4 Industries That Will Have a Difficult Start in 2021

For businesses that have suffered the most due to COVID-19, there’s reason to be hopeful. Multiple global pharmaceutical companies are already rolling out vaccines across much of the world — and the pandemic could be effectively over sometime in 2021.

However, some industries are still likely to have a rough start to the year. Vaccine distribution will take time, and even by the most optimistic predictions, there will still probably be a bit of an economic dead zone in Q1 2021. 

The companies that have struggled through 2020 likely have a few more challenging months ahead. These are some of the industries that have faced the most hurdles — plus, what they can do to stay ahead in what may be the last few months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Restaurants 

In some ways, restaurants are the poster child for industries struck by the pandemic. They had to shut down early, and those that remain open for business are struggling with limited house capacity and the logistics of delivery and outdoor seating.

Fortunately, business may pick up very quickly post-pandemic, especially for restaurants. When asked which activities they missed most during lockdown, 89% of American consumers said going to restaurants. It was the fourth most-picked option, beaten only by visiting friends and family and “being able to go where I want and do what I please.”

Being able to safely dine indoors at restaurants may drive a massive surge of business.

The post-pandemic era may also be an opportunity to carry forward new ideas that restaurants experimented with during the pandemic. Pop-up outdoor seating, contactless payment and new delivery or pickup options are all likely to remain popular, even once it’s 100% safe to fully reopen.

There’s some evidence customer preferences and standards may change, however. For example, many consumers may have higher standards for restaurant cleanliness compared to before the pandemic.

Staying afloat through the vaccine deployment process is also likely to be a challenge. Restaurants may have to continue enforcing or encouraging mask usage indoors until most Americans have received their vaccines. For restaurants, recovery may come long after pharmaceutical companies deliver the first vaccine doses.

2. The Fitness Industry

Like restaurants, gyms and yoga studios are still open, for the most part. However, they’re facing a similar struggle with lower-than-usual demand and limited options.

Before recovery begins in earnest, the internet will play a pivotal role. Fitness trainers, for example, can offer online classes or one-on-one consultations that can be just as valuable as an in-person class or meeting. Gyms and other fitness companies can offer similar services to stay afloat.

Where possible, outdoor fitness classes that follow social distancing rules may also be a safe option gyms can offer.

Taking advantage of strategies that can boost gym membership may help these businesses stay in good shape long enough for demand to return to normal.

3. Movie Theaters

Of all the industries adversely affected by COVID-19, the movie theater industry has probably the roughest road to recovery. While most customers are eager to shop in person or eat at restaurants, fewer are interested in heading back to movie theaters.

Even major companies are struggling — AMC, for example, announced in December 2020 that the chain is on track to run out of cash in just a few months.

Even worse is that the film industry seems to be moving away from theatrical exclusivity. In December, for example, HBO announced that it would offer release-day streaming of some of 2021’s most highly anticipated films. It’s not great news for the industry, which heavily depends on that window of theatrical exclusivity for ticket sales.

 Still, most experts believe that the industry is nowhere near doomed. Going to the movies and watching a new release at home are different experiences, and there are some signs customers are still willing to pay for the movie theater experience.

Theaters that need support right now can employ some creative strategies. Some movie theaters have relied on new programs where a single “pod” rents out the entire theater. 

Others have appealed directly to distributors for support in staying afloat during this last portion of the pandemic.

4. Retail

Retailers — both brick-and-mortar and online storefronts — have felt some of the pandemic’s worst effects. Some major brands have even declared bankruptcy and significantly scaled back their operations.

There has been some windfall for the industry during the pandemic in the form of online shopping. E-commerce’s growing popularity has given customers a way to shop with your brand, even if they’re unwilling to do so in person.

However, disruptions in the business supply chain and U.S. Postal Service have made e-commerce less reliable than usual. Consumer spending is still down across the board, and likely won’t recover until after the vaccines are more widely available.

E-commerce will likely remain critical for businesses that are struggling. Offering curbside pickup and similar delivery options may also convince customers to make a purchase.

Retail’s success will depend on the economy’s overall health. We don’t know what recovery will look like just yet, but we do have a sense of what indicators to watch out for. High levels of public consumption and consumer confidence are typically good news for retailers. Once those two stats start to rise, it may be a sign that recovery is about to begin.

For Industries Hit Hard by COVID-19, a Quick Recovery Could Be on the Way

Economic recovery from the pandemic will probably start in 2021 — but it may not be until early Q2 or the middle of the year that we begin to see meaningful recovery.

For restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and retailers, a few more rough months may be ahead. Fortunately, there are signs that once it’s safe to shop in person or head out to a restaurant, recovery may be quick.

In the meantime, businesses will probably need to lean on pandemic-safe practices to stay afloat — like new pickup options and expanded outdoor offerings.

Eleanor Hecks is editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. Eleanor was the creative director and occasional blog writer at a prominent digital marketing agency before becoming her own boss in 2018. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and dog, Bear.

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