The pandemic effectively forced many of us to do online what we may have been doing in person, like working, learning, and buying groceries, clothes and furniture. The world was already heading toward virtual, but COVID has certainly accelerated the transition. Now, in the midst of a third shutdown, most of us have realized the changes that have happened over the last eight months are likely here to stay. In fact, psychologists say it takes an average of 66 days to form a habit.
As we approach 2021, consumer’s pandemic-induced habits are solidifying and becoming more deeply rooted in their routines. What that means for retail may be different for salons, but one thing is certain: digital commerce and communication will remain key to every sector across Main Street USA, which has been hit hardest since the pandemic began. Moving forward, we can expect massive change—and not all bad. Here are just a few of my predictions for 2021:
- With Gen Z hitting the job market, businesses will increasingly communicate with employees via messaging versus calling. For instance, in retail and hospitality where part-time employment is a large part of the business model, connecting with people on their availability for shifts or overtime via messaging will expedite the response time.
Text messaging is not only a more efficient way to communicate with this generation, but also to improve customer service. Texting can help strengthen customer relationships and improve customer satisfaction results by enabling representatives to quickly send updates, confirmations, reminders and troubleshooting assistance. In fact, 75% of millennials surveyed have said they find text reminders helpful, yet only 30% are receiving them from companies they do business with regularly.
- Curbside pick-up is here to stay, at least for some scenarios. Curbside pick-up increased over 500% during the first few months of COVID-19 (source: Digital Commerce 360), and what many people discovered was how much time they could save by avoiding the hassle of parking and by not going inside a store or business. Even as businesses reopen, I believe that many people will continue to use curbside for basic or routine shopping and errands such as dry cleaning, or to pick up items you know you need but don’t have the desire to browse for.
- More people will experience virtual retail shopping. For the stay-at-home shopper, Potomac River Running Store (PRR), for example, developed a completely virtual shoe fitting process. Using Zoom and Calendly, customers schedule a video appointment and staff members walk them through the entire fitting process. In addition to analyzing their gait over Zoom using smartphone cameras, PRR sends them forms to print out so they can draw an outline of their feet for perfect sizing. PRR then shows them a selection of shoes that they recommend based on their athletic goals. Customers pay securely online, and PPR ships their order that same day.
- With more people living online during the pandemic, ratings and reviews will become more important than ever. Review engagement in the health and beauty category, for example, accelerated 313% during COVID. That’s according to PowerReviews, which also reports that product sales soar by 65% when just one positive review is added to the product page, particularly when no reviews were previously present.
- The gig economy will continue to propel small businesses in 2021. More and more American businesses and employees are taking advantage of the jobs that are available through the gig economy, primarily because of more flexible working conditions. Intuit reports that by 2021 the gig economy will surge, resulting in 9.2 million Americans joining the gig workforce. With numbers continuing to rise, gig workers will undoubtedly outnumber nine-to-five jobs within the finance and construction sectors.
Whether or not pent-up demand from 2020 will drive more people back into Main Street businesses in 2021, we can assume there will still be those that hunger for the in-store experience of visiting local establishments. Not everyone yearns to live in a digital world, but for those who do, the choice will be theirs to make.
Tasso Roumeliotis is the CEO and co-founder of Numa, which has been selected by American Express as a small business solutions partner and by Google as a launch partner for Google’s Business Messages integration. Before NumberAI, Tasso founded Location Labs and was an early pioneer in mobile and location-based technology. He built it to 200+ people and eventually sold Location Labs for $220M with only $19M of primary capital invested. Location Labs was profitable for seven consecutive years and was an INC 500 company. He was also an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award finalist. Before Location Labs, Tasso worked as Vice President for Claridge Investments (Bronfman Family Office) and as an associate in the merchant banking group of Donaldson Lufkin Jenrette. Tasso started his career at Bain & Co where he was the highest ranked associate in his class. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a bachelor’s degree in Communication from McGill University in Montreal. Website: www.numa.com; Twitter: https://twitter.com/TassoR
Main street and the pandemic stock photo by milorad milankovic/Shutterstock