Oct 13, 2020 - Economy

The winners of the stay-at-home economy

Illustration of a medal with a briefcase on it.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The coronavirus pandemic has created a stay-at-home economy worth trillions.

The big picture: While the pandemic is killing scores of businesses that depend on office workers, it's also making way for startups and titans alike to conquer a new industry — powering our remote lives.

Why it matters: It's typically small businesses — independent restaurants and retailers in central business districts — that suffer most when workers stop going to the office. And it’s the already-rich tech companies and big, essential retail chains that are profiting from the remote revolution.

Look at who's hiring:

  • Grocery and food delivery became wildly popular when the pandemic began, and the allure hasn't faded as people still prefer dining at home. Amazon and Walmart alone have hired several hundred thousand people since March. Instacart has made big hiring moves, too.
  • Job postings at Slack, Zoom and Microsoft — all of which facilitate remote workplace collaboration — spiked early in the pandemic.
  • Meanwhile, struggling restaurants and retailers continue to shed jobs, turning furloughs into layoffs.

Look at downloads and subscriptions:

  • Streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ have seen strong and steady subscriber growth, and delivery app downloads surged during spring and summer lockdowns, the World Economic Forum reports.

Look at the stock market:

  • Zoom's stock price has jumped 358% since the beginning of March.
  • Amazon, 76%.
  • Microsoft, 29%.
  • Slack, 19%.

Look at which businesses are turning record profits:

  • Amazon did $89 billion in sales and $5 billion in profits in the second quarter, setting company records. Look for the company to rake in big bucks during its Prime Day event today and tomorrow.
  • Zoom's profit was up 3,300% year-over-year in Q2.
  • By contrast, over 1 million small businesses, including at least 100,000 restaurants, have shuttered for good due to the pandemic.

What to watch: The Big Tech companies' dominance of the stay-at-home economy could become fodder in Washington's debate over whether they are monopolies, says Sally Hubbard, a former assistant attorney general in New York's antitrust bureau and the author of a new book, "Monopolies Suck."

  • "This shift to work from home should be an opportunity for new companies to come in with new innovations to fill our needs," she says. And the success of Slack and Zoom are examples of that.
  • But these relatively small firms are also fending off competition from the big guys, like Microsoft Teams and Google Meets, which are grabbing users by bundling their services and offering chat or video calling at no additional cost.
  • "It’s a very effective tactic for eliminating competition. It’s really hard to compete with free," says Hubbard. "We’re in danger of what healthy competition we have seen going away."
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