Pandemic accelerated innovation for 69% of people in creative industries

New research from print and design experts Solopress found that a staggering 69% of representatives from creative industries said that the pandemic accelerated innovation within their business.

Solopress conducted a survey to explore how and why innovation has become vital for many businesses seeking to mitigate the impact of Covid-19.

Business as Unusual

Regardless of industry or sector, almost every business was forced to make some adjustments to its operating procedures in response to COVID. 18% of UK businesses were forced to temporarily close or pause trading during the first national lockdown; unsurprisingly, the sectors that suffered the highest furlough rates were accommodation and food services with 34% of workers furloughed, whilst arts, entertainment and recreation furloughed 29% of staff.

Remote working constituted a new form of innovation and was widely implemented by businesses who had the facilities to do. 66% of respondents to Solopress’s 2022 survey believed that remote working had a positive impact on their business, and continued to be an attractive prospect when recruiting potential new employees.

Innovation Through New Partnerships

Solopress’s survey also highlighted the fact that 49% of respondents had seen a sales decrease during the pandemic, compared to 28% of respondents who had seen a sales increase and 23% who had seen no change. So, not all UK businesses suffered at the hands of the pandemic – for some, the crisis acted as a catalyst for success.

For instance, Amazon and Royal Mail capitalised on customers having to stay at home, whilst 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.

Innovation Through Entrepreneurship

The Solopress study also showed that 80% of respondents believed their business adapted to seize opportunities as a result of the pandemic. While existing businesses – like those listed above – capitalised on opportunities via collaboration, we also saw many entrepreneurs undertaking new business ventures in order to capitalise on opportunities brought about by COVID.

772,002 businesses were formed in the UK in 2020, with many from sectors able to capitalise on opportunities from the pandemic, including PPE manufacturers, disinfectant manufacturers, campsites and takeaway companies.

For instance, rapid delivery service Weezy began operations in August 2021 delivering goods from wholesalers, local bakers and butchers to Fulham and Chelsea residents within 15 minutes for a fee of £2.95 and no minimum spend. The company has enjoyed high customer retention and recently opened four more fulfilment centres in London.

Interestingly, a recent Gusto report found that 49% of people who started businesses during 2020 were women, up from 27% pre-pandemic levels. Female entrepreneurs entering the business world during the pandemic have found success in start-ups like that of Mya Leonie Wander, who created MJ Eats, a part-time Caribbean food takeaway service that delivered 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

81% of respondents to the Solopress survey wished to expand their business following the pandemic. For many businesses, the launch of an innovative new product was the best way to do so. Even so, 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 was 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%. Underwear brand Thinx responded to increased demand for activewear, launching their own line of leggings, running shorts and more, which resulted in sales increasing by 10% in 2020.

A Push Towards Business Innovation

As consumer behaviour has drastically shifted towards online shopping, depleted brand loyalty and a focus on health, hygiene and sustainability, brands are having to invest heavily in R&D in order to compete.

This trend was also picked up in the Solopress survey. When asked about their business New Year’s resolutions, over 40% of respondents stated investment in training and development, with a further 50% aiming to enhance workflow efficiency, both measures of business innovation.

Similarly, almost 50% of respondents said that their business enquiries decreased as a result of the pandemic, highlighting a strong need for organisations to innovate to best meet changing consumer behaviour.

Government data reveals that UK businesses indicated greater innovation rates that might have been expected in the absence of Covid-19, with over 60% of respondents adopting digital technologies and new management practices, 38% adopting new digital capabilities and 45% delivering a new product or service. The trend toward digitalisation is further demonstrated with the pandemic reportedly accelerating digitalisation by five years and a fifth of large enterprises increasing investment in digital transformation initiatives.

Bringing Innovation to the Forefront

Further investment in R&D and business innovation during Covid-19 is evidenced in the wider adoption of artificial intelligence (AI), which has become critical in the struggle to adapt to the changing landscape. The implementation of AI has been instrumental in facilitating new products, combatting skills shortages and supply chain issues and boosting productivity due to its capacity to unload new data quickly, analyse patterns, provide insights and offer predictive capabilities.

According to PwC, 52% of companies accelerated their AI adoption plans because of the Covid-19 crisis whilst an Appen study found that 67% expect to scale up their AI strategy further in 2021.

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.