The immediate and cascading effect of COVID-19 has been felt around the world. The varied levels of confinement in many countries around the world caught many communities unawares. And we can already see the long-term impact this period will have on our lives for the years to come.
Here, at Arianee, we have been fortunate enough to have our health and be with our loved ones (despite a few close calls). As a team, we decided to all work from home since March 12th, 2020.
During this time, beyond the tremendous personal shocks we have seen families and communities go through, we observed previously dominant companies struggle to cope with strict operational restrictions, as well as to maintain relevance in this so-called new normal. Many companies have had to, in an instant, re-organize their activities and find “COVID-market fit;” the right value proposition to serve physically and geographically constrained customers. For example, how many companies are now reconsidering their office space needs after weeks of remote work? What will this mean for commercial real-estate landlords?
Necessity forced us to experience the potential of new technologies and new ways of doing business. As a result, we noticed new behaviours from our team and from our users that we did not expect to see so soon.
For example, although video-conferencing is a usual occurrence at the Arianee office (our team is partially distributed), we did host our first remote Happy Hour on Zoom.
What we liked: this was the first time this year that we managed to get everybody together to share a drink! We also learned that Zoom could be used for fun! (Can we trend the Zoompéro?) What could be improved: the reduction of eating and drinking noises. What we’re still wondering about: whether we will do this again…
For the Zoompéro, maybe we won’t have to, since many countries are now opening up again. However, there are clear signs that some behaviors will not be abandoned so quickly.
Here are the three consumer trends we do not only expect to stick around, post-pandemic, but we actually expect them to continue accelerating post-COVID. For Arianee, these trends show us that we’re on the right track. We eagerly monitor their evolution.
TREND #1: CONSUMER PRIVACY
Concerns about consumer privacy has been a major concern in recent years. The Pew Research Foundation shows that half of Americans have decided not to use a product or service because they were worried about how much personal data would be collected. Yet many of us still indicate “I Agree” to a number of softwares’ terms and services. Many people are too busy and too dependent to forgo the convenience of their online tools and fight back.
Nobody is looking.
However, the current pandemic raises new critical questions regarding consumer privacy due to new regulations around physical movement and health data. Indeed, it is no secret that major governments and technology companies are openly developing web applications to measure how communities are following confinement regulations. This is not only happening in countries like Singapore, which are technologically-savvy and whose populations have high levels of trust in their government. The United Kingdom is also considering reviving the concept of Immunity Passports to control employment and physical movement, bringing in the additional risk of being hacked at every national or regional checkpoint.
Governments may ultimately choose to trade-off citizen privacy in exchange for greater safety with regards to the circulation of people and the re-opening of slumping economies. For this reason, they might introduce regulation and legislation that favors products and services that are private-by-design. Moreover, they may mandate companies to not only prevent hacks but make them impossible to begin with.
TREND #2: CREATIVE ONLINE EXPERIENCES
IRL is cancelled! What can you do when you are stuck at home? A hundred years ago, during the infamous Spanish Influenza, quarantine meant no interaction of any sort. Even the phone lines were down. Nowadays we have the internet. With some tweaks, the network has so far survived the increased load. And everyone from the Museum of Modern Art to Travis Scott is offering an alternative virtual experience. The problem is that the quality of these virtual gatherings vary significantly.
Immersive online experiences have been touted as the hot new thing for years. Second Life was supposed to overtake the real world in the 2000s then VR was going to make us all addicted to virtual worlds in the 2010s. It never really happened… until now.
As usual, video games led the way. In the same way our team discovered that Zoom could be used for fun, some people discovered that video games could be used for serious things. Some companies and even a tech conference held meetings in the video game Animal Crossing. It enabled them to differentiate between plenary and breakout sessions and even organize some “coffee breaks” for people to mingle. In-person conferences and everything they come with have not been fully replaced… Instead, participants experienced something slightly different. And this seems to be ok.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the innovation in true video games (used by gamers). On February 20th, the collaboration between Fortnite, a free-to-play battle royale game, and rapper Travis Scott, was leaked. The collaboration involved an exclusive experience for the release of Travis Scott’s latest music track. 12 million people logged into Fortnite for the truly mind-blowing show (if you don’t believe us, watch players’ live reactions). Fortnite put together an experience that took full advantage of the medium and cannot be compared to anything else. Once again, in-person concerts and everything they come with were not duplicated. The organizers did not seek to provide replacements for these “real life” pleasures. Instead, Fortnite and Travis Scott offered something different… and people liked it, to say the least.
