business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Despite the general weirdness of life and business at the moment, we all need to grapple with big questions moving forward starting with whether today’s new behaviors are going to linger once COVID-19 is blessedly behind us.

Let’s be honest.  There are some changed behaviors that many wish would stay whether it’s the overwhelming return to eating at home (and the supermarket shopping that supports it) to the general appreciation of front-line retail workers., a website that features many articles on human behavior, recently examined the question of how long does it take for a new activity to become a habit. Drawing on guidance from a series of psychological journals, Healthline projected that it takes about 66 days for that to happen. Given that many of us have been hunkering down since mid-March, we are drawing ever closer to that magic number.  (KC and Sterling Hawkins also talk about this in this week's Retail Tomorrow podcast.)

It’s interesting to consider how this strange little period is going to impact long-term behavior and possibly commerce in the more normal years to come. For example, there are countless articles predicting the end of the handshake, which to my mind is an overdue idea. The Atlantic recently opined on how the lockdown era might impact retail overall and might even slow the urbanization of America, possibly diminishing the appeal of crowded city centers.  (You can read that story here.)

But we must also ponder more prosaic activities.

Years ago I noticed a very strange (to my American eyes) behavior in a supermarket in Milan, Italy. In the produce section of the store, there were dispensers of plastic gloves, which each shopper used when selecting any item. The Italian retailer explained that the social custom in the area was to use the gloves to avoid touching while purchasing any produce item. That way, when I selected my own tomato or apple, my bare hands at home would be the first to touch them.  (Except for those of the farmer, of course.  And maybe the person who built the display.  And the trucker who brought the tomatoes from the farm to the store.  But you get the point - perception can be as important as reality.)

I could see that catching on in the US now with shoppers possibly using plastic produce bags to sort through the items they want. Or perhaps we will see a surge in packaged produce - though that would be a major change for retailers that have delighted customers by building mass displays.

More significantly, we all need ponder if the incredible emphasis on e-commerce for groceries is a permanent shift or a lockdown created blip - a question with enormous implications for food retailers.

The enormity of these questions might be more than many businesspeople want to contemplate in the middle of this storm, which is why I was also moved by an interesting article in Inc. about the best way for small companies to fight back against overwhelming odds and larger competitors.

The answer may shock you: essentially do nothing.

That’s really not true. It’s not a matter of doing nothing, but rather doing what you do best better than ever. Yes, there will be changed behaviors coming from the great lockdown just as there are changes brought about by periods of economic uncertainty. Inc. argues that the best course is understanding your company’s strengths and building on them while fortifying relationships with your customers.

So yes, there will be shoppers who will accelerate their move to on-line shopping, but there may be far more who are longing for the experience of walking a store unmasked and at leisure. As KC suggested in FaceTime yesterday, this is an important time to form an internal team to focus on whatever comes next. But part of their task should be identifying what makes your store/product/company/service special and then figuring out how to enhance those attributes.

Success in the post-Covid world won’t be any easier than in the pre-Covid world. But one habit you need form (and quickly) is understanding what makes you special and how to play it up better than ever.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

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.