Disruptions in supply chains, as well as closure of businesses, religious institutions and schools, surges in online orders and changes in consumer behaviour are all direct consequences of the shelter-in-place policies around the world to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease.
Non-essential businesses, including educational institutions, have had to shut down at least till the social distancing measures are eased. But does this mean that business activities will be stalled or that individuals will not have access to certain goods and services? Does this mean that education must be halted too? These and other related queries are answered by technology through digitisation.
E-commerce is basically understood as the sale of goods and services online. It is materialising as a significant pillar in the struggle against COVID-19, especially for transacting business activities. Online stores have helped to avoid in-person contact. In line with the laws prohibiting inter-personal contact, virtual classes are being held to avoid congregation of students in the classroom.
Online religious services are also being held in lieu of large congregations. Likewise, business meetings are being conducted virtually via applications such as Zoom and Skype.
Organisations have continued to work through the implementation of remote work policies, supplemented by virtual meetings. Movies can be streamed online. All these are the outcome of digitisation, and they have undisputedly made the stay-at-home bearable for most individuals and organisations.
Digitisation has a lot of potential that the pandemic has taught us to exploit. There has been increase in the demand for goods or services online as a result of the social distancing measures. Some bank customers, who loathe e-banking/digital platforms, have been forced to embrace them. This is because even with the relaxation of the lockdown, accessing banking halls is competing with the labour of Hercules.
Although e-commerce has been rising steadily in the past few years, it has been lagging behind due to consumers’ preference for physical stores. On realising the trends in digitisation, businesses have been harnessing the prospects of e-commerce; while they run physical stores on one hand, they also ensure that they meet their consumers’ needs online.
For such businesses, it will be easier to fully switch from running physical stores to focusing primarily on their online stores in cases of emergency.
In these times, e-commerce is soaring and people are adjusting to digital shopping as the new trend. Consumer dynamics have been critically affected and businesses are forced to embrace e-commerce and expedite the deployment of digital interaction with consumers. While people spend their days indoors, they consequently utilise online shopping opportunities while still complying with safety measures against contracting the coronavirus. There are reports that since the start of the pandemic, online sales have increased by 52 per cent in Europe, and that there has also been an increase in the number of online shoppers by 8.8 per cent.
COVID-19 has, no doubt, brought upon people a time of dependence on digitisation. Amazon, the e-commerce giant, even plans to hire 100,000 additional employees to cater for the surge in online orders.
Digitisation has helped to preserve jobs during the outbreak. While indeed some companies have had to lay off some staff members, some others have utilised the prospects of technology by ensuring that their employees are able to work from home. Consultants have been able to work through video conferencing. People within the education sector have been able to continue working despite the lockdown by conducting virtual classes.
Ordinarily, these groups would have been rendered inactive or, worse still, unemployed. The exploitation of technology in these sectors has ensured job security.
In most developed countries, technology has helped to ensure continued educational activities. Online classes have been organised via various audio-visual applications, where the teacher can interact with her students without meeting them physically. Assignments, presentations and project works are distributed, submitted and graded via online applications.
For countries that have harnessed the opportunities that technology affords, the virus has not hindered educational activities. For developing countries, benefitting from this opportunity will be difficult, as necessary steps have not been taken to promote virtual learning.
These days are no doubt the hardest for people, but utilising opportunities that digitisation affords will not only make this period bearable, but also help to ensure that one is not risking one’s health.
Outbreaks like this open our eyes to the implicit prospects that come with digitising most aspects of our lives. Let us imagine having an outbreak in a time technology is non-existent.
There would have been too many downsides. The outbreak has made us see the value inherent in tech and I believe by now, we appreciate the latter more.