The New Norm: Rewriting the Future of Purchasing Behavior

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By Melissa Gonzalez, MJ Munsell and Justin Hill

As we hurtle forward in an unprecedented time in our country’s history, millions around the world have been forced out of their daily routines, required to quickly adopt new technologies and procedures to comply with health and safety initiatives like shelter-in-place, social distancing, isolation, and quarantine.

For certain sectors of the population, city-dwellers for example, ordering and having everything—groceries, medication, alcohol, cat litter, you name it—delivered right to your door with a few taps of their smartphone, was already commonplace. But with the entire world-embracing this new norm out of necessity, is it inevitable we may never go back?

Over our decades in the architecture design world, we’ve worked with countless clients, helping them define the future of how they’ll drive sales, interact with their customers, and innovate to stay relevant (and in business) as trends and technology slowly shifted. Now, thanks to COVID-19, today’s hyper-forced reality may evolve to become tomorrow’s actuality. Here’s what we believe is in store for the future of retail and purchasing behavior:

  1. Contactless payment will (finally) be everywhere.

With everyone avoiding touching, holding, or using cash for transactions, we’re seeing a rapid adoption of mobile payment options such as Apple Pay, as well as contactless card readers and payment systems such as Visa Tap-To-Pay, in sectors traditionally slower to implement the latest payment technologies.

While these systems have been the standard in Europe for years (with their limits recently increasing thanks to the pandemic), we’re now seeing grocery stores, pharmacies, and supermarkets add these payment options strictly to curb the spread of the virus. However, many are realizing it could have a positive effect on their bottom line in the long run.

New York-based grocer Fairway Market, which has adopted the technologies mentioned above, has seen a 300% increase in app adoption since its implementation and announcement of their safety campaign. Additionally, they’ve seen at least 20% of sales now coming through the mobile-checkout app in city stores, rising to 30% at peak locations. 

  1. A curbside pickup option will be expected.

From Best Buy to Target, retailers are racing to offer customers the option of curbside and often contactless pickup for order-ahead purchases.

While this is obviously a big deal for both retailers and their customers as we try to maintain at least six feet distance from one another while shopping for essentials, the option of curbside pickup is hardly novel. At one point in our history, grocery stores contained conveyor systems used to deliver curbside orders from back-of-house directly to the entrance. Drive-ups and drive-thrus were once all the rage. Perhaps they will be again? With today’s solution operating quite manually, it’s only a matter of time before we devise technological solutions that will simplify the process, making it exponentially more efficient, and possibly a staple of future retail.

  1. Delivery, a once disjointed experience, will finally be streamlined.

We mentioned in our preface that delivery of just about anything, but particularly takeout, has been the norm for city-dwelling folks for years. Today, however, whether you’re ordering to stay indoors, remain contactless, or simply support your favorite local restaurants in this extraordinary time of hardship, more consumers than ever are ordering food for delivery. And companies are stepping up to the challenge.

Services like Seamless, DoorDash, UberEats, and Deliveroo have been at this for years, but the financial burden for restaurants employing these solutions, the often unfair policies impacting gig workers who deliver our food, and the costs associated with a huge and immediate push for deliveries are all largely being ignored at the moment.

However, the silver lining could be that with the data gathered, consistent use of these systems, and exposure of the current, albeit unfortunate situation for many involved, we may see the delivery industry become more efficient, more streamlined, and more cost-effective in the long term, benefiting businesses and consumers across the board.

  1. Openness to shop new categories online will increase exponentially.

Until now, consumers have been slow to embrace online grocery shopping. However, this landscape is rapidly changing. On March 13th, Gordon Hasket Research Advisors released a survey that found that one-third of shoppers had purchased food online sometime in the past week, with a significant share of those (41%) being first-time online food and grocery shoppers. Out of pure necessity, this number continues to grow by the hour.

With the barrier of that initial first-time purchase breached, millions who were once wary about ordering goods traditionally shopped for in person will make ordering them online their new normal. We see mass adoption of this expanding beyond grocery and into other categories as well, such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, furniture, and more.

  1. Consumers will expect a virtual experience while shopping.

AR, VR and MR technologies have been slowly making their way into the digital shopping world in recent years, with companies like Burrow offering an augmented reality feature to view their furniture in your home for those who “can’t get to a showroom”.

Today, of course, no one can get to a showroom, and thus the implementation of services like these is more crucial than ever, allowing customers to sample your brand’s experience through the magic of technology.

Having a similarly positive effect for businesses who offer online shopping has been live commerce. During the weekend of March 14th, online sales for beauty retailer Credo were 20% higher than the previous weekend, with their virtual consultation tool being especially popular. It saw a 34% increase in chats, leading to a 10% increase in conversion through the channel. With tools like these resulting in a win-win for both consumers and businesses alike, we can see them becoming a staple of retail commerce in the future.

  1. Self-care will remain a priority. Products & services not catering to this will be scrutinized (and left behind).

Perhaps one of the biggest and most positive trends to emerge from the pandemic is the extreme focus on, and empathy toward, self-care. Through isolation and shelter-in-place restrictions, we’re primed more than ever for our mental and physical wellbeing to take a significant toll, and progressive brands have catered to helping us better ourselves and stay healthy.

In these unprecedented times, even if you’re a product company, you’re currently in the service business. Millions around the globe are scaling back to basics, investing in only the bare essentials, which includes self-care products and services. Proving your brand is worthy of consumer’s dollars today is directly tied to “How will this purchase help me survive what I’m currently experiencing?” With this becoming the new reality for an unknown amount of time, this mentality and lens through which people are shopping will be irreversible for many. How is your company proving your value? And how will you continue to prove your worth to consumers down the road?

As we continue to digest and tackle our new reality head-on every day, the future, while we know it will be altered forever, is truly unknown. But with people coming together and supporting one another, our communities, and our local businesses, we believe the best of humanity will prevail and we as a society will walk away stronger than ever. And we can’t wait to see the results.

Melissa Gonzalez is the CEO of The Lionesque Group an MG2 company, Principal and Company Shareholder. MJ Munsell is Chief Creative Officer at MG2 leading the brick and mortar retail design space. Justin Hill is a 30 year veteran at MG2 and Principal leading the growth in the Food and Beverage retail design sector.

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