We live in unique and challenging times.
We’re neither naysayers nor prophets but we are experience design people who have observed behaviour and done a bit of thinking about what might change or happen to digital commerce and customer behaviour, given our current situation
Digital or die
This will be the last push into digital for businesses across the board – a push which started in the late 1990s. For smaller businesses this might mean a website and local delivery, for bigger ones – organising their whole systems online, from supply chain management to remote product teams.
As a result, we could also see companies who are already using digital to run core business functions and to deliver touch-points with customers and employees coming under increased scrutiny for not having their platforms entirely fit for purpose.
With everyone on digital it’ll be easier than ever to purchase elsewhere online. In short, just because you were on the web first does not mean you will be there last.
The silver stream
On demand content has been the norm for a while, although, what’s lagged behind is on demand Box Office services with a few exceptions like Netflix being the sole provider of films like The Irishman.
Postponing film releases just because cinemas are closed for business is not a sustainable way to go about planning for the future of film. What we may see is more major film releases going straight to streaming services.
A straight to stream experience should be designed to feature some of the tropes common in a cinema setting that everyone loves – seeing a film with others, enjoying the quality of the sound, down to the seating and the popcorn.
This extends to other elements offered by more boutique cinemas like quality food and alcohol consumed as you watch. Imagine having local pizza and wine delivered to your door ready for the screening of the next big blockbuster.
The lucrative nature of this straight to stream cinema proposition and the advantage of being the first mover means we could see who owns the “cinema experience” change. Would Apple buying Disney (whose films made up over 1/3 of the box office in 2019) for their cinema and streaming offering be that surprising a move?
The end of the high street?
With no-footfall due to social distancing, and e-commerce websites and aggregators making Amazon and alike - today’s retailers of choice, we could be seeing the death of the high street.
It’s well documented that high street brands are already struggling so this scenario seems more likely than another hefty round of bail outs or rental renegotiations.
That said, it doesn’t necessarily mean that high street brands will cease to exist altogether. Those with an already strong digital presence can prosper in these times and should be considering further investment to improve their site speed and purchase experiences. Given our current situation customers who have positive purchase experiences online may play a part in kick-starting physical purchasing in-store once we're out of isolation.
On the flip side, if you’re a big retail aggregator like Amazon - acquiring faltering established brands to augment core product offerings will be an attractive option. This means we could see new families of super-brands created from successful buy-out bids.
What does this all mean: the high street may shrink, but the brands will stay.
Subsidising the internet
Movement is currently restricted meaning people cannot physically access stores. More products and services need to be purchased online than ever before. With this in mind, are governments likely to divert public funding towards better internet access and literacy?
Faster and cheaper (dare I say free?) internet would help get more people online and learning digital behaviours. It would also provide financial relief and could increase online spending from those with newfound access and knowledge abating the financiers’ woes.
Spending reinforces behaviour, people will have gone through online shopping experiences and learnt new behaviours. This will help people who hadn’t previously purchased online repurchase online in the future.
The dawn of 5G will only reinforce and accelerate any behaviours people learn today. Fast internet will be everywhere and not only in your home or city hotspots.
Our willingness to touch interfaces will decrease
Behaviour can quickly and rapidly change in new and unexpected ways when met with environmental constraints. There are lots of interfaces in varying forms and fidelity in the wild right now that are not being used; they may never be used in the same way again.
We’re likely to see a behaviour change around touching public objects that people can’t clean, in light of advice and information on how the virus we’re currently facing is spread. Of course, viruses have always been transmitted via these interfaces but because of the heightened scrutiny and severity of today’s pandemic we could see a behavioural change.
We’re heading towards a time where companies should seriously reconsider their user journeys and question the touch-points currently delivered through the physical touch of foreign objects. This presents a whole spectrum of opportunities for redesigning services to include intermediary hacks in the meantime and a move towards sound activated and contact-free interfaces in the longer term.
The end of cash
Cash is still used for billions of pounds worth of transactions per annum and predictions estimate that it will account for billions of transactions until 2030.
But, with many bank branches closed, and online shopping as well as online money management becoming the norm, or necessity, we’re likely to see the cash-use curve flatten further.
When factoring in changing attitudes to physical objects (cash included) people’s willingness to touch things they do not ‘own’ (or cannot easily clean) may decrease even further.
These factors combined could make for the perfect storm in which cash becomes phased out more rapidly than anticipated.
A need to onboard new user groups
Entirely new user groups are entering the digital world for the first time. Yes, your grandparents may have had an iPad for years but the amount of activities they’re likely to have undertaken on it is limited.
They use their devices for keeping in contact with other people rather than to shop or manage money. Until now these groups of people still favoured going in-store. There are all kinds of reasons for a lack of digital advocacy - the main ones being:
- Digital banking is perceived to be less trustworthy than bricks and mortar stores (on extension online shopping relies on digital payments, which some people also do not trust).
- Targeted and contextual digital onboarding for particular user groups has been historically poor.
What needs to happen now is the design of more accessible journeys, remote advice options, combined with significant improvements to targeted and contextual onboarding to help people feel more confident using online products and services.
Streamlined products and services for new user groups
With new online users looking for simple solutions to meet immediate needs - like the need to eat, we’re likely to see products and services aggregate together to meet them.
For example, Supermarkets like Morrisons are offering £35-pound hampers for a set price. This saves new users having to get to grips with the complexity of shopping online.
This rubric is already common with local produce initiatives that run across the country provided by small businesses or local enterprises. It harkens back to times where there was less choice but more quality seasonal produce.
Removing as many steps from a shopping journey as possible is desirable for people with low digital literacy and given the current constraints on movement, this could also help fight infection.
Local business loyalty
With more local businesses online and couriering to your door than ever before, combined with some of the bigger providers’ supply chains and digital infrastructures at breaking point, we may see advocacy for local businesses increase.
Small businesses turning to digital will also help improve logistics and allow them to list on aggregators and for customers to buy direct. A question to consider is how might this affect retail giants like Tesco?
Small businesses can quickly adapt to change. They tend to have smaller operational overheads, a smaller customer base and less or no organisational politics to push change through.
In the short term, this agility will keep small businesses afloat. In a possible post high-street age, they can become a genuine and accessible alternative for customers, as small businesses stop being overlooked for not being on the high street. The question now will be how they’ll compete for visibility online with smaller marketing budgets.
This will not be the be or end all of change. Many of these speculations may not be proved out, however, there’s an inherent risk in not taking note and starting to think about tomorrow’s customer landscape today.
To get started today think about:
- Gathering insight from your new and returning customers to understand them and their purchase motivations.
- Obsess over data; use qualitative, quantitative and analytics data as sources of insight and not what you think is best.
- How you’re changing your experience to flex to new needs and the wider impact and unintended outcomes this has on your product or service.