As the quarantined populations of Earth look to the internet as their only window into the outside world, many businesses are rapidly assessing their viability as online outlets. For the most part, face-to-face services can be replicated to some degree using video calls. Tech, food, and homeware can be delivered in a van. But not all businesses are equally well-placed to make this shift.

Gym classes are live-streaming to living rooms kitted out with Amazon-delivered yoga mats. Teachers are faced with a computer screen showing the pixelated faces of 30 pupils. Pubs are having quizzes via Zoom as their patrons sit at home drinking beer from a subscription service. However, some businesses do not have the same adaptability as the growing list of companies that have seized the day amid a near-global shut-down.

Businesses that are more community-oriented, whose generational base varies across countries such as tea-rooms, coffee shops and bakeries can’t simply replicate what they offer using the internet or a van. Coffee shops charge for the experience of going for a coffee, more than they do for the coffee itself. The physical goods they sell are only part of what people are really buying. A pub quiz or a yoga class can be replicated online because they are straightforward activities. Sitting in your favourite coffee shop or tea-room, enjoying the familiar decor and watching the world go by cannot be so easily recreated using a laptop.

Because of this, there now exists a cohort of people with money they otherwise would have spent on these experiences. In Italy these are mainly older people, whereas in the UK, millennials in urban centres. Although the former may typically be less digitally savvy, they should not be discounted as potential online consumers. Older consumers are more likely to be experiencing maximum isolation and social distancing as a result of their demographics risk bracket.

It is entirely plausible that many older people who up to now weren’t engaged in online consumerism will, through boredom if nothing else, turn to the internet and see what it has to offer. As for the younger generations, though typically less financially stable, urban-dwelling millennials are more likely to be graduates. This means their projected incomes in the future will be higher than non-graduates, making them a market worth securing in the short-term to ensure long-term loyalty as their income rises.

It may already be too late for the companies losing out on this revenue to come up with something to fill the void; as stated, some things are bought mainly for the experience of buying them. However, businesses should be aware of this phenomenon, as those with innovative ability who are willing to fill this void could be onto a whole new market. It’s a tall order, to come up with some kind of substitute for a lived, sensory experience, but it can be assumed that those who seek this kind of bought experience will opt for the next best thing should someone figure out how to sell it online.

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