Can we expect life, as we knew it, to resume after the pandemic? I don’t think so. Will things return to the way they were? No. Things will never get back to ‘normal’. The best we can hope for is something next to ‘normal’. But what does that look like?
As a nation, we’ve spent the better part of the last four months doing our very best just to get through COVID-19. In what seemed like an instant, our lives were endangered, many became unemployed unexpectedly and our freedoms restricted by a mandatory quarantine. Our efforts in recent weeks have been focused, and rightfully so, on survival. And, to be clear, the threat of COVID-19 is not over. As many states around the country begin to gingerly re-open in coordinated phases, many businesses and companies are finding themselves in danger of being deemed unnecessary.
What began as a study of how millennials are choosing to spend their money, in conjunction with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic has put a big bullseye on backs of certain businesses. The sudden lack of discretionary income, social distancing mandates and the mandatory closing of shopping, eating and drinking establishments, has painted a bleak picture for these otherwise grounded establishments.
As expected, the millennial generation is the largest generation to date, so how they think, and what they choose to spend their money on is a concern for big businesses. The long-term survival of any business relying solely on the belief systems or spending habits of the over-40 population becomes questionable.
For example, millennials are not buying fabric softener, and they aren’t ironing much either. Technology has come a long way in the creation of man-made fabrics; the selection of natural fabrics and fabric-blends is now such that contemporary clothes aren’t in need of a softener or iron as much as they were forty years ago. Specifically, the brand Downy, has noticed the sales slump and is having to reimagine and revamp their marketing efforts if they want to stay in the wash of the millennial wardrobe (I know…groan).
Downy isn’t the only brand or industry not feeling the love of millennials. De Beers is also losing a bit of its shine. Apparently, fewer millennials are choosing to get married. No engagements equals no engagement rings. Diamond retailers like De Beers are noticing a drop in diamond sales, with millennials choosing to buy either smaller stones or willing to settle for semi-precious, cheaper, or artificial alternatives.
Tailgate parties are starting to take on a different look as well. That pickup truck chock full of ice chests containing Bud Light and Milwaukee’s Best has given way to a Prius with a few six packs of local craft beer in the trunk Apparently, millennials are ditching the national brands in favor of a more curated and local beer-tasting experience
What else is falling out of favor for the up’n’coming rulers of the free world? Bars of soap, cars, breakfast cereal and Newman’s Own pasta sauce. The millennials have spoken and currently prefer body wash to bars of Dial or Ivory; prefer breakfast bars to the messy cleanup of breakfast cereals; are choosing ride-share options vs. having the added expense of a car; and although there is nothing wrong with Paul Newman’s Own sauces, the primary question responsible for the brand’s drop in revenue among millennials is, “Who the f^ck is Paul Newman?”
While the spending habits and preferences of a new generation are significant, they aren’t, on their own, world-changing. Adding a pandemic’s social consequences ON TOP of these new spending patterns, however, and preferences can certainly impact life as we know it, or more accurately, as we knew it.
Consider the rather mundane act of going to the movies. Studies show that millennials are skipping the high price of movie tickets and concessions in favor of staying home. Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and other streaming services are offering comparative quality entertainment at a fraction of the price. Add to that the impact of a mandatory closing of movie theaters due to COVID-19 and it isn’t that far of a reach to believe the days of movie theater complexes are numbered. From the industry’s perspective, the number of millennials who don’t want to go to the movies plus the number of people who’ve gotten used to not going to the movies & utilizing at-home movie feeds, equals a significant portion of the population perfectly content to save their $16 per ticket and kick back in the Barcalounger.
The same phenomenon can be said of department stores and shopping malls. Thanks to COVID-19, it’s not only the millennials who’ve grown to appreciate the panacea of online shopping options. Why battle the parking lots, crowded aisles and checkout lines when you can purchase the same goods, usually at a cheaper price, online, delivered to your door?
As a result, those who weren’t aware of the convenience or plethora of online shopping options available to them before the pandemic, are almost certainly aware of them now. Humans are largely creatures of habit. Now that so many of us have gotten into the habit of clicking our way through our snack list at home in the comfort of our jammies, retailers will have an uphill battle if they hope to maintain, much less increase, the foot traffic grocery stores, department stores and malls were accustomed to.
[Sidebar: When the COVID-19 crisis began in February, my mother jumped on the bandwagon and ordered a pallet-full of toilet paper and paper towels online. The shipment arrived in Louisiana 4 days ago. Yes, online shopping is convenient; never said it was fast.]
Casual dining is also taking a hit. Ironically, it’s the restaurants themselves and not their menu selections that are nearing the chopping block. Millennials are choosing to eat in more than previous generations and the rest of us haven’t been allowed to dine out, even if we wanted to.
Even though some states are entering Phase 3 of the COVID-19 re-opening process, which allows restaurants to re-open with limitations, four months of not waiting for a table, sub-par service and over-priced cocktails, has been easy to get used to. Especially with services like HelloFresh, Home Chef, and Blue Apron which deliver health-conscious and easy-to-prepare meals to your doorstep without the added costs of gassing up the car, babysitter, and server & valet gratuities.
While we’re on the topic of making health-conscious choices, your local gym franchise isn’t immune to becoming extinct either. Millennials are perhaps more health-conscious than any generation before but tend to be opting out of the big chain gymnasiums like Crunch or Gold’s for smaller, boutique fitness establishments geared toward their exercise regimen of choice like Soul Cycle or Pilates.
In New York, gyms are included in Phase 4 and it may be sometime before any of us are back in the swing of a fitness program. For me, that time cannot come soon enough. I’m one of those people who need to leave the house in order to work out. The at-home gym or Bowflex bullshit doesn’t work for me. I’ve tried. With each purchase of home exercise equipment, instead of losing weight, I’ve ended up gaining an expensive coat rack, dumbbell doorstop, and a very heavy & elaborate drying station for wet towels.
The coronavirus has dug a hole in civilization, upheaving society, slowly, steadily and surely. We’re in deep, people. And we haven’t even begun to shovel our way out, if we can. Without putting too fine a point on it, we’re fcked. I hope you have some lube on hand because ‘Rona is just warming up.
Since ‘The Holocough’ burst upon the scene, the service sector cannot provide proper service; large-scale sports and tournaments have been canceled; national and international travel is being avoided; religious, cultural and festive events have been disrupted; unanticipated stress has infiltrated the population; we’ve had to socially distance ourselves from friends, family and loved ones; hotels, restaurants, and houses of worship have been closed, along with cinemas, Broadway theaters, sports clubs, gymnasiums, swimming pools; some medical treatments, mostly electoral procedures, and examinations have been suspended. The list goes on.
Yes, the world may slowly be beginning to start back up again in some places, but at what cost? Only time will tell but the world as we knew it is gone. I’m curious to see how civilization adapts and adjusts to a new way of being.
We have the unique chance to learn from our past mistakes and create a new reality. Life is about choices. If we choose to create a better, more equal and less biased community, maybe, just maybe, we can emerge from the abyss better than before.
If you have any thoughts, comments or suggestions for future articles, please drop me a line at RyanRockfordNYC@gmail.com.
Until next time.