Did Covid-19 press “Reset” on innovation?

Danny Powell at Solopress describes how many UK businesses have embraced innovation as a way of thriving during the pandemic

Given the turbulence and uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s no secret that businesses throughout the UK have been forced to adapt to the evolving demands of the new normal.

Although strategies have differed depending on sector and business size, all businesses have been forced to re-evaluate their plans. While for some this involved pressing “Pause”, adopting remote working or reducing the workforce, for others the focus was on innovation.

New research from print and design company Solopress has revealed that over two thirds (69%) of organisations in the creative industries said that the pandemic accelerated innovation within their business.

So how and why has innovation become vital for so many businesses seeking to mitigate the impact of Covid-19?

A push towards business innovation

Almost half of businesses say that business enquiries decreased as a result of the pandemic. This highlights a strong need for organisations to innovate to meet changing consumer behaviour.

According to McKinsey, the ongoing recovery from COVID-19 will not be a linear process. Businesses with the most comprehensive scenario planning, including plans to ramp up innovation and engagement, are likely to recover fastest and enhance long-term competitiveness.

UK businesses clearly understand this. A large majority (80%) say that their business has adapted to take advantage of new opportunities as a result of the pandemic. These are businesses that do not merely want to survive: they want to thrive.

In fact, UK businesses indicate greater innovation rates than might have been expected in the absence of Covid-19. Over 60% of them are adopting digital technologies and new management practices, with 38% adopting new digital capabilities and 45% delivering a new product or service, according to UK government data.

Innovation through new partnerships

Although many UK businesses suffered during the pandemic in terms of revenue losses that required them to furlough employees or even caused closure, for some the crisis has acted as a catalyst for success. One way of achieving this has been through new partnerships.

For example, Deliveroo joined forces with retail giants Waitrose,  Sainsbury’s,  Aldi,  Co-Op and  Morrisons to deliver groceries directly to customers’ doors, offering speed of delivery and convenience. Uber Eats’ customer base also increased significantly after partnering with Sainsbury’s as part of an initiative launched in October.

As part of their Covid-19 recovery plans, EasyJet partnered with AI firm Black Swan Data to better manage its food supply. Combining AI and machine learning (ML), the airline is evaluating food consumption to predict what customers will choose to eat, how much they’ll consume and when, thus minimising waste and costs.

Innovation through entrepreneurship

UK entrepreneurs were active during the pandemic: 772,002 new businesses were formed in 2020, with many from sectors able to capitalise on opportunities that arose directly from the pandemic, including PPE manufacturers, disinfectant manufacturers, campsites and takeaway companies.

The pandemic has also changed consumer behaviours and expectations. Some entrepreneurs have been quick to take advantage of this. For instance, sensing a new market opportunity, rapid delivery service Weezy began operations in August 2021 delivering goods from wholesalers, local bakers and butchers to residents of the London boroughs of Fulham and Chelsea residents. For a fee of £2.95 and with no minimum spend, customers could have groceries delivered within 15 minutes.

With high customer retention and four more fulfilment centres recently opened in London, Weezy has successfully fulfilled a new demand for rapid grocery delivery that was brought about by the pandemic.

Another innovative success story is that of Mya Leonie Wander, who created MJ Eats, a part-time Caribbean food takeaway service that delivers fresh food cooked in her very own kitchen. The business broke even after just two months and averaged around 20 orders per week in 2020.

Innovation through new product launches

Another strategy seen during the pandemic has been to accelerate new product launches. A staggering one in three small to medium enterprises launched new products in an attempt to remain profitable during the pandemic.

Eyewear brand Zenni Optical were quick to adapt to the demands of the pandemic, fast-tracking innovations including their anti-fog lenses for mask-wearing customers. The product innovation accelerated eyewear sales projections by 45%.

Capitalising on the opportunity to expand their offering, underwear brand Thinx responded to increased demand for activewear, launching their own line of leggings, running shorts and more. This resulted in sales increasing by 10% in 2020.

Starbucks also adapted well during the pandemic, implementing a mobile order pick-up system that enabled customers to collect coffee from a barista outdoors. The new system eliminated the risks of entering a busy indoor space and helped to enhance customer loyalty.

As technology develops to meet the demands of a post-pandemic world, organisations must accept the need to innovate and harness these developments to compete in the new, increasingly challenging landscape.

And in the coming months and years, advanced technology such as AI will provide businesses with new and unique opportunities to diversify and better serve their customer base, ensuring success and stability beyond the pandemic.


Danny Powell is Senior Copywriter at print and design experts Solopress

Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com

© Business Reporter 2021

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