While we stayed home for most of last year to minimise the risk of contagion, technology — personal, systemic and institutional — helped us emerge from the Covid-19 crisis in ways that were big and small, obvious and surprising.
ETtech reporters picked the biggest technology trends that defined last year and what’s coming up in 2021.
- Consumer-facing brands, especially those with heavy brick-and-mortar presence, were severely impacted when India announced one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. However, most of them quickly realigned their businesses to sell online and witnessed sales traction in the second of the year.
- Most direct-to-consumer or D2C brands have recovered from the jolt of the pandemic and are expected to better their previous year’s performance. For digital-only D2C brands, the pandemic was a shot in the arm as stay-at-home restrictions accelerated digitisation and more people bought products online.
- Some businesses took this opportunity to raise further capital from investors. Almost $1 billion flowed into consumer tech companies in the second half of 2020, as we reported earlier.
- Investors expect the growth momentum to sustain in 2021, and say some of their investee companies will turn in a profit over the next 12 months. — Sneha Shah
- While digital payments gained significant traction during the pandemic months, the surge in usage of payments instruments brought to the fore systemic flaws in the form of increased transaction failures, longer downtime, and heightened cybersecurity risks. Expect stricter regulations and tighter scrutiny from regulators across the board.
- Digital lending by fintech apps also spiked, amid severe stress in the consumption economy and moratorium put in place by the Reserve Bank of India. But that too has come with its fair share of troubles, drawing ire and scrutiny from the banking regulator.
- Neo-banking ventures faced teething issues in 2020 as the pandemic exacerbated regulatory challenges. This, at a time digital banking was at an all-time high. 2021 will be a stress test for neobanks as a set of ventures will launch their products this year.
- Looking ahead, the stage is now set for Unified Payments Interface to unlock its promise of digitising India’s payments landscape. — Ashwin Manikandan
- While e-commerce sales spiked in the second half of 2020 after a lockdown-induced slump, India’s online retail growth didn’t match up to US and China.
- Forrester Research estimates India online retail growth at 7-8% in the pandemic year. That compares with the near 20% growth seen in China and the US where governments made full use of contactless buying to prop the economy.
- But online groceries could be the differentiator in 2021. Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart are stepping up investments to corner most of the market before Reliance’s JioMart enters the arena with WhatsApp Pay in tow.
- Offline retailers will need to decide on whether they want to partner, buy or build for their omnichannel strategy. More brands will invest in building a direct-to-consumer channel after seeing sizable gains due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Investments in segments such as social commerce, video shopping and assisted e-commerce will grow further. — Alnoor Peermohamed
Ride-Hailing & Shared Mobility
- The pandemic and the consequent lockdown brought to a screeching halt ride-hailing and shared mobility services, and a revival is likely only after a sizable rollout of a covid vaccine.
- Companies, however, are looking at alternatives, such as corporate rides and loaning vehicles for vaccination drives and ferrying healthcare workers, to make up for any shortfall in consumer usage.
- A greater push towards electric mobility, especially in the two- and three-wheeler segments, is likely in 2021. Further investments by automakers in the shared mobility startups will align their long-term interests.
- Regulatory challenges will persist. Cab aggregators will look at stepping up lobbying to ensure that states don’t introduce restrictive rules. – Alnoor Peermohamed
Online Food Ordering
- A full recovery in demand for online food ordering is expected by the end of the first quarter of 2021. Cloud kitchens are likely to mushroom as restaurants and hotels look at expanding their businesses beyond dine-ins.
- Hyperlocal delivery — especially of groceries and medicines — will emerge as a significant revenue channel for foodtech startups. Cash burn too will reduce as tailwinds of covid will continue in 2021. Abundance of labour in the market will reduce operational costs. — Alnoor Peermohamed