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Virus innovation – the pandemic’s most inventive businesses

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Pioneering businesses almost always get ahead, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made innovation a criterion for survival. With lockdown restrictions making it more difficult for traditional retail outlets to operate, those firms that have been able to adapt to the new normal have seen a surprising amount of success.

As shoppers turn to eCommerce and the UK government looks to make its next move ahead of the treacherous winter flu season, it’s clear that the commercial landscape is different. Shop owners are scrambling to attract customers back to their physical stores and you are likely to come across hand sanitiser stations and social distancing markers no matter where you go. Whilst these might be common features across the board, however, there are some companies that are making real change to the way they do business in the hope that it’ll turn their fortunes around.

From online queues and eCommerce to a vision for a brighter future, here’s how some of the world’s most innovative businesses are coping with COVID.  

Entertainment online

Noticing early on that their sales had taken a substantial hit due to coronavirus restrictions; several alcohol brands took the then outlandish step of launching an online clubbing experience. Knowing that much of their income in China was generated by the music and evening entertainment industry, alcohol giants Budweiser, Carlsberg, Rémy Martin and Pernod Ricard went back to the drawing board to create a new kind of clubbing experience that wouldn’t be affected by the mandatory closure of late-night venues.

The result was a weekly three-hour DJ set performed online and streamed into thousands of Chinese homes. To keep sales figures ticking over, the brands then made it possible for stay-at-home revellers to order alcohol direct to their doors from within the stream. All of this resulted in a COVID-secure party atmosphere in which would-be clubgoers pushed the sales of partnered whiskey products up eightfold whilst facilitating brand engagement at a time when many consumers couldn’t leave home.

WFH = Workout from home

Just as entertainment has gone online, so too has the world of health and fitness. With Joe Wicks’ workouts and virtual yoga sessions very much in focus, many people used extra time spent at home to improve their health.

As the UK government put out the July 2020 message that obesity was becoming a problem, a London fitness studio called frame realised that the business could thrive on the internet. Whilst the gym was closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, Frame Online was born as a monthly subscription service with realistic home workouts and feel-good fitness from the comfort of your living room. For once homebodies could ditch the Netflix and spend their time getting healthy, whilst the fitness studio responsible managed to maintain their income despite having no footfall through the gym doors.

The treadmills may be still, and the free weights may be racked, but Frame’s employees and customers have got smiles on their faces and workouts to be getting on with. 

COVID commuting

Whilst there are plenty of businesses struggling to come to terms with public health restrictions, some are looking to the future and considering how they can turn a profit from our ever-changing world.

One such company is UK start-up Arrival, who have designed an electric bus that can be configured for commutes that comply with social distancing. Not only are these vehicles eco-friendly to help combat the dire environmental emergency, but they can also carry up to 125 people who can ring the stop bell from their smartphones. Dotted with plexiglass barriers and hi-tech screens, Arrival have created a vehicle that is truly fit for the world post-COVID and will undoubtedly reap the benefits of their invention as time goes on.

In a similar vein, Polish company Bike2Box have created a modular bicycle parking box in anticipation of a return to work. Turning a standard car parking space into a locker that can securely store 12 bicycles, Bike2Box have formulated a solution not only to the increasing move away from car commutes, but also one which won’t cost cash strapped firms much at all. Their design does not require mounting, and it serves to act as a way of encouraging employees to return to the office safely. 

However, you look at eco-friendly innovation, nobody can dispute that the global environmental crisis is crying out for action. Looking to a world beyond the coronavirus pandemic, these companies are setting themselves up for success by thinking outside (or, in the case of B2B, inside) the box.   

Contactless consumerism businesses

Another major change set to hit high streets is the ever growing popularity of contactless shopping. With UK supermarket Asda having rolled out a Scan&Go mobile app to all UK stores, consumers are now able to pay for their groceries whilst keeping interpersonal contact to an absolute minimum. Launched both in mobile app and dedicated scanner handset forms, Scan&Go allows shoppers to scan their goods whilst keeping a running total of what they’ve bought to cut down on the need for close contact with a till operator.

For businesses who want to get on board with contactless, the good news is that it can be cheap and easy to implement. By using one of the ready-to-go solutions from a merchant services provider like UTP Group, retailers can get state-of-the-art Ingenico card readers that have contactless built in. This means that you could speed up your transaction time and cut that oh so COVID-unfriendly queue down to public health specifications. Firms could even benefit from taking their business online, all with the help of a reliable eCommerce payment gateway. This technology makes taking customer payments so easy, and with online shopping boosted by the pandemic there are very few good reasons not to start selling over the internet.

Virtual queuing businesses

On the topic of limiting interpersonal contact, some restaurants and shops recognised a problem with COVID queuing and have plugged the gap by introducing innovative systems to bring waiting in line into the 21st century. 

A good example is found in the form of popular pizza chain Franco Manca. Realising that making customers queue outside wasn’t exactly good for business, the firm introduced a virtual queuing system which allows diners to check into a restaurant and leave to go about their business, only to be called back when a table is ready for them. 

No restaurant wants to be turning customers away but when a pandemic cuts capacity in the way COVID-19 has, there’s little option but to get digital whilst keeping the premises safe for staff and punters alike. 

Embracing the future

2020 has thrown a lot at the business community, but from retailers to restaurants there have been admirable efforts to make the best of a bad situation. Whatever the future holds, entrepreneurs and business owners will always find a way to make things work – and maybe even turn a profit whilst doing so.

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