How commerce has changed forever

Matthew Heath, Principal Threat Intelligence Analyst

September 28, 2020

The inspiration of this article came from the realization that I may never have to set foot in a store again through the combination of digital payments, reliable delivery, and curbside pickup. The convenience, control and confidence in my consumer habits have never been this focused before. Fuel, groceries, coffee, and even paying bills have become a perfect blend of independence and security. I credit all of my preferred retailers for embracing payment innovations and breathing life into this landscape. I could never have predicted that this digital foundation would preserve my health and safety in the event of a pandemic.

COVID-19 has upended virtually every aspect of our lives. Though profoundly disruptive, some changes resulting from COVID-19 will prove to be temporary. A relatively normal life surely awaits us in the future. Many office workers will return to their buildings. Travel will return at scale. Theaters and sporting venues will again welcome consumers eager for entertainment.

Other changes are likely to be more permanent. We are witnessing the rapid birth of a “new normal” within payments. COVID-19 has been adding momentum to trends that began well before 2020. The future of retail will see commerce continue to be reshaped through this digital transformation.

The shapes and colors of retail’s “new normal” are being drawn by consumers and businesses adapting to COVID-19 constraints. A new Worldpay from FIS report – From Disruption to Innovation – surveyed over 2,000 U.S. consumers in June 2020 to help quantify those contours.

The “new” eCommerce — Essential commerce

Consumers gravitated to eCommerce long before 2020. Twenty years ago, the fashionable “e” distinguished “electronic” commerce from traditional face-to-face commerce. During the pandemic, eCommerce has embraced necessity to become a standalone, viable method for participating in global commerce. eCommerce has grown up to become essential Commerce.

U.S. consumers were essentially forced to eCommerce during the pandemic: 58% of U.S. consumers in our survey said they are spending more on eCommerce during COVID-19. Grocery saw the biggest spike, with 37.9% of consumers spending more for groceries online.

The trend toward smartphone shopping is also accelerating through the pandemic, with 42% of U.S. consumers making more purchases through their mobile device. Voice commerce is accelerating as well: 22% of U.S. consumers made more purchases through voice-activated assistants like Alexa or Google Home during the pandemic. It’s almost as if the MOTO (Mail Order / Telephone Order) payment channel has found its rebirth in the most improbable way.

New eCommerce opportunities have changed the shopping experience entirely. Consumers can conduct research and fulfill a purchase in the same browsing session better than ever before. What used to be several days of gathering insight and aimlessly wandering through brick-and-mortars has become about 30 minutes and a double-tap on the mobile device. In the event of a mistaken purchase, even the return process has become relatively pain-free.

The intersection of loyalty and community

The future of retail offers fertile ground for businesses of all sizes. Our survey found inspiring consumer support for community businesses.

Consumers are strongly supporting their favorite local restaurants. The survey found 58% of U.S. consumers ordering more take-out, curb side pickup and delivery, while 61% indicating an obligation to support their favorite dine-in restaurants more than usual due to the pandemic.

Community roots are still important for retail as well, with 42% of respondents indicating they buy from more local and independent small businesses. Consumers also showed empathy for workers: 49% of restaurant goers noting concern for how businesses supported their staff during lockdowns.

Bridging gaps with delivery

COVID-19’s social distancing requirements, stay-at-home orders and business operating restrictions elevated delivery from consumer convenience to practical necessity.

U.S. consumers are gravitating to new delivery services during the pandemic. 26% of respondents in our survey tried a new-to-them delivery service during COVID-19. Grocery was once again the most popular among those trying new delivery services, cited by 54% of new delivery customers, while 45% of new delivery customers exploring local restaurant delivery.

Those experimenting with new delivery services during the pandemic are very likely to continue to use those services well after we settle in to the “next” normal: 83% of those who tried a new-to-them delivery service will continue to use at least some of those services in the future.

Digital technologies lead the way as the primary method in delivery ordering: 48% of consumers cited smartphones and other mobile devices to place orders. U.S. consumers are committed to delivery for the long-haul, with 49% now more open to consider a delivery membership like Amazon Prime.

On a personal note, I have happily welcomed these evolutions in convenience. Upon reflection, I doubt that I will ever lament the convenience and personal time regained by removing “errands” from my schedule. I was once reluctant to streamline the nuances of day-to-day life but have found surprising value in the solutions adopted by retailers.

The consumer experience

These eCommerce conveniences propelled us into adopting technologies faster than expected, but they have ultimately provided a change in our expectations that has an undeniable permanence. Consumers now enjoy shopping anytime, anywhere with the greatest of ease. There’s no longer a need to enter a store physically if one doesn’t wish to do so. For some people, that translates to budget friendly shopping experience since it eliminates window shopping and impulse purchases. For other people, this may promote the desire to shop as the sales experience is now completely under your personal control – with less salespeople, pitches, or pressure involved in a sale.

The best consumer experience will continue to hinge on one vital component: offering your customers fast, safe and easy payment experiences.

That future starts in the present. A critical emphasis has been placed on both safety and convenience. Businesses transacting face-to-face need to start with the health and safety of your employees and customers. The basic examples are becoming routine for most of us, such as adjusting checkout areas to maintain proper social distancing. Upgrading POS terminals to support contactless transactions also helps minimize physical contact and give customers greater peace of mind.

The disruptive impact of COVID-19 is delivering the future to us faster, making it a critical time to integrate digital and physical-world payments. The pandemic offers an opportunity to consult with your payments partner to identify ways that your payment processes can be simplified and modernized.

The retail of the future is closer than it appears

Extraordinary forces of disruption and change are forging a new reality. While we can’t predict the future, key lessons for retailers are emerging from our future-present experience.

Customer experience is critical, at any distance. With so much uncertainty about the future, and immense focus on our health and safety in the present, experiences must be perfect when it comes to commerce. Customer loyalty is vital in this unruly, unpredictable time. Hard-earned customer loyalty has turned out to be an essential lifeline for merchants of all types.

The pace of change is accelerating. As the impacts of COVID-19 vividly demonstrate, planning and executing on the infrastructure of tomorrow requires action today. COVID-19 propelled us all from digital-first to digital-only. Whatever your size, whatever your business, a wave of digital transformation has arrived yet again. We are shaping the future of commerce in real-time, and it’s well worth embracing.