The coronavirus pandemic has forced everyone to get creative.
Whether through Zoom meetings, online fitness classes or take-out cocktails, companies in nearly every industry are pivoting to get through the crisis. Some work-arounds have been especially creative, such as individual exercise “pods” to get people back into gyms.
But beyond short-term fixes, many innovative new strategies and business models have emerged that are likely to stick, even as many jurisdictions begin to reopen in some capacity.
In many cases, these transformations are thanks to the increased adoption of technology and the digitization of businesses. Many of these changes were underway pre-coronavirus; the pandemic has just accelerated them.
“What’s important to customers has changed,” John Roese, Dell (DELL) Technologies chief technology officer, told CNN Business. “We’ve broken through a bunch of psychological or sociological obstacles to embrace technologies such as video, bots, drones, AI.”
Here are a few of the business concepts that have gained traction over the past several months thanks to the pandemic.
Dating while social distancing
People may be sheltering in place, but they haven’t stopped looking for love. Dating apps have reported an uptick in usage during the pandemic, including a 26% increase in the messages sent on Bumble.
One aptly named app, “Quarantine Together,” was created specifically for the Covid-19 Age. It asks users to verify that they’ve washed their hands that day before they can connect with someone. After 15 minutes of texting, matched users can choose to switch to video chatting.
Bumble users are increasingly taking advantage of video calling and audio chat features to better get to know each other and build deeper relationships, rather than engaging in more regular, casual flings, Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd told CNN Business’ Rachel Crane.
She said she expects the behavior will continue, even after people return to in-person dating.
“We’re seeing a lot of people say that had they not had the video calling feature, had they not been essentially — for better or worse — forced into having a more substantial digital connection with someone, they would have never given that person a chance,” Wolfe Herd said. “I think this is going to have a long term impact in a positive way, meaning that people will spend more time getting to know each other before they jump into real life with, essentially, a stranger.”
As the coronavirus pandemic escalated, restaurants across the United States became delivery-only almost overnight.
Most are eager to get back to serving customers in-house. But some find the prospect of operating a kitchen without a dining room an attractive opportunity.
So diners may begin to see a growing number of “ghost kitchens” (also known as virtual kitchens), according to Aayush Gupta, a senior associate at Create venture studio in New York City.
Ghost kitchens have normal branding and menus online and offer delivery, but they aren’t attached to a brick-and-mortar restaurant where people can sit and eat. Gupta said such restaurants are likely to manage better as uncertainty from the coronavirus continues, because they don’t have to pay rent on a dining room space or hire wait staff.
“Younger restaurants, if they don’t have a front-of-house, they’re likely getting through this a lot better, because they don’t have the fixed costs that they have to try to recover,” Gupta said.
Some customers have noticed the phenomenon lately. A GrubHub user in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, was surprised when the food she ordered from a restaurant called Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings tasted eerily familiar to food from Chuck E. Cheese. And no wonder — it was, sort of. A Chuck E. Cheese spokesperson told CNN that Pasqually’s is a “delivery-only brand operating on its own, leveraging the operational infrastructure of Chuck E. Cheese kitchens across the nation.”
In other words, Pasqually’s is a wholly separate restaurant that shares kitchen space with Chuck E. Cheese in a number of locations throughout the country, which may be a way to boost Chuck E. Cheese’s revenue while dining spaces were closed.
The trend may also provide opportunities for startups like CloudKitchens, Uber Founder Travis Kalanick’s new venture that operates shared commercial kitchen spaces and rents them out to delivery-only restaurants.
Direct-to-consumer movie premieres
After a few highly anticipated movie premieres were canceled this spring, some studios decided to forgo theaters altogether in favor of direct-to-consumer debuts. And it turns out that some people may not care to get out of their PJs and off their couch to catch a new flick on the big screen.
Theater chains don’t love this — many want to preserve their exclusive rights to premiere movies, to give people an incentive to go out.
But consumers are into it. “Trolls World Tour” was an on-demand success, earning nearly $100 million in rental fees in the United States during the first two weeks after its release. And while studios and theaters typically split a film’s box office grosses about 50-50, studios make about 80% of the sales on digital releases.
Movie theaters aren’t going by the wayside just yet (release dates for major films such as Disney’s Mulan were moved so they can head to the big screen first), the trend of at-home premieres could continue, at least for certain genres. The latest test of the concept is the adult comedy film, “The King of Staten Island.”
“Comedy has not really been a strong genre at the box office lately, so if ‘Staten Island’ is a digital hit maybe that sends a signal to the studios that this genre is better suited for the small screen in the future,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, told CNN Business.