While some businesses pivoted and others were forced to close, Rob Pegley identifies eight industries that have positively thrived during the pandemic.

Run a gym, own a CBD restaurant or work for a major airline? Then look away now. Hopefully opportunities for you are about to flow like never before, as people race for the leisure and travel opportunities they have recently been starved of.

At the same time, however, some industries might almost wish that lockdowns weren’t ending. There are sectors of the market that have done tremendously well in the past two years. We have lived a basic, stripped-back life of essential daily goods and services, used in our home and purchased locally or via the internet.

If you walk back slowly from the simple fact that we wanted to be healthy, clean, fed and entertained in our homes, then it’s not a huge leap to work out the industries we used the most. Here are eight of them.


When a product like Zoom takes on the usage of a verb, rather like ‘to hoover’ or ‘to google’, then you know it’s doing well. Meeting platforms became an icon of 2020–21 and the working-from-home phenomenon, and while Microsoft Teams and Google Meet saw some action, Zooming people was ubiquitous. Skype was perhaps the Kodak of its generation, almost verb-like for a decade pre-COVID, but unheard of during the pandemic. Homeschooling has also seen education platforms, such as Google for Education, have a transformative effect on the way young people can learn.


In the UK, B&Q and Screwfix delivered 10 million new online customers as profits surged during the pandemic; in Australia, Bunnings’ revenue rose 12.5 per cent to US$12.5 billion; and in the US, profits soared for Home Depot and Lowe’s. Whether you were buying seeds, tools, paint or even investing in bigger renovations, nesting on a huge scale became both a form of entertainment and an outlet for overseas vacation savings sitting unused. Quite naturally, spending far more time at home meant people wanted to improve their environment; this was coupled with a conservative, bunker-like mentality to build further investment in home assets. 


All forms of health care surged during the pandemic, be that medical supplies, such as masks and personal protective equipment, the need for healthcare workers or, of course, investment in vaccine research and production. Cloying and subtle health paranoia was in the air, and we all wanted our health to be good, but few of us wanted the exposure of going to a hospital or doctor’s surgery, and so telehealth took off. Conservative growth estimates put it at 50 per cent growth, while McKinsey reports that it peaked in the US at 78 times the pre-pandemic rate of usage.


Research showed that the desire of human beings to clean themselves and their environment increased significantly during the pandemic. A clinical statement that sounds obvious in retrospect when you consider the human need for safety in fearful times, in whatever form that takes. Sales of hand sanitizer alone grew by 600 per cent in 2020 as the pandemic took hold, and some quick-thinking chemical and perfume manufacturers pivoted their businesses to the trend.


One in five households in Australia reported that their alcohol consumption increased during COVID-19, and with worldwide lockdowns in place, alcohol was consumed at home and often bought online. The US reported an 80 per cent growth in online alcohol sales during 2020. Not surprisingly, grocery stores also did extremely well; as an essential service they remained open throughout lockdowns and sometimes felt like a community service as much as a retailer. Unable to eat out, people ordered in but cooked far more.

 


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Be it food or packages, the transit of purchases grew rapidly via courier and online delivery services. Food delivery apps exploded, with Uber Eats showing 135 per cent growth in the US during 2020. Interestingly, there was an additional spin-off with the growth of e-bikes worldwide. This was partly fueled (in an environmentally friendly way) by food delivery workers during the pandemic, but is a trend likely to continue as net-zero targets come into greater focus post-COVID.


When the gym is shut, you exercise at home. Gym classes went online and the need for equipment in your garage or lounge room was paramount. As a result, cardio and strength training equipment sales saw substantial growth. It’s also worth giving a tangential nod here to camping equipment and caravans; with international travel off the menu, local vacations were the only option, and people invested heavily in recreational vehicles and tents.


Finally, in the words of Russell Crowe’s Maximus, “Are you not entertained?” It’s not like Netflix wasn’t already a success story; however, in the absence of cinema, live sport, bars, clubs, restaurants and, well, anything, we watched stuff on our smart TVs. We watched what we wanted and when we wanted, as the transient nature of work and leisure times blended at home. Netflix, Stan, Binge, Amazon Prime and Optus Sports all saw growth in the past two years.


What will stick?

It remains to be seen in a post-COVID world what has been a paradigm shift and what has been a temporal gap-filler. In all of the sectors mentioned, there feels an element of ‘no going back’. The wild peaks may not happen again although Zoom, Netflix, Uber Eats and all forms of ecommerce and delivery services seem here to stay. As things open up, we will no doubt travel and exercise and enjoy ourselves outside of the home, but some habits will be changed forever.


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