by Michael Sansolo
It may be my favorite line in all of literature. In Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” a character is asked how he managed to go from great wealth to bankruptcy. Two ways, he says. “Gradually and then suddenly.”
In so many ways it is a perfect explanation for how things change. Think of the rise of Amazon, Walmart or even smartphones and social media. They all began gradually and then suddenly dominated parts of our world.
Even in the midst of coronavirus-mania we need to spend some time thinking about change and what is likely to come from this very odd period and whether changes we are experiencing in the age of social distancing will be like erosion, happening slowly over time, or like earthquakes in this one violent jolt.
Some of the gradual changes we need to consider include the startling number of deep discount stores added in just the past few years. Now that the coronavirus has pitched the nation (and world) into an economic downturn, we have to wonder how that will alter competition with all those new Aldis, Lidls and dollar stores dotting the landscape.
Likewise, we have to wonder how this strange new period is going to impact the long-term buying habits of the millennials, the nation’s largest generation, who’s personal memory now includes September 11th, the 2008 financial meltdown and now this. What kinds of consumers, workers and people will they be going forward? It’s hard to see them becoming wildly optimistic (though some recent behavior on the beaches of Clearwater, Florida, suggests that some certainly are capable of a degree of recklessness).
But I think there’s more change in store.
I wonder, for instance, if the future path of home shopping is being altered by the current situation. We might be seeing the collision of needs between convenience and isolation. Suddenly shoppers are missing those mundane trips to the supermarket or a nearby mediocre restaurant and perhaps those same shoppers will find the normal course of life incredibly appealing if brick-and-mortar stores seize the moment to enhance experiences.
If not, we may see a sharp rise in the acceptance of click-and-collect shopping. Based on family experience we are finding it shockingly hard to set a pick up time for items at local stores. Click-and-collect has always offered a less costly way of providing e-commerce and perhaps the coronavirus lockdown is stress testing the system and building acceptance. (As a side note: it also gave my family a chance to try Instacart and frankly we won’t be going back!)
Those same shoppers are trying home delivery services like never before and once lockdowns are lifted returning to stores might not look so attractive. The mundane experience we crave today might bore us tomorrow.
(Kevin has run near constant articles on these topics in recent days and while it’s so hard to focus on the future when the present is so challenging, it’s clear that it certainly needs focus.)
Staffers will be impacted as well. Currently they are properly hailed as heroes for keeping stores open and deliveries moving, but the past teaches us that the glow isn’t likely to last.
Even before the coronavirus crisis, the Palm Beach (FL) Post reported that local school districts were losing many bus drivers to Amazon’s voracious need for more delivery drivers and during the crisis the company has been trying to hire thousands of workers. Once the crisis is over, we might find that many school bus drivers (among others) and many retail workers will find Amazon jobs attractive as they suddenly welcome working without much human contact.
The truth is we really don’t know. The post-virus period could bring incredibly new opportunities to build sales, loyalty and community or it might not. And right now, it is near impossible to look very far ahead.
But the future is coming quickly with changes coming both gradually and suddenly. We’ll need to get back on our game fast.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.
And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.