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COVID-19: Acceleration of Technology Adoption for Consumer Commerce as seen by Hani Zeini

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(August 22, 2020)--The COVID19 pandemic has compelled the retail and consumer goods industries to bring about structural changes, that are likely to become permanent, to cope with changing consumer behaviors.  The ways consumer businesses adopt innovative technologies to suit the changing consumer behavior will be the key differentiators between success and failure during the pandemic, and when returning to the new normal, says Hani Zeini. The change in consumer behavior is visible in two areas – the buying and selection of goods- as there has been a marked shift in the priorities of items purchased during the pandemic. For example, there has been a massive spike in online purchases as people stay confined at home due to the lockdown and prefer to maintain social distancing to combat the coronavirus.

Consumer behavior is changing, observes Hani Zeini

Most consumers are buying more personal hygiene and cleaning products as well as fresh and canned foods than they were buying earlier. There was a decrease in purchases of beauty, fashion, and consumer electronic items. This trend seems like it may become permanent, as many changes are likely to persist even after the pandemic goes away. Consumers are now focusing more how their shopping choices impact their health and the environment. It is clear from the results of a survey that 60% of consumers are much more health-conscious and exercise daily in addition to spending more time on self-care that aids mental well-being. 50% of consumers have shifted to health-conscious buying, and 45% of consumers are making more sustainable choices and plan on sticking with those choices in the future.

These changing trends have been happening for some time, but it seems that the COVID19 pandemic has accelerated the pace, and what would have taken years has now happened in just a few weeks. Moreover, the scale of changes revealed in the survey points to its permanent nature. 

Technology- the trusted tool of retailers

Like e-commerce, consumer retail has long embraced technology and innovation as trusted tools to keep their businesses relevant, which has proven especially useful during these trying times. The combined efforts of the retail workers and the intent to use technology for providing a better consumer experience has once again proven to be the critical differentiator between failure and success. The pandemic's turbulence has prompted retailers to be bolder in their approach to using technology to achieve their goals and enhance the buying experience.

New shopping experiences propped by technology

Major technological improvements have not been necessary for online sellers who already had a robust structure to begin with. Some minor improvements might have been essential during the pandemic to handle the additional traffic of new customers who have changed how often they buy online. The most significant technological adaption is happening in offline consumer retail.  The shopping experience at the brick and mortar stores has been disrupted due to the pandemic. Consumers must now wait for 25-30 minutes on average to enter the store due to maintaining the requirements of social distancing. The initial shock and chaos has now gone away, and although people have become used to it, they are not happy.  

Retailers are trying to provide some relief to consumers by reducing the time it takes to enter the store and improve their shopping experience using technology innovatively. Some retailers are using a traffic light system to regulate shopper traffic. Going a step ahead, some others are even trying to experiment with a virtual queuing system so that people can maintain their place in the queue while sitting in the car.

Virtual is the new reality

The pandemic has drastically changed shoppers’ behavior in a physical shopping environment as they suffer from the anxiety of contracting the virus from the surfaces they come in contact with, including the products. Shoppers are more inclined to engage in physical shopping if there is minimal physical contact with people and objects, similar to virtual shopping. To meet consumer expectations, retail businesses are adapting AR (AugmentedReality) and VR (Virtual Reality) technology that helps to retain and improve customer interest. 


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