Post COVID-19, What Product Lines Do Dealers Plan to Add?

When we fielded our annual Market Trends survey in late 2019 and into early 2020, we had no idea the world would be turned upside down before it was complete. That’s the problem with surveys – you can spend weeks coming up with the right questions and asking for predictions and prognostications, but ultimately, those are all more or less based on known quantities. Throw a wild card like COVID-19 into the mix and it all goes out the window. We’d have needed a crystal ball to predict what’s happening now – and if you’ve got a crystal ball, who needs Survey Monkey? So, we did a second survey.

And now, here we are with our original survey and our revised survey and our potpourri of responses combining the two. So far we’ve brought you the “Tale of Two Years” webinar in early April, in which analyst Tom O’Neill presented a broad overview of the differences in outlook between the two surveys, and Patricia Ames’ “In Their Own Words: What Impact Has COVID-19 Had on Dealers?” in which she dug into dealers’ overall outlooks in light of the changed economy and their sometimes very candid responses to the question, “How would you describe the impact COVID-19 is having on your business?”

Well, now it’s my turn. There were some interesting results in the April survey, which I’m going to refer to as the “post-COVID-19 survey,” not because COVID-19 is behind us, but because the survey was fielded post-COVID-19 emergence (sorry, the English major in me needs to clarify these things). Those interesting results centered largely around changing product mixes and, dare I say, “pivoting” (there has been a lot of use of the word “pivot” in post-COVID conversations. It makes for a good drinking game if you’re so inclined.) One of the questions we asked was, “Are you seeking to add to, reduce or maintain the following categories as a result of changing needs brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic?” Those categories were (alphabetically):

  • A3 printer/MFP hardware
  • A4 printer/MFP hardware
  • Backup/disaster recovery (BDR)
  • Cloud storage
  • ECM/workflow automation
  • ERP software
  • Label printers
  • Managed print solutions
  • Network management/monitoring applications
  • Network security applications
  • Non-OEM toner, drum, ink, ribbons supplies
  • Production print
  • Scanning/archiving digital capture hardware
  • Scanning/capture document management software

Now – I don’t think you have to have an advanced degree in data science to have an inkling how this one panned out. More than a third of respondents said they wanted to add network security solutions, followed by an even 30% who wanted to add cloud storage, with BDR and scanning/capture software coming in at just under 30%. Way down at the bottom, at 5%? A3 hardware. In fairness, however, no one is throwing those devices off cliffs, either (isn’t it time for a good copier drop? That’s a socially distant activity, right?) Roughly 83% of those who offer them plan to maintain at the same level.

What’s most interesting when we compare these results to the pre-COVID survey is not so much the percentages, but in the couple of categories that moved way up or down the ladder. Network security moved to the top spot from a very close fourth – hardly surprising, as security has been a huge concern and growth area for quite a while. What is interesting is the category it bumped from (a tie for) the top spot: managed print solutions.

category comparisons BPO survey

When we look at the full survey though, it seems less like MPS has fallen out of favor and more like it’s simply less of a priority – between the two surveys, it dropped from a “want to add” to a “want to maintain” category, rather than “want to reduce.” Priorities are simply shifting, and managing machines that aren’t being used isn’t a big priority. Of course, that opens up another can of worms – what happens when remote workers stay remote? It’s happening – not for everyone, but there are certainly trends in that direction, and it’s where those categories that are moving to the top become more important.

In fact, the post-COVID-19 survey is perhaps most interesting in the overall distribution of product categories. While the percentages didn’t necessarily all change drastically from the earlier survey, what is immediately noticeable is that while the pre-COVID-19 survey had hardware and software categories mixed together, post-COVID-19 responses stacked up with software and applications on top, followed by hardware.

Overall it seems hardware categories are taking a back seat to cloud and software solutions – product lines that better lend themselves to a remote workforce and a market that is still limited in its in-person interactions. And while we may once again begin to interact more – service techs will return to the field, office workers will return to their businesses, law and medical practices will reopen – some things will be forever changed. Will you be ready to meet that change head-on?

is editorial director of BPO Media’s publications Workflow and The Imaging Channel, and senior analyst for BPO Research. As a professional writer and editor, she has specialized in the office technology industry for the last 20 years. Prior to that she worked in public relations and has a master's degree in communication arts.