The Pandemic Shift

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By Vicki Abraham

A year ago, we tried as a community to imagine a ‘new normal’ and now we are living it. 

It was hard to define and difficult to imagine how life would change and yet the changes have both stealthily crept into everyday life and steamrolled life as we know it. 

With that came some new ways for how we do everyday things, like shopping, dining, learning and paying for goods. These are in the form of additional benefits and conveniences, developed in response to the pandemic, and many are here to stay. 

Online ordering, delivery services, Zoom group fitness, online conferences, training and education, working from home and shared services in the ‘gig economy’, have all become popular and are now normalised. 

“Even though the pandemic has caused a lot of businesses to compress and many to lose revenue, it’s been great for others. It has prompted people to be creative with new practices to get through this. The new practices work so well that it makes sense to continue them,” said Jamillah Lodge, Bermuda Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) director of communication & development. 

Delivery Services 


It’s already hard to imagine a time when you couldn’t order groceries delivered to your door or get takeout from your favourite restaurant without leaving the house. A little more than a year ago that was an idea waiting to happen. 

Before the pandemic, restaurant delivery businesses existed in Bermuda but they weren’t so popular. Today, food delivery is here to stay, driven by consumer acceptance and comfort level with the service and price. 

“Back then people weren’t using food delivery services but now it’s just what you do, it’s convenient and easy,” Ms Lodge explained. “The grocery delivery business has grown rapidly too, probably faster than they planned for! Companies like Sargasso Sea have developed what is akin to a virtual market. It’s great for businesses without their own web presence. People can now buy balloons from Before the Party and hair extensions from Impressions – these systems are here to stay.”

Sargasso Sea head of marketing & strategy, Melissa Looby agreed: “Our growth has been rapid, there’s a huge shift in the way people are shopping, we had to manage staggering growth at the start.”

The Sargasso Sea app offers restaurant and retail delivery. 

“Where delivery used to be a luxury it has become a part of the way Bermuda lives and we expect it to stay that way. People realise you can get so much done when you’re not having to worry about going out to collect shopping or a meal,” Ms Looby said.

“We’re able to maintain contactless delivery that’s easy, safe and convenient and we see our delivery agents as an extension of the hospitality industry. They’re sometimes the social element of a person’s day and they build relationships with their regulars.

“The platform is built to be agile where merchants can choose to use it or not with the ‘flip of a switch’. We’ve had an influx of new merchants wanting to get onboard because it allows small to medium businesses the ability to add an entire logistics fleet – and to meet their customer’s needs and buyer trends.”

Curb Side Dining 


The sudden wide-scale introduction of alfresco dining on the streets of Hamilton has been heralded as a success story by Island Restaurant Group (IRG) president and managing director, Philip Barnett. He credits City of Hamilton CEO, Dwayne Caines, and his team for the rapid response to Covid-19 regulations.

“We’ve talked about alfresco dining for 20 years and in two weeks we went from ‘we need to do this’ to actually getting it done. It’s pretty impressive that if we need to get something done, we can,” he said. “The public likes the vibrancy that it lends to the City, when you see business meetings outside, friends getting together for coffee, it makes the City very liveable so it’s not just a 9 to 5 location anymore. It’s a great development for the City that gives people more choice.”

Mr Barnett also believes restaurant delivery services are here to stay: “People like the convenience of it and it works well. For restaurant’s it’s good additional business on top of regular table service sales, although delivery alone is not enough to keep a restaurant open.”

Specialty Services 


Specialty services such as weddings have changed to smaller, more intimate events. 

René Hill Originals has seen its bridal gown sales steadily increase while the general tailoring business has declined by 90 per cent.

“Our regular work is hardly there anymore, without social outings retailers aren’t getting the sales so we aren’t getting the volume of alterations at the minute,” owner René Hill explained. “We’ve seen a shift to sales of bridal gowns, bridal party attire, wedding attire tailoring, wedding gown design and masks. People are still getting married and masks are more in demand now. 

“Masks must still be worn, so when ordering the bridal gown and bridal party’s dresses we order matching fabrics for the pocket square, bowties and masks, and matching lace for the designer bridal mask. 

“We’ve seen a trend of brides who purchased their gowns abroad and who would have had them tailored overseas now having their gowns altered to fit with us. The biggest difference is that we’re seeing more custom designed gowns. Where we used to make one custom design per year, this year we already have three in the works. That will continue after the pandemic.”

