Recent news suggests that we’ll be spending more time buying sofas online than at Ikea, the hospital and home space will soon overlap and that growing up in a green environment can really make you smarter.

Furniture finds its feet online

New analysis by industry journal Furniture Today shows that online furniture sales in the US took off in a big way last year. This was largely driven by two companies – Wayfair and Amazon – who together achieved $7.5 billion USD in furniture and bedding sales in 2019, a figure which represents 27.7 per cent year-on-year growth. Wayfair was the second biggest player in the overall furniture market when viewed by sales, while Amazon sat at number four. In contrast the leading lifestyle retailer, Ikea, dropped down the list to sixth with only a modest sales growth of 2.8 per cent, with the lifestyle category as a whole showing no growth overall. It was a similar story for discount stores, which showed little improvement in market standing, though leader of the pack Walmart did move up to third place.

Of course this data becomes hard to project into 2020 due to the intervention of the pandemic, but all signals are that – just as with most industries – the current context will only have increased e-commerce’s grip on furniture retail. As we reported back in April, Wayfair has already seen its stock price explode in response to increased sales figures during lockdown. As a result, many furniture brands have had to reassess how they engage customers online this year, from Burrow’s redeployment of store staff as virtual advisors to Note Design Studio’s early access, limited release ‘product drops’.

Telemedicine transforms healthcare

A recently published survey by Metova and Innovator Health shows how the COVID-19 crisis has boosted public perception of telemedicine. Four-fifths of the 1,000 UK residents surveyed said that they would choose telemedicine for their next consultation if given the option. Of the 70 per cent who had already experienced a video consultation with a healthcare professional, 40 per cent had done so for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Indeed medical journal The Lancet estimates that there has been a ten-fold increase in the number of virtual patient consultations since the pandemic began. There are some misgivings, however, with the vast majority of respondents (96 per cent) saying their experience would be improved if health associations were to provide equipment to take key readings (temperature and blood pressure for instance) during health calls.

There has been an estimated ten-fold increase in the number of virtual patient consultations since the pandemic began

These results resonate with a new study by Deloitte which canvassed health professionals’ view on how hospital care will look in 2040. ‘The hospital of the future will bring the technology to the patient instead of bringing patients to the technology,’ write the authors. One key concept they cite is ‘hospital at home’, in which ‘staff and technology in centralized monitoring locations oversee patient care’ remotely. Things will not be so different onsite in a ‘virtual hospital’, they argue, where non-specialist staff will often be virtually aided by counterparts with specific expertise located in other institutions, reducing the need for patient transfers. In fact a version of the latter scenario has already been put into practice during the pandemic, with doctors at Imperial College London using Microsoft's Hololens headset to broadcast patient visits to a wider group of physicians, reducing the number of people who need to be bedside. 

Going green to grow brains

Earlier this month we made the case that children returning to school would benefit not just from greater interaction with friends and teachers, but also potentially their learning environment. A desk in a bedroom might be free from distraction, but it’s also free from stimulation. That argument only holds if institutions have had the sense to invest in good design of course. What counts as ‘good design’ in a learning context? Evidence points to it looking a lot like one of the case studies we mentioned: EcoKid Kindergarten in Vietnam. The school was created to maximize exposure to nature at all times, something a first-of-its-kind study by Hasselt University in Belgium has now shown can directly impact IQ. The research revealed that just a three per cent increase in the greenness of a child’s neighbourhood boosted their IQ score by an average of 2.6 points, whilst also producing a two-point reduction in behavioural problems.

‘There is more and more evidence that green surroundings are associated with our cognitive function, such as memory skills and attention,’ professor of environmental epidemiology Tim Nawrot told The Guardian. ‘What this study adds with IQ is a harder, well-established clinical measure. I think city builders or urban planners should prioritize investment in green spaces because it is really of value to create an optimal environment for children to develop their full potential.’ Read our latest Lab to find out how pressures such as climate change and COVID are, fortuitously, forcing them to do just that.

Hero image: Utrecht’s forthcoming Merwede neighbourhood will transform a former business park into a car-free urban park that will home 12,000 residents. Renders: Marco Broekman and OKRA