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How Collective Displacement Could Impact Businesses in Cornwall

13 May 2021

Since the start of the pandemic, how (and where) we do things has changed. Therefore, it stands to reason that how (and where) your customers do things may have changed too. We have all experienced being uprooted from our usual places of doing our day-to-day things and have learnt how to relocate these activities within our homes, or facilitate them online through a screen.

Spare rooms have been transformed into offices; the corner of the living room may have become a gym or yoga studio; kitchen tables across the UK have been makeshift classrooms and as you can see from the graph below, our connected devices have brought our favourite stores, products and services to us – all within the ease and comfort of our own home.

The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the adoption of what we do online, such as shopping (see image:1), and forced rapid digital transformation across all industries and sectors. We are all pretty familiar with zoom meetings, perhaps have had doctors’ appointments online and some singles are even opting to meet their first dates in a virtual setting.

Image 1: Internet sales as a percentage of total retail sales, Office for National Statistics (2021) https://www.ons.gov.uk/businessindustryandtrade/retailindustry/timeseries/j4mc/drsi

We’ve all been doing what we’ve been doing for over a year now, and whilst it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit and an average of 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic, it could potentially create some more permanent problems (or opportunities, depending on which way you want to look at it) for businesses.

For example, if large retail brands are doing well selling online then it’s uncertain as to whether all their bricks and mortar stores around the UK will reopen – so what does that look like for the high streets and small towns of Cornwall?

Similarly, working from home (WFH) has become the norm throughout lockdown and whilst some people may return to their offices as usual (when it’s safe and legal to do so), others have found that lockdown has proved that businesses can function without the substantial operating costs of a fixed workspace. It’s possible, and some might say likely, that not all people will return to the office.

Both these things could lead to the closure of small businesses nearby (think coffee shops, lunch places, gift shops, pharmacies, post offices and banks) that are reliant on those shoppers and workers returning. What’s more, closures of businesses in those areas could make them less desirable places to shop and work, leading to fewer people returning and, in turn, resulting in further job losses for people employed in those businesses. It’s something to consider if you’re planning to continue to WFH and, if you are, how will you support your local independent and small businesses?

Relocation is another phenomenon to come out of our collective displacement. COVID-19 and the ability to WFH has made busy and densely populated cities less desirable places to live and work. Adding the stamp duty holiday into the mix and the wonderful coverage of popular TV series such as ‘Cornwall with Simon Reeve’, ‘Rick Stein’s Cornwall’, ‘Devon and Cornwall’, ‘Cornwall and Devon Walks’, ‘Poldark’ and the list goes on – is it any surprise that city dwellers want to escape to a more scenic life on the Cornish coast?

Cornwall’s property crisis is not new – but the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem. According to Rightmove, in the first quarter of 2021, 15.2 million people searched for properties to buy in Cornwall – up 141% on the same period in 2019 – the highest growth seen in any county in Britain.

Rental enquiries more than doubled from 500,000 in Q1 2019 to 1.1 million in Q1 2021. In January and February 2021, Cornwall was the top location for property searches, above London. Asking prices of properties in the county have increased by 11% over the past year from £302,880 to £318,852. More than double the average rise across Great Britain (5.1%).

Depending on whether our new neighbours are here permanently, or plan on using their new dwellings as holiday homes once they return to the office – the true impact of relocation in Cornwall is yet to be seen. If a high proportion of those that live here continue to WFH in Cornwall, even in part, then bricks and mortar businesses need to think carefully about how they plan to cover the shortfall in footfall, perhaps by increasing brand visibility and sales online or creating engaging content for customers to interact with at home.

Popular pandemic fads and fun may become things of the past, such as: zoom parties, streaming concerts, online dinner parties and wine tasting, ordering restaurant food boxes, drive-in cinemas, online exercise classes and all the inventive things we’ve done to have a taste of the little things we once enjoyed and look forward to enjoying again. But what if some of these new ways of doing things are here to stay? What if, due to convenience, consumers adopt a blended approach to life in person and online?

Whilst the success of the vaccine roll out in the UK brings us all hope that we will return to business as usual, it’s wise for organisations to think ahead about new trends affecting their business. In Cornwall, we cannot rely on what once was. Collective displacement has changed us. Businesses must now deal with the fact that the customers they once knew have changed, perhaps irreversibly so – now is the time to explore new frontiers, continue to develop new ways of doing things and invest in now.

To find out more about collective displacement and Accenture’s other Fjord Trends 2021, visit https://www.accenture.com/gb-en/insights/interactive/fjord-trends-collective-displacement.

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