Life During Quarantine 25: COVID-19 and the Supply Chain

Life during quarantine has certainly been interesting! As we are coming close to a vaccine solution, I thought it was a good point to end this series. In my mind, and in my reality, one of the areas most affected by the Pandemic had been the supply chain. I work in a few areas and none has been impacted more than the flooring design industry. All products are shipped from factories. It’s a necessity to have a floor in your home, so here’s what’s been happening.

Back in March when businesses closed to visitors, many factories were shut down. Once work resumed, there was an incredible unforeseen increase in demand. The volume of supplies required double or tripled because of the increase in consumer demand. Factories and shipping because of the new precautions saw delays. Now there is some equilibrium because of realistic timelines.

In this environment, the demand for products and services has dramatically increased. Opportunities have opened for traditional brick-and-mortar retailers who are excited to try new things.

“The world has accelerated from physical to digital across multiple industries, including retail,” Schulman said on the second-quarter earnings call. “Merchants are embracing a digital-first strategy, and these trends have fueled the rapid rise of digital payments. “The company reported that in the first half of 2020, the penetration of e-commerce as a percentage of retail sales outpaced prior external forecast by three to five years. In this environment, the demand for products and services has dramatically increased. Opportunities have opened for traditional brick-and-mortar retailers who are excited to try new things. Personally, I’m inspired by even the smallest local brick-and-mortar retailers who have found ways to leverage digital to boost sales and improve customer service. One of my favorite local home furnishings stores has been rocking connections with customers who can’t shop in-store through daily Instagram lives. Chatting about everything from family and recent (affordable) Target finds to behind-the-scenes and decor trends, the owner invites her customers in virtually with a beautiful backdrop that inspires questions and keeps the store top of mind. “

With the holidays upon us, and people traveling less the demand for shipping is going to be greater. In the technology realm, there is an increase in businesses either creating websites for online sales for the first time as well as very traditional businesses that relied on walk-in business now expanding because of new websites! As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, 57% of purchasing managers are spending more on marketplace eCommerce sites, with 22% spending significantly more. When it comes to B2B marketplaces, 89% are buying at least the same amount or significantly more.B2B e-commerce sales have grown from $1.1 trillion in 2019 to $1.3 trillion in 2020, with B2B marketplace gross merchandise volume growing from $16.58B in 2018 to $22.56B in 2019 to $31.19B in 2020.COVID-19 accelerated many trends, including brands looking more toward third-party sellers. Amazon is of course emerging as a dominant force in this arena, set to top $52B in gross merchandise volume by 2023.

I read some articles particular in the software industry and found this fascinating from the perspective of development. Organizations who invest in securing the best parts, from the fewest and best suppliers, and keeping those components updated, are widening the gap against their competitors. The best-performing organizations are applying automation to help them manage their open-source component choices and update.

I investigated some interesting things in the food industry. Here is a bit from a thought-provoking article. There are millions of people who have moved to major cities to pursue careers over the past decades. I believe now is an opportunity to look back to where you came from and ask how you can make an impact and make it a better place for future generations. Investing in food companies that are digitally native and focused on the direct-to-consumer channel and e-commerce channels is a big part of our investment model. The way consumers acquire and learn about their food is evolving rapidly with the exponential adoption of these digital sales channels for food that was traditionally only purchased in brick and mortar stores.

A little look into education at the higher level. One set of zoom calls I have been attending are from the MIT Sloan School of Management This from a blog by Peter Hirst. “Our thinking at the beginning of the pandemic was that if we had any executive education customers who wished to keep learning, we would keep teaching. Many of our classroom-based programs are offered several times a year, so we made the decision to move those scheduled soon to a “live online” format. In most of the short executive education programs we offered in March and April, 10-12 of learners enrolled switched to the live online format (enough to make them pedagogically viable), and most courses managed to capture a few new participants as well.  In some cases, we had up to 30 participants live online, and they mostly reported that they found the experience engaging and valuable. We were able to run about a quarter of the open enrollment programs that we had originally scheduled for March and April.

Based on the overall success of this experience (for ourselves and our customers!), we decided to run almost all of our June and July programs live online as well. And, like most other schools, the fall is going to be more of the same.” Human beings do get used to things—that’s arguably one of the secrets of our success as a species. In the coming months, we will at times be in crisis mode due to economic upheavals, family disruptions, social-distancing lockdowns, and the realities of the pandemic itself. In less dire moments, we will prove our collective ability to adjust. And I believe we will raise our expectations of how effectively organizations and institutions will leverage technology. In other words, we are not going back to business as usual anytime soon.

