This week we’re taking a look back on some of the 2020 trend predictions we made last year. We talked about what classrooms could look like during back-to-school, if we were in for a virtual holiday season (including shopping trends), the new #WFH culture, and other business trends like the growth of mergers & acquisitions and pop-up shops. Where did we hit the nail on the head? And if we didn’t, what is 2021 actually looking like?
Much of what we discussed back in June came true as school semesters began in August. In elementary and high schools we saw administrations cope with Covid-19 guidelines in different ways. Some opted for rotating schedules while, some offered both in-person and virtual options, and others offered in-person schooling and switched to virtual post-Thanksgiving. Some schools combined all of these options. Of course, we saw increased sanitization around high-touch areas, distancing between desks, and constant mask use. Much to the dismay of many athletes and parents, some schools, like those in Illinois, completely eliminated sports in the fall semester.
In the realm of higher education, policies varied from school to school. Some brought students back early to the fall semester to send them back home before Thanksgiving. Some began in-person and ended virtually. Many schools offered outside dining options or pre-plated meals to avoid students congregating in dining halls. Athletes were still able to participate in their sports, but no fans were allowed and athletes were tested regularly. As expected, college enrollment declined this fall by 2.5%, doubling the decline reported in 2019. Community Colleges were hardest hit, with an enrollment decrease of 10.1% compared to the 9.5% decrease in 2019.
Holiday Season & Shopping
As we predicted, more shoppers chose to purchase online than in-person during Thanksgiving weekend versus previous years. Over 100 million shoppers chose online options in 2020, up 8% from the previous year. Also as expected, in-person shopping dropped dramatically; only 58.7 million people shopped in-person, down 37% from 2019. In 2019, shoppers spent a total of $69 billion, but that number dropped by 22.4% in 2020. But this could be due in part to the extended holiday deals that many stores began in September and October
Many retailers have been barely treading water this year. A fair number of smaller retailers, especially those who don’t have the same online capacity as larger ones, have closed. Since the pandemic has lasted longer than some previously believed it might, retailers have had to make some long-term changes and plan for repercussions that will have lingering effects on the economy and consumer behavior.
As for traveling? Many Americans opted to stay home over the holidays instead of visiting with family and friends. For those that did travel, an even greater majority chose to drive; only 3.5% flew, compared to the 5.9% who traveled by air last year. It is common knowledge that the pandemic hit the airline industry hard because of fewer travelers. The TSA reports that from mid-March up to the holiday season, airports were only seeing roughly 600,000 passengers per day. And while far more people travelled over the Holiday season compared to earlier in the year, only about 40% as many people travelled by air compared to last year.
Mergers & Acquisitions and Pop-up Shops
In 2019, the outlook on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) was bright. M&A activity continued to trend upward and was only expected to grow. But, like all aspects of business, M&A felt the impact of the pandemic. On par with the rest of the world, deal activity came to a virtual standstill in mid-March and stayed in a slump through much of Q2.
But based on previous M&A activity in times of economic recession, deal activity tends to rebound very quickly. Just as we supposed, M&As did pick back up in June, with an 80% increase in deal activity from Q2 to Q3. Experts believe this is, in part, because dealmakers remained deal-ready throughout the pandemic, allowing them to close pending deals as the pandemic lessened. And because of new technological developments like video conferencing, it’s possible for deals to happen anywhere and at any time, despite being unable to meet together in-person.
Check out our podcast episode on M&A trends to learn more!
Other business trends that we discussed back in 2020 included an increase in the use of pop-up shops as a renewed marketing tool and a low-cost way to help brands get back on their feet. Since the pandemic has lasted longer than some expected, pop-up shops have not seen the resurgence that we initially predicted. However, pop-up shops may still have their moment as brands use them to test new methods and strategies for facing new consumer demand/behavior (i.e. re-envisioned fitting rooms) before committing to them fully.
As mentioned earlier, the prolonged nature of the pandemic has had rippling impacts on all aspects of our world. Not the least of which is the dramatic shift to remote work. Most businesses moved completely to working from home in a matter of a few days. Even though this change was rapid, the longevity of the pandemic meant that businesses had to look for long-term solutions to problems, instead of just quick-fix patches.
Overall, transparency with employees and customers was essential to maintaining a company. Businesses that created safe and healthy spaces with clear guidelines and communicated their overall business status were viewed more positively and fared better overall. But businesses made some of the most dramatic alterations internally. These changes included evaluating the current staff, learning how to manage a remote team, and utilizing new digital technology.
Unfortunately, being furloughed or laid off was the shared tune for many due to the harsh economic reality of the pandemic. And even for those businesses that maintained a steady stream of work throughout 2020, they still had to evaluate their team in light of their current needs and future business goals. How did their team fit into those goals? What, if any, change was needed?
After making personnel changes—trimming the proverbial fat of the business—the next step was to find ways to effectively manage teams, whether remote or in-person. In the manufacturing world (or for those workplaces that required employees in-person) new traffic patterns, increased sanitization, and altered work schedules meant that production could continue despite new routines.
Leaders also had to discover new ways to support remote-work teams. Employee bonding that normally occurs due to contact in the office was no longer possible. Managers had to regularly check in with employees to provide additional encouragement, emotional support, and a structured routine. They also had to create opportunities for employees to gather virtually to regroup, decompress, and communicate what was occurring company-wide. This provided opportunities for workers to connect in unique ways. In fact, here at NAS, many employees expressed that they felt they had learned more about fellow coworkers because of team-building activities they didn’t have to opportunity to do in the office.
Utilizing Digital Technology
Just as we expected, many companies, after realizing the benefits of remote work, were and are planning to keep employees working from home for the foreseeable future. But all this remote work meant that digital technology was the only way to connect teams together. Platforms like Trello, Monday.com, Slack, Evernote, and, of course, Zoom became the new best friend of work-from-homers. Here at NAS, we’ve been utilizing Zoom for virtual meetings and Microsoft Teams for task management and communication amongst departments.
Clearly, a significant part of effective team management included embracing new digital technology. Curating a digital workspace was and still is paramount. Managers were able to connect with employees to provide support. We also saw digital technology being used for unique networking opportunities, like trade shows. These events hosted video seminars, virtual happy hours, messaging features, and an overall setup that allowed you to actually navigate the tradeshow “floor.” While many organizations hope to host their events in-person in 2021, 2020 saw some unique virtual solutions to provide businesses with networking possibilities despite being unable to meet in person.
What can we say? 2020 was one kicker of a year, but it pushed everyone to find reimagined solutions to new challenges. And even though this year might not feel that different from 2020 quite yet, we’re looking forward to reaping the benefits of these new innovations. 2021 here we come!
Follow our podcast for more info on up-and-coming business trends to watch in 2021! We’ve looked in-depth at trends for the signage and manufacturing, janitorial services, and restaurant industries. You can also find the audio version of our podcast to listen or download on our website or wherever podcasts are found.