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Digital Essays 2021: Decoding your post-pandemic customer, one trend at a time, by Team Red Dot’s Irfan Mirza

By Irfan Mirza, head of digital transformation and integrated media, Team Red Dot.

This is the first rule of business: the customer is king. So, when it came to the pandemic, nothing changed. Except, everything did. The customer ruled the roost and continued to dictate the direction in which businesses moved forward. Let me take you through the key digital trends influenced by customers in the post-pandemic world.

The e-commerce RENAISSANCE

It’s common knowledge that e-commerce grew by leaps and bounds during the pandemic. Businesses saw it as a window of opportunity to expand their business globally by engaging a much larger, retail-hungry audience. But to what extent did e-commerce grow? A whopping 33.6 per cent in 2020 to a total of approximately $800bn, and that’s not all. The industry is expected to grow another 13.7 per cent by the end of 2021, reaching approximately $908bn. What propelled this growth?

The convenience of online shopping. Businesses were forced to have flexible return/exchange policies to become top preferences among their customers. Moreover, during the lockdown, their mere online presence was a bonus to their business. While young shoppers took to the internet to continue their shopping sprees, older shoppers got used to the idea of shopping for groceries and other essentials online.

Drastic improvements in technology. Tools like virtual and augmented reality made shopping online not just comfortable but reliable. Technology helped build trust among shoppers by offering a real-time experience of the product before purchase.

Acclimatisation to Amazon. Amazon created a marketplace of millions in the pandemic. The surge in online shoppers also resulted in the surge of online vendors. For customers, Amazon’s Prime membership promising one-day delivery was the ultimate draw. It catered to their urgency and in turn promoted its efficiency online.

Social e-commerce. If shopping online was not already easy, social media marketplaces made in-app shopping quick and simple. Click-to-buy image carousels and quick checkouts saw an increase in shoppers on social media – so much so that social commerce is expected to drive $604bn in sales by 2027.

Introduction of small and local businesses online. You snooze, you lose. The pandemic pushed small and medium local businesses out of their comfort zones and into online retail. They turned to platforms like Shopify, Etsy and Wix to be their business lifelines. In a span of two months, we were commissioned to set up e-commerce websites for three key players in the luxury jewellery and retail sector. The sentiment to support local vendors grew in the minds of the customers. This helped small retailers not only survive but also thrive during Covid-19.

Education and the future of learning

Covid-19 has proven to be the best teacher. For years schools and colleges have been trying to digitise their processes with the hope of taking the learning experience to the online realm. The pandemic has forced people to be more creative with their learning styles by offering interactive and highly engaging learning environments like virtual tours and lectures, virtual museums and libraries and more. Even pre-pandemic there were signs of high growth and adoption in education technology with global ed-tech investments reaching $18.66bn in 2019. This is projected to reach $350bn by 2025.

The rise of the micro-influencer

Micro-influencer marketing is the newest kid on the block. It has, in a very short span, proven to be as effective as, if not more effective than, the celebrity influencer campaigns. The lockdown and social distancing have created a void of human connections in the lives of the customers. So, on social media, the honest opinions of individuals with smaller followings have proven to be more valuable to customers than paid promotions by celebrities. These smaller, niche experts connect on a deeper level with their followers and generate greater engagement, deliver more conversions and are more cost-effective for businesses.

The art of recreation

The pandemic sent the UAE staycation culture into overdrive. It also saw the rise of fitness enthusiasts, cycling communities, trekking groups, etc. Now more than ever, fitness and meditation challenges have gained popularity. The stress on mindfulness and work-life balance, after the introduction of work-from-home, has resulted in an exponential increase – of up to 30 per cent – in the download of fitness and meditation apps and a 33 per cent increase in hotel bookings for staycations. According to a report by Million Insights, the global ‘athleisure’ market is projected to reach an astonishing $517.5bn by the year 2025. Motivational speakers on YouTube and social media too have experienced an exponential increase in subscribers in the pandemic.

Conclusion

Covid-19 has pushed companies over the technology tipping point to create a digital kingdom that is dynamic, diverse and brimming with opportunities. Blink and you will be left behind.

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