It’s clear the pandemic has drastically transformed the ways people live, work and play and, like the virus itself, these changes will mutate slightly as they spread, according to a new report by the Royal Bank of Canada.
Expect increased friction over how to structure remote work, retailers boosting online data investment to target consumers, as well as more personalized entertainment, staycations, online education and urban centre emigration, says report author John Stackhouse, senior vice-president in the bank CEO’s office.
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“We’re emerging from this crisis with an even greater desire to harness smart technologies, artificial intelligence and vast pools of data to transform pretty much everything we do,” says Stackhouse, a former journalist. “COVID did not crush the future. It merely brought it forward.”
The bank forecasts the pandemic will slash the Canadian economy by more than $500 billion in output and hold it under pre-crisis levels until 2022. However, it identifies eight trends for entrepreneurs and investors to latch onto in their quests for success.
1. How we work
While two-thirds of employees who work from home now expect it to continue after the pandemic, watch out. Your employer has other ideas, according to pollster Angus Reid. That’s bound to increase conflict as work flexibility becomes a core issue. And it means opportunities for suppliers to increase productivity at home or reconfigure traditional offices.
2. How we shop
Data on shoppers will become even more important for retailers keen to engage consumers even before they go online and to enhance their buying experiences. Almost a third of Canadians are choosing the internet for items they used to buy in stores, while 36 per cent of U.S. consumers are now more open to trying new brands, putting past loyalties at risk. Delivery costs are falling as more consumers opt for buying online and picking up at the store.
3. How we watch
The move of culture online with nearly half of Canadians saying they won’t attend large events such as concerts or sports until a vaccine is widespread means more competition on the internet for eyeballs. Purveyors will increasingly personalize entertainment options, target advertising and augment sports offerings through gaming and streaming. Think how Twitch embedded a concert in a video game.
4. How we share
More bandwidth and data will also bring more hacks. Phishing sites surged 350 per cent between January and March as cyber criminals used fake Canada Revenue Agency sites to lure the unsuspecting. Data creation will grow to 175 zettabytes by 2025, 10 times the amount of data produced in 2017, according to a 2018 report by Seagate Technology Plc. With global internet usage jumping 40 per cent just between Feb. 1 and April 19, according to network technology company Sandvine Inc., think how much the Seagate forecast must be outdated.
5. How we travel
Staycations, or at least staying local, have become the mandated holiday adventures this year, with international travel not expected to hit pre-pandemic levels until 2024. However, contrary to RBC’s standpoint, this remains to be seen as it would seem natural after forced confinement that vacationers will flock to jets once a vaccine lands, just to get somewhere new. Of course, after learning how infectious we all are at close range, in-flight face masks may become de rigeur, pandemic or not. One impact of staycations is the boom in cottage real estate and a central core exodus.
6. How we heal
As we become comfortable with all things remote and Zoom, it’s little surprise that Global Market Insights forecasts a global telehealth surge to US$175 billion in market value by 2026 from US$45 billion last year. Likewise, the pandemic’s focus on long-term care facilities and an aging population will see Ottawa triple spending on elderly benefits to $99 billion by 2030 compared with 2010 levels. Thermal cameras and contact tracing will become normal at airports, malls and schools.
7. How we learn
Along with online work, internet schooling is one of the largest transformations accelerated by the pandemic. Traffic in June for massive open online courses — internet education available to a global wired-up audience — was 2.5 times larger than in January, according to Holon IQ. Schooling will become a hybrid of in-class and online work. More education companies with global online reach will emerge. Employers will use them for upgrading employee skills.
8. How we trade
Some measures of trade have slumped during the pandemic, with U.S. concerns over China (led by concerns surrounding technology company Huawei Technologies Co. and micro-sharing social media company TikTok) although Canadian imports from the Asian nation increased by a third from February to July. Overall, RBC sees more “buy local” initiatives and a focus on economic nationalism taking hold, whether as a function of U.S. President Donald Trump’s America First platform or supply chain restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Low-cost, carbon-intensive consumer goods and international air freight are giving way to national technologies and strategic procurement.