India has issued advisories and safety guidelines for users who want to use it for ‘private meetings’, such platforms have become the new favourites in the business world. As per Attopia, a popular data vendor, enterprises are not only using them for doing virtual meetings with clients, but also for doing meet and greet sessions and occasional parties with colleagues and friends.3Despite grave productivity concerns when work-from-home policies are enabled, benefits like reduced commute time, availing freelance services and working with better talent cannot be ruled out while allowing work-from-home options. More and more enterprises are exploring the positives of work-from-home now; and would implement work-from-policies post COVID-19 situation. While doing this, conferencing and especially video conferencing, appear to be the future of connecting officially. Traditional telecom companies are likely to explore business potentials through conferencing platforms in the future.

(3)Entertainment platforms
As more and more people are forced to stay indoors and are unable to seek entertainment outside, indoor entertainment through the usage of television as well as video-on-demand (VOD) services and over-the-top (OTT) platforms has increased. Television viewership has gone up due to COVID-19 related news predominantly and most television channels seem to be attracting viewers with the re-run of their popular old shows.4 In contrast, all digital media platforms, such as Amazon Prime, Hotstar, Netflix, Eros Now, Apple TV+, and the like, are luring viewers with new content for children and family, free shows relating to the coronavirus pandemic and complimentary subscriptions for Indian viewers. Airtel Xstream (Airtel’s Digital TV) has gone a step ahead and launched CuriosityStream channel in India (focusing on documentary films and series, including an ongoing series one on the coronavirus outbreak) and for all its subscribers freely.5 Said media platforms have seen a surge of around 20% viewership and this number is expect to have a further rise in coming days.6Until recently, it was believed that both television and digital media platforms would see equal trajectories in India, due to the diversity of Indian viewers as well as the content requirements.7While television has a wider reach in rural India and offers more regional content, a majority of urban viewers in the country prefer digital media platforms as their main indoor entertainment source because of availability of contemporary content, and flexibility of accessing the content anytime, anywhere and in any medium. During the lock-down period, almost all digital media platforms now competing on a gigantic scale with quality and diverse content for different types of audience, advertising and promoting their platforms widely and focusing on creating new userbase. An eventual shift in the behaviour of Indian viewers can be expected and digital media platforms could witness a substantial upsurge in viewership; and the traditional mode, the television, could see a considerable wipe-out in its viewership.

(4)Online banking and payment options
Social distancing and lock-down have led to the consumers not spending on travel, hospitality, restaurants, in-store shopping and general commerce, which that has resulted in a steep decline of financial transactions, both online and offline. Due to such restrictions, most digital payments systems noticed a drop in their traffic and payments. Unified Payments Interface (UPI), an instant real-time payment system regulated by the RBI, also noticed a drop in the value of payments from previous months, but recorded more than 100 crore transactions in March alone. Additionally, Bharat Bill Payment System, which allows for online bill payments, recorded an upward curve in the volumes of their payment transactions.8 Razorpay witnessed an increase of about 10% in payment transactions between mid-February and mid-March only, merely due to online grocery shopping and online bill payments.9Although the digital payment industry is facing the aftermath of the coronavirus, contactless payments could be the next big thing, as people have now become more aware and cautious of the germ-ridden cash! Before the lock-down started in India, even RBI had strongly pushed for making use of digital payment systems, i.e., using online banking (including payment gateways), mobile wallets, cards, etc. to contain the spread of the coronavirus, and avoid modes of payments are not hygienic and safe. It does seem that the contactless payment modes would be preferred and become more widespread in the days to come. However, one must wait and watch how circumstances pan out in future.

The above examples give out a clear hint: ‘being digital’ is the key. Thinking out of the box and using fantastic tools and resources are how all business grow and compete with one another; however, post COVID-19 era would need the creation and implementation of more digital platforms and modes of presentation to consumers, as the consumer behaviour would have drastically changed by the time we reach the post COVID-19 era.