Food courts, commercial property and public transit to suffer as Canadian economy transforms in eight key ways

'COVID did not crush the future. It merely brought it forward'

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.

“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.”

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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.

Up: Cloud security, video conferencing, chat platforms, home/office technologies and neighbourhood childcare, home cleaning, food delivery.
Down: Meeting centres, banquet services, business hotels, food courts, public transit, fitness centres and photocopiers.
An empty food court in Toronto’s Brookfield Place. Photo by Cole Burston/Bloomberg files

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.

Up: E-commerce platforms and aggregators, blended delivery and pick-up models and online loyalty models.
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Down: Department stores, secondary and tertiary malls and high-density commercial property.

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.

Up: Streaming platforms, star performers and athletes and virtual and augmented performances.
Down: Museums, art galleries, sports arenas and cinemas.
Visitors stand in front of French artist Maurice de Vlaminck’s “Saint Michel District, Bougival” (1913) on display at the exhibition “Impressionism: The Hasso Plattner Collection” at the Barberini museum in Potsdam on Sept. 24, 2020. Photo by John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images files

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.

Up: Cloud security, business continuity planning and distributed software protection.
Down: Communities with inadequate bandwidth, companies that are unable to capture and analyze consumer data.

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.

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Up: Home-focused recreation equipment, wilderness experiences and eco-tourism.
Down: Major hotel chains, cruise liners and high-volume destinations.
A health official checks the body temperature of a passenger of the “Caribbean Princess” cruise at the port of Colon, in Panama, on May 28, 2020. Photo by Mauricio Valenzuela/AFP via Getty Images files

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.

Up: Smart-living technologies, home testing kits, facial recognition technology and contact tracing technologies.
Down: Seniors’ centres, healthcare providers without adequate digital infrastructure.

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.

Up: Menu-based degrees, with more transferable credits, corporate learning management systems and digitally-augmented internships, co-ops and apprenticeships.
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Down: Schools with weak digital teaching capabilities, in-person international student enrolment, in-person corporate training.
A person working from home. Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg files

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.

Up: Strategic procurement, regional trade agreements and locally developed technologies.
Down: Foreign procurement, low-cost, carbon-intensive consumer goods and international air freight.
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