This what I liked best:” In any time of crisis, keeping busy can provide some insulation from fear, worry, and anxiety. Especially in societies that prize work above other aspects of human experience, it can be tempting to focus all attention on getting work done at the expense of neglecting our humanity. I believe that now more than ever, it is important for all of us to be our best human selves so that we can continue being successful professionally and personally in the post-pandemic future.”

But the coronavirus pandemic has affected the way every trend will play out in 2021, and offline retail has been hit particularly hard. This has led to widespread job losses and famous names disappearing from shopping centers around the world. At the same time, online retail has boomed more quickly than ever before as consumers choose to remain safely indoors, and home delivery infrastructure becomes increasingly sophisticated. Here are the five biggest impacts.

  1. Omnichannel – Offline is online, online is offline This is a big one, that actually involves the coming together of several different trends, including AI, robotics, IoT, and extended reality (XR) – which includes virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR). At their most sophisticated, this trend includes initiatives such as Amazon’s famous cashier-less stores opening in the US, as well as Walmart’s experiments with allowing customers to order and pay in-store and have goods delivered to their homes. At the other end of the spectrum is the trend of smaller start-ups and cottage enterprises opening pop-ups, concessions, and collaborations with bigger brands.
  2. AI increasingly customer-facing across the retail industry-driven big data retailing has been maturing for some years now, with major retailers relying on advanced analytics to understand what should be stocked in their stores and drive efficiencies in logistics. Newer developments have seen this technology moving from back-of-house to front-of-house, with customer-facing initiatives such as chatbots and virtual assistants. Likewise, while robots have been hanging out in warehouses and stock rooms for a while, assisting with inventory management, in 2021, we can expect to see them taking to the shop floor too.
  3. Autonomous Deliveries and Fulfillment one’s been on the horizon for a while, but with the pandemic-driven changes, we’re making to our behavior this year, we’re likely to see ideas such as self-driving delivery vehicles and drone delivery really coming to life. Though switching to online ordering and deliveries reduces the likelihood of encountering people carrying viruses, there’s still a fear of contamination caused by poor hygiene at order fulfillment centers or delivery networks. Autonomous fulfillment and delivery reduce risks around this, which is a factor likely to lead to accelerated acceptance and adoption of these new technologies. Over the next year, autonomous delivery initiatives are likely to remain focused on “last mile” solutions, employing self-driving vehicles and airborne drones for trips between fulfillment centers and consumers’ homes.
  4. See it, like it, buy it! Forget shop both online and offline – purchases directly from manufacturers through influencers, advertising, and even TV shows is likely to become an increasingly prominent part of the retail landscape throughout 2021.
  5. Personal shopping at scale Well-heeled shoppers are used to receiving personal attention when shopping at high-end stores and personalizing their high-value purchases such as cars, bespoke clothing, and jewelry. However, technology is now ushering in a new age of mass-personalization, allowing this to be carried out at scale across a growing range of goods and services. Recommendation engines are used in e-commerce to point us towards products we’re most likely to want or need. The same technology is now being rolled out in retail outlets, arming shop assistants (or possibly robotic ones, see above) with information on who we are, and our past purchases. Beauty product retailer Sephora collects information on customer preferences via an app as they explore and rate products online and makes them available to sales staff when they visit a store in person. According to analysts at McKinsey, initiatives like this typically reduce marketing costs by around 20%. If you would like to learn more about technology trends, then have a look at my new books: Tech Trends in Practice: The 25 Technologies That Are Driving The 4th Industrial Revolution and The Intelligence Revolution: Transforming Your Business With AI


Cynthia Kosciuczyk, MBA
Cynthia Kosciuczyk, MBA
I took the less-traveled roads which led to many careers. Each of these contributed to my unique mix of expertise: science research, teaching, food, art, and textiles. Owning and operating my own businesses (a bakery, a gallery, and a consulting business) thrust me into the driver seat of learning many diverse roles from customer service to public relations and resulted in my unique management style. Participating in the creation of startups, working in design, and my own businesses and technology endeavors. My quest for knowledge and seeking out the best has turned me into a networking enthusiast. A lifelong passion for textiles and Persian rugs taught me an array of professional skills such as research, writing, and community events. Networking resulted in a multitude of business opportunities. My experiences include Management, Entrepreneurship, Sales, Design, Descriptive Writing, Business Strategy, Color, and Textiles. Every facet of my work and life comes together like pieces of a puzzle. I strive to be a phenomenal networker and problem solver who continues to learn and grow.

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