Local & Global 


Service providers are now relying on multiple revenue streams with in-person and online business. Ms Lodge has noticed that, “local entrepreneurs are recognising it’s possible to scale their business with online platforms like Zoom, which becomes an additional ongoing revenue stream by tapping into a different market.” 

For example, fitness trainers who offer Zoom classes alongside their in-person classes are reaching the local market and overseas clients.

B Active For Life Personal Trainer, Betty Doyling, whose mornings are spent with clients in back-to-back online classes, said the transition to online personal training was easy with most of her clients continuing to workout remotely: “There’s more acceptance of this now as normal. In the first lockdown (in April, 2020) only half of my group classes showed up online and now 98 per cent are there. They also come to Zoom classes with more energy, they’re more comfortable and familiar with online training now.

“As much as I like the in-person interaction, the Zoom presence will definitely still continue, even while out of lockdown 20 per cent of my clients remained online,” she said.

Ms Doyling has also expanded her client base to the US as people travel and live in different places for part of the year, the training now continues year round. 

“It’s an option we hadn’t previously explored,” she said.

We Work Together 


“Some businesses are also adopting a subscription model,” Ms Lodge explained. “(This is) where you sign up to be a member and the product of your choice is delivered on a recurring basis, instead of ordering it at the time you run out. The consumer saves a little money and the business has guaranteed revenue.”

“We’ve also noticed more of what is called the gig economy, where services are shared. 

AirBnB is an example and so is the Sargasso App. You’re seeing businesses start up primarily to provide a central platform for other new small businesses. I think the gig or sharing economy is something that will be very prevalent going forward.

“There are still opportunities in Bermuda to do that, to share employees, to share workers and so much more.”

The Internet Is Always On 


The way BEDC and most other organisations are delivering programmes has shifted. Online training and webinars are the normal way of business now with Ms Lodge listing a number of valuable reasons why: 

1. Training sessions are recorded so people can always go back and access the information at a later date. This wasn’t done with in-person training.

2. Learning online saves time. It eliminates travel time to a meeting or conference and if we record information about the services we offer, we do it once and the information is always available as people need it. 

3. Webinars allow us to partner with other providers and to rely on other experts while still delivering our ultimate mandate.

4. Accessibility is increased for businesses and non-profit organisations, instead of selecting one or two conferences per year, involving overseas travel and expenses, now staff can attend as many as they like.

5. Access to information and education is becoming more readily available bringing the cost of delivery goes down. An event organizer can attract a larger attendance online and the information is getting to more people all while it costs less to deliver. Why would we do it any other way?

“I think what we will see in the future is some sort of hybrid model. There will likely always be an online component where you can attend from home but those who want to travel can do so,” Ms Lodge predicted. 

The Digitalisation Accelerator 


Where businesses in Bermuda saw no real need to be online and accept online payments before, the pandemic created a sense of urgency and the best way to generate revenue. One year on and there are new businesses that are only online. 

In a recent webinar, Florence Smith, Clarien Bank VP, head of payments, described the pandemic as a digitalisation accelerator. 

“It has inspired governments, banks and others to accelerate their innovation landscape agenda,” she said. 

At Clarien, Ms Smith said that the bank recorded a “significant spike in merchants wanting ecommerce since last April’s shelter in place and Bermuda’s consumers and businesses are now quicker to accept methods of contactless payment. Consumers prefer to use their credit or debit card rather than cash, because of fear of contaminants on dollars and coinage.”

As of March, 2021, contactless payment transactions in Bermuda was 50.8%, placing Bermuda in the top five countries for contactless transactions in the Latin America and Caribbean region, which includes Mexico and Brazil.

It stands to reason that Bermuda will move toward being a cashless society as the rest of the world increasingly adopts digital transactions. 

“There are some logistical limitations like local banks not integrating with digital wallets, Apple Pay etc., and there’s not yet a local version of those but society and the market will push our financial infrastructure along that path eventually,” said Ms Lodge. “If BEDC can put systems in place to help make that happen, we will. We’re working on a virtual market for vendors and small businesses which can’t afford the upfront cost of an online payment system. They will have the option to use the virtual market without needing their own merchant accounts to trade online.”

Shifting Minds 


While some changes have occurred through necessity, the biggest change is a mindset shift. Once consumers and businesses accept the ‘new way’ and are willing to adapt and embrace the change, it opens the door to even greater innovation.

“We are at the beginning of how business is going to look going forward. I really don’t think there is any going back. We were hopeful last year that we would not be in this situation by now, that we could beat this thing and come through the other side – but we’re still in it. Things will never go back to the way they were,” concluded Ms Lodge. 


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