In Depth

Coronavirus: the businesses flourishing in the pandemic

From video conferencing companies to seed sellers - business is booming for some

The coronavirus outbreak continues to keep the doors to most British businesses closed, fuelling fears that the UK is teetering on the brink of a major economic recession.

Restaurants, pubs and bars will remain closed for the foreseeable future, even when other retailers may be given permission to start trading once more.

Three former chancellors have warned the British economy may never fully recover from the impacts of the pandemic.

Labour’s Alistair Darling, who was chancellor during the global economic crisis that began in 2008, said: “I’m afraid this is much, much worse because we’re not yet in control of events.”

But despite the economy suffering, some businesses have benefited from the virus outbreak. Technology, home workout and gardening companies are all profiting from the new state of play.

Exercise equipment

Companies supplying exercise equipment that people can use in lieu of their normal gym workouts are seeing an increase in demand.

Everything from roller skates to turbo trainers and bodyweight workout systems have come sprinting and lunging into fashion, with people keen to try new workouts thanks to the extra time on their hands.

John Lewis says it has seen a “significant uplift” in home gym equipment and other fitness product sales since lockdown.

Toby Clark, from Mintel market research, told the BBC his teams are seeing reports of “really high sales of home exercise equipment, as people try to compensate for the fact that they now can’t get to the gym”.

Bicycle manufacturers are doing particularly well, as people are more keen to try out ways of travelling that risk less exposure to the coronavirus.

Video calling platforms

Somewhat unsurprisingly, a big winner from the lockdown are video calling companies like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype.

And “many smaller players such as Friday, FreeConferenceCall, Brandlive, Bluescape and LogMeIn are also experiencing dramatic demand for their services, according to TechCrunch.

Zoom reported on 22 April that it had seen a 50% surge in daily users, though later updated its statement to say it had 300 million daily meeting participants rather than users, The Verge reports.

User numbers aside, “the company’s sales and share price are already up over 50% in 2020,” writes Michael Wade, professor of innovation and strategy at IMD Business School in Switzerland, on The Conversation. “Webex from Cisco and Skype and Teams from Microsoft are also seeing major upticks in sales,” Wade adds.

Home and garden

People are spending more time stuck in the house, resulting in a big increase in people making little home and garden improvements.

Phil Jones of JustSeed in Wrexham, which sells a variety of plant seeds, says he has been overwhelmed by the demand for carrot, lettuce, bean and tomato seeds. “It’s just the sheer volume,” he told the BBC, “We’re catching up with a massive surge.”

The UK is following the pattern set in other locked down countries. King Seeds, New Zealand’s largest seed supplier, had to temporarily suspend online ordering after experiencing ten times its usual business, says Stuff magazine.

“They are buying a lot more than they normally would and buying things that they don’t need at this time of the year as well,” King Seeds’ owner Gerard Martin told the magazine.

Ecommerce

Online retailers like Amazon are doing extremely well out of the pandemic, with a CNBC story in March reporting that Amazon was hiring 100,000 new staff to deal with the surge in demand.

In mid-April, The Guardian reported that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos had grown his fortune by a further $24bn during the coronavirus pandemic, a 20% increase over the past four months, to $138bn.

"A surge in demand has driven the business to near peak holiday season levels, with households on virtual lockdown and many millions staying indoors,” says the paper.

“But the increased demand comes amid growing controversy over the retailer’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak… Workers have reported severe strains on warehouse teams… Several have confirmed cases of employees testing positive for the virus.”

Online UK grocer Ocado was in such high demand that it was forced to suspend new orders until it could clear its backlog of deliveries.

Beer

Despite the rumours, the sale of Corona beer hasn’t been hit by its unfortunate name.

Mark Ritson explained in Marketing Week that the pandemic is more likely to help than harm the brand.

“When you walk into a bar, the question is not ‘does this pandemic make you feel different about any of the beers on the following list?’. The question is: ‘What can I get you?’.”

And for many people, the answer will be Corona, says Ritson. “Not because of what it stands for. Not because of the negative associations it evokes. Just because that was the first beer that came to mind.”

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