GDR Coronavirus briefing

Mar 06, 2020

As the Coronavirus continues to spread around the world, GDR CEO Kate Ancketill gives her advice to brands and retailers and shares how businesses are adapting and responding to better-serve their customers and employees globally.

As professional business futurists it’s our job to read widely and critically, and gather a variety of perspectives, weighted according to the expertise and reputation of the source.

Like everyone I am concerned about Covid-19, and my understanding of the situation is evolving as new information and expert advice becomes available.

Where I stand at the moment is that it would be prudent for those cities and countries that are still operating as usual to treat this time as the calm before the storm. Make hay while the sun shines, prepare for some weeks or months of disruption, and let’s hope things turn out much better than expected.

I would advise businesses to take the same approach. It’s not time to panic, it’s time to stay informed and to make sure you’re aware of the worst case scenario and you’re ready to act decisively whatever happens. I’d also encourage brands and retailers to spend time thinking not just about how you can mitigate the short-term costs to your business, but also about how you can engage The Blitz Spirit to encourage volunteer activity where it’s needed most .

In this article I look particularly at Asia for inspiration, to consider how we can learn from the flexibility shown by retailers and brands there and their outstanding ability to adapt to the situation quickly, as well as how they’ve continued to engage, entertain and sell to people even when they are confined to their homes.


Timely innovations from around the world

We’re already seeing many brands across the globe thinking beyond the supply chain and staffing implications of the Coronavirus outbreak and coming up with innovative ways to engage with and serve their customers better and more thoughtfully.


Connecting via livestream

In China, retailers and brands across a range of categories have responded to the inaccessibility of shops and restaurants by leaning into livestreaming, which is already a $63bn ecommerce industry in the country. A leading hot pot restaurant has been livestreaming its owner preparing and eating its famous dishes so those stuck at home can follow along, or live vicariously through the content. Elsewhere, hair salons are collaborating with leading consumer electronic goods retailers Panasonic, Philips and Dyson to teach at-home viewers how to cut and style their hair so they’re work-ready when normality resumes. Sitting around all day at home is not only boring but it’s also not good for the waistline, so sports brands AliSports and Youku have been livestreaming exercise classes with celebrity guests so those without home gyms can still stay fit. (Incidentally, GDR’s Going Live trend explores how Western brands are starting to learn from the success of livestreaming in the East. If you’d like to hear more about this, get in touch via


Phygital Experiences

Chinese museums are turning to rich digital tools to allow a global audience to virtually roam their corridors and browse their exhibitions and artworks. The Online Museum Exhibition web portal includes digital access to the archives of more than 100 Chinese galleries and museums, including the Karamay Museum in the Xinjiang province and Shanghai’s Museum of Revolutionary History. It allows visitors, as the site’s tagline states, to “See Exhibitions Without Leaving the House.” The interesting thing about this example is that the infrastructure and most of the digital archives already existed, but the coronavirus has forced the museums, and China’s National Cultural Heritage Administration, to reassess the value of their assets.


Just being helpful

Beauty brand Lush has launched a thoughtful promotion for those shoppers still braving the UK’s high streets. All shoppers are invited to enter its stores and use its sinks and soap samples to wash their hands, no purchase necessary. Signs in the store windows read: “Come in and wash your hands for free,” while branded literature by the sinks runs through the step-by-step process of how best to wash your hands. While Lush will earn a lot of brownie points for this promotion, it’s also a powerful driver of both footfall and product trial that, like the example above, makes use of existing assets.

Elsewhere, a Hong Kong-based group of intelligence analysts and developers called OSINT HK has set up a platform called Shortage Track. This uses crowdsourced information to map where important products are still available to buy amid the shortages caused by panic buying. The platform is still in beta, but it is illustrative of the types of thoughtful innovations that are possible by taking a collective, community-driven approach.


How are people and business coping around the world?

Over the last week we’ve spoken to numerous clients, contacts, friends and family members around the world to get an understanding of how general life and retail have been affected in their communities. Their conversations have given us a really rich insight into the global impact of the Coronavirus outbreak, so we’ll finish this briefing by sharing a few of these. It’s by no means an exhaustive global overview, but we share it help people in different parts of the world to build up their understanding of the challenges being faced elsewhere.



In China gatherings of more than 10 people are currently banned, so schools and most offices have shut down.

One contact told us their office is still open, but there are significant restrictions in place. Staff are only allowed to go in once or twice a week, and they must co-ordinate with the rest of the office to make sure there are not too many people there at the same time. Then, when they get in, they must wear glasses and masks, and must ensure they stay more than six feet away from their colleagues at all time. Interestingly the contact said no one at their work is ill, so it is all precautionary, and, we’re also hearing that some other companies are now starting to reopen their offices again.


Hong Kong

In Hong Kong most people are not going out socially and there are no group gatherings, including church. 95% of the population is estimated to be wearing face masks and schools and universities, which have been closed since January, will not be reopening until 20 April at the earliest.

Some gyms and restaurants remain opened, but masks must be worn. This has led to a spike in people buying gym equipment to use at home.

The same is also true of some cinemas, where patrons must wear masks and are only invited to sit in every other row, with a gap of at least four seats between them and their nearest neighbours.



Some university halls are being adapted as quarantine locations/emergency centres. There is said to be a general sense of concern and panic buying is happening, but as yet there are surprisingly few cases.



France has officially moved to stage 3, which means the status of the virus has gone from “contained” to “widespread”, like in Italy.

All public gatherings of more than 5,000 people have been cancelled, including major events like the Paris Semi-Marathon and the MIPTV (the largest international TV production fair in Cannes.)

Supermarkets are putting restrictions on many products (like dried pasta, bottled water and toilet roll), and pharmacies are running out of key products (like hydro gel and masks).

The Louvres Museum and Paris Opera are asking visitors not to come if presenting flu-like symptoms, while many high schools have launched Skype classes for students who prefer to stay at home.


If you would like to find out more about how global brands are innovating in response to Coronavirus, or if you’d like to work with GDR to plan the best strategic steps for your business, we’re here to help. Contact

News & insights straight to your inbox!