The current, most-asked question is, “When will we get back to the way things were?” But that may be the wrong question to ask.
After times of significant turmoil, habits never fully revert to previous norms. Instead, we respond to those events and permanently change the way we live. For example, the labor shortages of the World War II era paved the way for more women to work outside the home in the decades to come, while the financial struggles Americans experienced during the 1930s resulted in a generation that prioritized savings and resourcefulness.
In the same way, people are adapting to new social and financial behaviors while attempting to mitigate the effect of COVID-19. In doing so, they are developing new habits and ways of working, learning there are alternative ways to accomplish simple tasks and integrating those behaviors into their daily lives.
Commerce has seen some of the most significant shifts. With the need to socially isolate, consumers have been looking for new ways to transact, whether at a supermarket, department store or fuel pump.
It’s essential for businesses to understand how the pandemic is changing how people pay, especially in terms of digital commerce adoption.
Four of the most distinct and significant trends include: A more rapid move toward digital commerce ubiquity; an acceleration of digital experiences to complement physical retail locations; consumer interest in new ways to pay and get paid digitally; and the need for businesses of all sizes to leverage digital channels to expand global footprints.
The good news is current technologies enable us to practice social distancing with greater ease. Imagine if this pandemic had occurred just 20 years ago – a time of nascent internet, no smartphones and fledgling e-commerce. Social isolation would have likely had an even greater economic effect.
Significant behavioral shifts have occurred due to social distancing. For the first time, many customers, including those from older generations, are paying for goods and services online, including curbside pickup at restaurants and stores. In the near future, look for paying to become even easier thanks to more accurate voice-recognition technology and a host of app-based technologies that will speed online commerce transactions.
Many retail establishments, including grocery stores, are implementing simplified payment systems, which enable self-checkout, checkout via an app and automated checkout via sensors. Automatic systems that once were eschewed for removing human touch may now be embraced.
But what will those physical retail locations look like? Many established brands will transform into more efficient operations, possibly leaving large, high-rent spaces for smaller ones. A top priority will be blending digital and physical retail to create an enhanced consumer experience. For example, a retailer may incorporate augmented reality to enable consumers to “try on” clothes or view goods in their homes before completing the purchase at a physical location.
Consumers are growing familiar with alternatives to cards and cash that limit physical contact – payment methods they’ll likely continue to use. They may also be more open to new, nontraditional payment systems that use voice recognition and in-dash displays in vehicles, for example.
Alternative payment methods are already prevalent in global markets. In China, the smartphone has become the default method to order and pay. Consumers scan a displayed QR code to purchase nearly everything, from products sold at traditional shops to food offered at snack carts in small towns. Consumers in other countries are also embracing alternative payment methods, including via the Paytm mobile e-commerce site in India, Boleto voucher systems in Brazil and the Klarna app in Europe.
And just as manufacturers are realizing they can no longer depend on one country as a source for the parts and finished products they need, retailers will be compelled to expand their geographic horizons as they continually search for profitability in what is likely to remain a slow global economy.
Our world is undergoing profound change. Embracing all that has been upended in consumer and enterprise-based commerce will help move businesses forward into a new reality.