The slow and grinding economic recovery will be characterized by three prominent features. (1) Much more debt, which will trigger redistribution reforms (mainly through higher taxation) similar to those put into place during the Great Depression and WWII when the top marginal tax rate went above 80 percent in several countries like the US. It will also lead to financial repression. (2) Less globalization—while it cannot be brought to an end, it can be reversed. (3) More digitalization and an acceleration of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The digitalization of life and the acceleration of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will have a decisive impact on the future of all companies—in whichever industry they operate. The pandemic is inflicting severe pain on all those that rely on social consumption and have a physical footprint. Conversely, it benefits digital businesses.
In industries as different as fitness, media, events or gaming, it’s already obvious that the future lies (partly or entirely) in easily accessible digital products. Telemedicine, teleconference and online learning are also a case in point: they were struggling prior to the coronavirus outbreak and are now booming.
Even among those industries most severely hit (travel and tourism, commercial real estate), there is tentative evidence of some companies gaining market share by expanding (or creating) a digital offering. This is already evident in the gym space, and it’s no coincidence that Peloton’s share price went up 86 percent since mid-March, valuing the company at $10 billion, twice as much as the gym chain Planet Fitness. We chose the example of Peloton because it had a tough year in 2019 and a difficult IPO, but almost every digital fitness and gym business is in the same winning league.
Fitness clubs, yoga studios, gyms, boutique studios, personal trainers: all these have been hit hard by the pandemic while home workout systems, often but not always digital, have clearly emerged as winners. The key question for the industry is this: Will changes in behavior become structural when the crisis recedes? Could they become entrenched habits? If fear of infection becomes primordial, we may decide, for example, that although cycling home alone with a screen doesn’t match the conviviality and fun of a live group class, it is, in fact, safer (and cheaper!).
The observation above points to a deep paradox. On the one hand, the post-pandemic era and the wellbeing destruction that will have preceded it will be eminently favorable to health and wellness in general: Having been made painfully aware of what it means to be well and healthy, we’ll start paying much more attention to our health and our state of wellbeing, which is structurally bullish for the wellness industry at large. On the other hand, whole swathes of the wellness industry will be hit particularly hard by the crisis: (1) Precautionary savings will curtail consumption of nonessential goods and (2) social distancing rules and fears of the disease will constrain travel and tourism for a long time and will also increase the cost of doing business (like having to clean facilities between each customer in spas, gym, clinics, etc.).
The consequence and ensuing paradox are this: Wellness practices will increase a lot, but often in nonmarketable (i.e., in less or non-lucrative) ways: meditating and exercising at home, taking good care of oneself without spending money, walking, home-cooking. Maybe the “de-growth” idea (the accelerating critique of the longstanding economic principle that all growth, production and consumption is good) will crystallize in the wellness industry first…