Not quite yet…
Although it takes time to think beyond the established frames that we have set up for ourselves, these pioneering cases are starting to demonstrate there are different ways to host corporate events, including networking and working experiences. We believe the most innovative actors will look beyond the constraints of new media and avoid trying to emulate past experiences. Instead, they will take full advantage of the media they have to work with and create something new.
TREND #3: CONTACTLESS IN-STORE SHOPPING
While facemasks might become the must-have item of 2020 for every in-store shopper, other barrier gestures have interesting technological implications. For instance, the Irish government was very quick to discourage cash payments in March. Instead, customers were strongly encouraged to pay through contactless credit card payment to reduce the risk of COVID transmission. An informal survey in our office confirmed that nobody used cash for weeks.
However, contactless payments are just the beginning. The natural next step is to move to checkout-less shopping. Although customers shopping in physical stores may need to be (automatically) checked-in to a store, with checkout-less shopping the products picked up by each customer would automatically be added to the individual customer’s virtual bill. The physical act of walking out of the store — something that customers do anyways — triggers the debiting of your account (whether this is your credit card or another digital payment method).
A non-socially distant check-out experience
Amazon stores launched the concept of checkout-less shopping in 2018 with their Amazon Go stores, available in several cities in the United States. However, their Just Walk Out technology is now available to any interested company, suggesting that we are just at the beginning of numerous digital and contactless trends in the physical shopping experience.
Whereas before these technological possibilities were seen as niche or nice-to-have by conservative retailers, what the COVID-19 pandemic has done is turn these technological advances into must-haves, explicitly demanded by increasingly technology-savvy shoppers including the growing Gen-Z and millennial market who are already used to — and expect — convenient shopping solutions from their regular retailers. Accelerating the deployment of these technologies thus becomes essential for retailers to funcion at some level of the efficiency they experienced prior to the pandemic. Ironically, this desire to return to pre-pandemic productivity levels may be the impetus that allows retailers to enter a new age of commercial practices.
This is exciting because this new set of practices will come with an ecosystem of new products and services to fulfill enterprise needs. At the top of the list of solutions in high-demand, particularly for high-end stores, but also for the general retail space, will be digital product identity solutions, such as those that Arianee provides. What’s more, contactless shopping practices (and the use of digital product identities) becoming commonplace opens the door to a new world of service providers in an ecosystem that leverages a reliable registry of product identities.
CONSUMER PRIVACY X CREATIVE ONLINE EXPERIENCES X CONTACTLESS IN-STORE SHOPPING
The need to build in protections for consumer privacy by design; to propose and develop alternative customer experiences online; and to facilitate turn-key, contactless solutions for the in-person, in-store experiences that do remain; are three pandemic trends we expect to accelerate in the post-COVID world. Why? Simply put, the genie is out of the bottle and we cannot put him back. Customers, governments and companies finally have proof of the technical feasibility, of the benefits of these technological solutions, and of customer demand (COVID-market fit, if you will).
We are excited to work with more and more companies who are processing this new reality and rethinking how to best connect with their customers. A large part of customer relationships will have to be online, more respectful of privacy and, where in-store experiences are still possible, easy and secure, thanks to reliable contactless technologies.
As a team, even we did not expect to be here this quickly. Necessity brought us here and is making demands. The mindset shift required here will be challenging but there is also a lot to look forward to. Companies that manage to translate their mindset shift into tangible new business practices will be able to restore direct relationships with existing customers, create new relationships with new customers and develop new business lines.
How? Over the next few weeks, we will publish deep dives on the consequences of these three consumer trends. We will explore enabling technologies, legal considerations and how the Arianee Protocol fits into all this. Thanks for reading. We’ll be back soon.