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COVID-19 has caused a sudden and immediate change in how most of us live our day-to-day lives – how long these changes will last is yet to be determined, but they are here, now, and require a response.

The current circumstances will continue to shift, but as we move into a period of tiered and partial lockdowns, changes in behaviour will become more entrenched and longer-lasting. Our recent research revealed that 84% of consumers surveyed in the US and UK think their behaviours and habits have already changed for the foreseeable in the light of COVID-19, and these changes go beyond online shopping habits.

COVID-19 has altered the way brands function operationally as well as in relation to their customers. Operationally, businesses have had to find ways of fulfilling supply, transaction, distribution and fulfillment with a minimal physical interaction between individuals. Meanwhile, consumers have increased digital interactions with brands to a greater degree during the pandemic than they did during the entire last decade of transformation. That’s significant acceleration. And, with more than half (55%) of our respondents believing their changed habits are permanent, or will at least last a very long time, it seems like they’re here to stay.

The effects of The Great Shift

Consumer behaviour and priorities are driving the change. They have shifted in response to new environmental conditions. At the heart of a successful response to COVID-19 is a need to commit to customer centricity and an understanding of what employees and customers expect, want, and need, and how this has changed in the light of COVID-19. This is the time for human-centric digital transformation.

This deep, fundamental shift will force companies to not only address their relationship with their customers, but also with their employees, and their means of production and dissemination. This is particularly important as we found that 73% of our respondents felt their personal priorities changed thanks to the pandemic. Employees who are able to work remotely have, and despite the wider issue of the pandemic, many have found the experience of leaving the office behind a positive one.

It’s important that businesses know how to improve their response to the pandemic, embrace changes that have been ignited by it, and make these changes work for them specifically. By understanding the way things really are, companies can choose the most skillful way to respond to the current situation and secure their future.

What do these changes mean for businesses?

These changes in behaviour and attitudes have implications for businesses that go from their customers right down to the very core of how the business operates. Understanding the implications is vital to successfully navigate the landscape we’re in. For consumer-facing businesses, ONS data shows how consumers have adopted digital at the expense of traditional shopping behaviours. But as we move back into a tiered system of regional lockdowns following the end of our second national lockdown in the UK, we can expect a lot of rapid changes to behaviours over the coming weeks. Couple this with the usual increase in online shopping thanks to Black Friday sales, alongside the run-up to Christmas, it’s likely these changes will stick well into next year, and beyond. The longer these behaviours continue, the more they become ingrained and quickly become part of our usual habits.

Employees have discovered that to do their job, they don’t necessarily have to be in a designated office and that this experience gives them options when negotiating their working arrangements with an employer. This may be viewed as a short adaptation to outside pressures. But as employees get used to remote working, as they reap the work-life balance benefits it can bring, there will be expectations from both current and prospective employees for home working and flexible hours.

Businesses shouldn’t be afraid of this shift. Many see this as an opportunity to reduce overheads on expensive office space and other costs associated with running environments for tens, hundreds, or thousands of people. But the potential is so much greater. Not only will current teams potentially be happier and more productive, it also means that the hunt for talent can go much further afield. People won’t necessarily have to relocate to secure jobs, and brands won’t be limited by a local talent pool. In fact, in many cases working from home has proven to increase productivity, or at the very least not reduce it.

The future

This shift in consumer, business and employee behaviour, expectations and priorities has seeded trends that will take years to settle and will have a lasting impact on the way we do business. Any business assumptions or plans laid down late in late 2019 or early 2020 have become redundant, and plans for 2021 have had to be adapted to the new normal we now face.

Brands must act now if they want their digital transformation to work. The opportunity for successful transformation is greater than ever as employees and consumers become more open to new ways of behaving.

Companies that do not react strategically and digitise their thinking will find themselves out of touch, irrelevant, and struggling more than ever before as the digital divide continues to widen.

To read the full report, you can download it here: https://inbound.theorganicagency.com/thegreatshift

As seen on AdvertisingWeek360.