One key way that COVID has brought the future to the present is in how it is ushering in the online world more dramatically than ever before. Remote work, online schooling and digital gatherings have meant the most in-person parts of our lives have been pushed into the online world, and we have all been forced to see that the online world does actually work as well as promised.
Beyond simple work and social life, however, COVID has also pushed banking and retail online far ahead of schedule. While success rates of the physical retail world have been dwindling steadily for years and digital options for banking and shopping have been made much more prevalent, full immersion in the online world has remained a thing of the future… until now.
COVID has understandably brought about an unprecedented need for online options for groceries and other retail services. With lockdown measures in place and the general fear of infection being widely felt, the incentive to conduct both purchases and transactions online is great. Handling money and interacting with physical stores simply poses too great a risk for many people and many are turning to the options of the online world.
Existing online businesses and e-commerce options saw extreme leaps in sales while hybrid services struggled to keep up with the increase in online demand. One online grocery store in New York jumped 60% in online activity in March 2020 compared to March 2019.
I’m sure many of us would have experienced at some point this year the effect of these increases in demand, with the delays in deliveries being almost guaranteed with most online purchases.
The clothing retailer, Zara, is among those that are accelerating their online strategies and fully embracing the digital age. Despite already owning multiple online clothing giants, Zara’s parent company, Inditex, plans to have 25% of its sales occurring online by 2022.
The company’s commitment to this goal is evident in its planned closure of over 1000 stores worldwide. This will enable the company’s renewed focus on their online platforms. Online shopping has been growing for years with brands like ASOS, and The Iconic conducting their business online for a wide market. However, with brands like this embracing their online futures so rapidly, our current crisis’s impact on this transition is clearly visible.
Also a member of this online conversion is the banking sector, with digital payments invading the banking world since the start of COVID. Many businesses and individuals have turned away the option of cash over the course of the virus on account of health concerns, and home delivery and online options for shopping have made online modes of payment much more prevalent. ATM and branch closures have come with this transition, offering banks the opportunity to save money on those operations.
Leaders within the Big 4 Banks are on the whole unanimous in their sentiments regarding this transition, viewing it as one which was bound to happen, but which arrived early and occurred rapidly.
‘Permanent change… has just been made in 10 weeks. It would have taken us another 5 years,’ states Ross McEwan, the CEO of NAB.
Especially in the area of banking with its levels of bureaucracy, its societal power and its long history, making changes in the face of disruption has been almost avoidable. However, in the face of dramatic social changes, even the banks had to shift gears.
Not only will the system changes with bank bureaucracies stick for the years to come, but so will the changes in consumer behaviour as people have adapted to a new way of living by picking up the habits of the future. Bureaucracies and consumers alike are quickly and necessarily losing their cynicism towards online options as they are continuing to prove themselves to be real and viable options in the face of a new world.
Many remain sceptical, however, and believe these changes to retail and banking will be undone by a return to ‘normal’ life. The large demand for physical stores that previously existed in many parts of retail, particularly in areas such as furniture and decoration is said by some to be too large for online purchases to continue post-COVID.
For banking, some pose warnings of the potential pitfalls of such a rapid online transition. With projections including the existing number of ATMs in Australia halving because of the impact of the pandemic, there are fears for those customers who will be left behind by the dramatic changes. For perhaps older generations with limited abilities to fully engage with the online world, the sudden loss of local bank branches and the growing number of businesses refusing to deal in cash could prove challenging.
For most others though, these transitions to the way we deal with our money and products are here to stay, and could potentially bring with them greater convenience, flexibility and security. While these changes may have felt sudden, they were in reality certain, and what this time has proved to us is that disruption is characteristically unprecedented and unpredicted. The vast majority of us as customers and businesses would do well to embrace the opportunities that these changes have to offer, and to move with the times regardless of how quickly and unexpectedly they arrive.
Michael McQueen is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.
He features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio and is a bestselling author of 8 books. To order Michael's latest book "The Case for Character", click here.
CBInsights, ‘The Post-Covid World,’ CBInsights, 24 August.
Ryan, C 2020, ‘Zara’s Owner Bets Crisis Will Speed Up Fashion’s Big Trend,’ The Wall Street Journal, 24 August.
Yeates, C 2020, ‘COVID speeds up digital banking revolution in ‘10 weeks not 5 years’’, Sydney Morning Herald, 24 August.
CBInsights, ‘The Post-Covid World,’ CBInsights, 24 August.