Although it’s still early days, it’s probably safe to assume that the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 will find its place in the history books. Hopefully, its place will be as a case study of how humanity took a crisis and turned it into an opportunity for learning and development. With that in mind, here is a quick look at what we’ve learned (so far) from the Coronavirus and what it may mean for the future.
Let’s start by celebrating the good
The UK has not fallen apart. There have certainly been both challenges and shortages and it is more than likely that there will continue to be challenges and shortages for the foreseeable future. For the most part, however, goods, services and people have managed to get where they are needed. Shelves have been stocked, parcels have been delivered and essential work has been done. In particular, the UK’s domestic food industries (e.g. agriculture and fishing) have managed to continue and both food and PPE have arrived from overseas.
Now let’s look at the challenges and how they have been managed (or not)
In the early days of the pandemic, the media (both social and mainstream) was full of images of shelves stripped bare as people rushed to hoard essential supplies (notably pasta and toilet paper). It didn’t take too long, however, for the initial panic to subside and for people to return to more reasonable buying habits. Since then, people have largely been able to get, if not exactly what they wanted, at least a reasonable quantity of essential supplies.
Of course, they haven’t always been able to get it particularly conveniently. Enforcing social-distancing in grocery stores has been challenging as has dealing with the fact that many customers may touch (or breath on or cough on or sneeze on) the same product. The “obvious” solution of online delivery has arguably become something of a victim of its own success.
On the one hand, it has, possibly literally, been a lifeline for some people, especially the vulnerable who cannot risk the shops and do not have anyone to go to the shops for them. On the other hand, demand has hugely outstripped supply to the point where the waiting times would, under normal circumstances, be considered beyond unacceptable.
Even the mighty Amazon has been feeling the pressure, with longer waiting times all-round, especially for items which it considers non-essential. This surely has to be a sign that businesses of all shapes, sizes and sectors, need to see the Coronavirus as an indication that they need to review their business practices. In particular, they need to think about how they can better manage their e-commerce operations so that they can scale them up and down quickly to suit changing demand.
The future of the supply chain
Modern transport and the internet have seen businesses, even smaller ones, start to operate on a truly global scale and at speeds which would have been literally unimaginable much less than a century ago. Much of this development has hinged on the idea of Asia in general and China, in particular, becoming the manufacturing hub of the world. It certainly isn’t the only place in the world with factories, but it is now extensively involved in a huge percentage of the world’s manufacturing and hence it’s retail.
While this has brought its benefits, the current pandemic has underlined the dangers of becoming overly dependent on a particular area or country. It is therefore entirely probable that businesses will look to develop new supply centres, even if this means taking a short-term hit to their profits and/or prospects for growth. If they do, then the logistics and haulage industry will need to adapt to these changes and absorb them into an updated business model.