There is not a single company whose business was not hit by the coronavirus, even for a brief period. However, there were also some businesses that swiftly brought changes in their strategies with the help of technology to beat the impact of the pandemic.
In Business Today's flagship event MindRush, Dr Sangita Reddy, joint managing director, Apollo Hospitals, and Ashish Shah, COO and Co-Founder, Pepperfry, expressed the upside and downside of the pandemic during the "Fireside chat: Different Perspective" session. The two guests also shared their viewpoints about how COVID-19 changed their business, their ideas of future readiness and engagement with their customers in the virtual event on Saturday.
According to Dr Reddy, one of the drastic changes that she saw during the COVID-19 outbreak was the low footfall of patients in the hospitals because many people were scared that they would get infected by the virus. Besides, there was also a drastic reduction in surgeries.
"The drastic change I saw was that many people who needed help, could not come because they were scared. There was a lockdown, and fear that if you go to the hospital you will get coronavirus as other patients were treated there. We had isolated the Covid and surgical wards but there was a reduction in surgery," Dr Reddy said.
However, for her, the exciting part was the change in trend for telemedicine.
"The exciting part was we have been working in telemedicine for 20 years. But during this period, online consultations became a new norm. Earlier we used to do 1,000-2,000 teleconsultation even from the far-flung areas in a day. But during COVID-19, we crossed 10,000-15,000 teleconsultation. I think this behaviour is something which will stay," Dr Reddy added.
Pepperfry's Shah, also saw a surge in demand for furniture during the outbreak. Shah said that when people spend more time in their homes, they need more furniture.
"From a business point, our comeback was really great. We are doing much more than the pre-COVID levels," Shah added.
He also said that during the pre-COVID time, furniture used to be made by the carpenters. They would come to homes and make furniture. But due to the pandemic, this trend has stopped. "The entire business has moved to readymade furniture. So, our business is all about readymade furniture, therefore, we are getting the benefit of it," Shah asserted.
When asked about the idea of future readiness, Dr Reddy said, "deep passion for technology", and "continued closeness to all stakeholders".
Dr Reddy said that "Apollo Hospitals has always brought in the advanced technology in terms of machines from the first CT Scan to MRI, now the protons so we always did that. Now we are looking at deep IT, AI-driven initiatives happening across the organisation. We are trying to create a whole new story around automation".
For Shah, the idea of future readiness is to bring customers to a small 400 sq ft store virtually by giving them glasses so that they can see the furniture in their homes and make a choice.
"We strongly believe that in three to four years, the way furniture is bought in this country is going to change significantly. People would not go to stores perhaps, virtual reality, augmented reality will be the new way to go," Shah stated.
He further said that the company is also focussing on branded furniture, "we have our own 10 house brands, and are focusing on how we should take those house brands to our consumers now".
Additionally, the furniture startup is also planning to make Pepperfry available to customers at all touchpoints. "We have only 65 stores and we wanted to have 200 more stores by the end of next year. We want to be great on mobile, app, web, etc". Shah added that 65 per cent of the traffic and transactions on Pepperfry happens from mobile phones.
Shah shared that when the pandemic entered India, his business was severely impacted in the initial three-four months. But because of digital adoption, things changed positively for his company. Reddy also agreed that the adoption of technology was one of the huge upsides of the pandemic.
Dr Reddy optimistically said, "The pace of acceleration is the application of new science into our sector is going to be better. The fact that the world created a vaccine under 12 months if we start applying that to all other areas can we cure cancer, can we find a way to solve knee without opening a massive open surgery".
(Edited by: Mansi Jaswal)