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Time machine: As COVID-19 decimates economies, some businesses see growth happening in a flash

Schuyler Welch, Doxy.me vice president of inside sales, Matthew Johnson, product manager, David Valentine, customer success representative, and Aaron Condrat, operations manager, meet outside of one of the Doxy.me co-founder’s apartment in Sandy on Friday, July 31, 2020.
Schuyler Welch, Doxy.me vice president of inside sales, Matthew Johnson, product manager, David Valentine, customer success representative, and Aaron Condrat, operations manager, meet outside of one of the Doxy.me co-founder’s apartment in Sandy on Friday, July 31, 2020.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The COVID-19 health crisis has cratered economies across the globe, taking down entire business sectors and decimating thousands of individual companies.

Yet if you’re in a business that helps people address basic needs without leaving their homes, or engaged in any manner with providing the goods to make those abodes a little cozier, well the balance sheet has probably been looking pretty good.

Restrictions aiming to limit human contact and interactions have put the brakes on a whole portfolio of businesses including myriad services providers and retailers. The recreation and entertainment sector and every company involved in providing travel to-and-from those activities, as well as those providing accommodations, are in the tank as are the food and drink venues that can provide a little daily respite both while away and closer to home.

But circumstances created by the pandemic have also compressed years of future growth into mere months or weeks for some, sending profits and stock values through the roof.

Pull up a chair

That’s certainly been the case for Utah-based Overstock.com.

The online home furnishings retailer has been around since 1999 and was among the pioneers of e-commerce.

Just a year ago, Overstock appeared to be in deep turmoil as the mercurial and longtime CEO Patrick Byrne resigned under fire on numerous fronts and liquidated his interests in the company. At the time, it appeared the company’s best years might be behind it as competitors like Wayfair and Amazon ate up market share.

Overstock veteran executive Jonathan Johnson took over the post-Byrne helm and had the company on a recovery trail, eliminating a host of confusing initiatives and refocusing on Overstock’s strengths.

In early March, just before widespread shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders would roll across the country, Overstock stock prices were hovering at just under $6 per share. At the end of regular trading on Friday, a single share of the company’s stock was valued north of $121.

Johnson noted that online shoppers have been slowly increasing their interest in making purchases of furniture and other home goods, lagging behind other, easier-to-ship items. But all that changed in the last few months.

“Over the last decade the home furnishing market has been migrating to online sales at a rate of about 1% to 2% a year,” Johnson said. “At the end of 2019, about 23% of those purchases were online.

“The pandemic has accelerated that and what have been three to five years of growth has happened in months. We’re now looking at about 36% of purchases happening online.”

Amid the conditions wrought by COVID-19, Johnson said, Overstock’s sales volumes have more than doubled, new customers have more than tripled, customer retention rates are skyrocketing, and perhaps most significantly for the once-struggling retailer, the company is recapturing market share.

Johnson believes that while some of that volume may recede a bit as restrictions continue to ease, a whole new group of consumers are having positive experiences with buying, say, a new couch online, and those habits could endure.

The doctor will see you now

In an ironic twist, physical access to medical professionals and the care they provide has become in many cases an extremely tricky proposition at the same moment our collective personal health has never been under more scrutiny.

And while virtual doctor visits mediated by telehealth services have been around in various forms for years now, and can trace roots back to the 1950s and the advent of close-circuit television, what’s been happening to the realm in the last six months is nothing short of astounding.

The growth of telehealth services has been stymied, in part, by the resistance of big public and private insurers to reimburse virtual medical services. As many of those rules and restrictions were suspended under the pandemic’s crisis circumstances, millions have flocked to the digital medical realm as a practical response to a world in which anything done in-person comes with risk.

Doxy.me is a Utah-born telehealth startup that has seen solid growth since its launch in 2013 and pre-pandemic was coordinating some 12,000 patient visits a day, a rate the company said surpassed the patient volume of an institution like Stanford Medical Center.

Doxy.me co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Dylan Turner said the company began as a response to a University of Utah prenatal study that needed a simple telehealth tool.

Turner said U. researchers ran into roadblocks with choices that were either wildly overpriced or simply did not have the capabilities to perform simple connections and do so in a way that ensured patient privacy.

Doxy.me emerged as a solution that addressed both issues, Turner said, solving for ease of use and developing a platform that even has a free version. The company’s success in hitting the sweet spot of cost and utility has helpedit ride a tidal wave of new interest under pandemic restrictions and dramatically accelerated its growth cycle.

“We’ve definitely felt like we were on the right path, with 80,000 clients, 12,000 patient visits a day and doubling revenues and engagements each year. Then COVID-19 hit,” Turner said. “We signed up 100 new clients in a day. Then we did 1,200. Then we had 30,000 new clients ... and then patient visits hit 1 million a day.

“This was a level of business we believed we could get to, but the timeline we envisioned was five to 10 years. The pandemic shrunk that into weeks.”

Turner said while COVID-19 has had exponential impacts on the rate of patient and provider adoption of telemedicine tools, the migration has been eased somewhat by the evolution of people’s comfort with online tools.

“It’s risky to make a physical visit to a store right now, but we’ve already been having more positive experiences online,” Turner said. “You pick a product off a shelf, but where’s the review and am I getting the best price? Online retailers have made the experience better than an in-person visit.

“That’s our goal. We want patients and providers to look at their experience with Doxy.me and say, that was so much better than in person.”

A May 29 report from McKinsey and Company noted a “massive acceleration” in telehealth adoption with the 11% rate of U.S. telehealth users in 2019 ballooning to a current measure of 46% of consumers, many of whom are using telehealth to replace canceled health care visits.

And the commercial value of the migration is substantial. McKinsey reports that the $3 billion in telehealth revenues generated in 2019 has the potential to gobble up to $250 billion of current U.S. health care spending.