By Anastasia Lloyd-Wallis
Chief Operating Officer and Head of Consumer Insights, Retail Doctor Group

The past year has really just continued down the path of major changes we’ve seen since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted everything a few years ago. The pandemic drastically impacted all of our lives in so many ways.

One of the biggest impacts was how it turbocharged technological advances that were expected to take 5-10 years and crammed them all into just a 2-3 year period instead. This warp-speed progression didn’t just happen for tech gadgets, but transformed entire industries like retail just as rapidly.

As new superfast 6G mobile networks and devices rolled out in 2023, internet speeds went into overdrive. With this total acceleration, everyone’s internet usage exploded – not just for typical online activities, but because so many people were now working remotely from home.

Homes became hybrid spaces, meshing working life with personal life. Video calls, team collaboration apps, and seamless online experiences became a necessary part of residential living when your house doubled as your workplace. The line between work and home essentially disappeared as robust internet became vital for both worlds co-existing.

Data usage

What used to be something only a small group of people did has now become a normal part of daily life for just about everyone. Video calling apps like Zoom, Skype and Teams that were once niche are now super common – people use them every single day to have work meetings, but also just to casually catch up with friends and family.

Having to work from home put a lot of added stress on people’s living situations. All the stuff you used to only do at an office or workplace now had to happen at your house too. These big changes really transformed how consumers behave and live their lives. Effectively, every single aspect of being a consumer now happens through the internet. Online shopping went way up, as did streaming shows/movies and digital hobbies. People had to get more creative with online stuff to meet their wants and needs.

Ironically, by being forced to stay home during the pandemic, people realised being at home talking to others over the internet was something that made them happiest. No commuting, no getting dressed up, no interruptions – it was just easier.

The reality of this sudden, forced shift to digital life is that people actually chose to be less social in-person, but more virtually present and involved in online/digital spaces. The explosive growth of digital, online, always-available technology was never expected to happen so fast – retailers, small businesses, schools, you name it – none of them expected to need a website or online presence before COVID hit.

Consumer expectancy

From a customer’s point of view, people these days demand access and speed – they want to get the service or product they’re after right away, exactly when they want it and how they want it delivered. One of the biggest changes we’ve seen since COVID hit a few years ago is that consumers have zero patience. They want what they want and they want it right now, immediately. And they expect the brands and stores they buy from to deliver that instant gratification.

For retailers, the biggest challenge moving forward is figuring out how to keep up with these expectations of absolute immediacy that customers now have. How can they stay ahead of the curve and give shoppers exactly what they desire at that very moment, without any delay?

Consumers aren’t willing to wait anymore. The name of the game for retailers is delivering lightning-quick service so customers get their wants met instantaneously. Any retailer that can’t provide that is going to lose out to competitors who can.

Time as a form of currency

This demand for right-now service is really being driven by new technologies that keep people constantly connected and used to getting their needs met instantly. Things like superfast 5G/6G internet, smart home devices, on-demand streaming – they’ve conditioned people to expect gratification immediately, at all times. But then you look at certain industries or services, and they’re still stuck in the old mindset of making customers wait forever on hold. Like calling your power company or internet provider and being on hold for over an hour – customers don’t accept that kind of delay anymore.

Some companies have updated and now offer live chat or self-service app options. But there are still plenty that force customers to either wait on an endless hold or try to find answers themselves through bots, contact forms, digging online – a whole runaround just to get a simple question answered promptly.

These companies need to wake up and realise that short-staffing call centers and happily making customers wait is no longer a viable solution in 2024. They need to take a long-term view and invest moderately in technology upgrades for customer service. That upfront cost pays itself back quickly through better efficiency and happier customers.

Just throwing self-service options at people doesn’t cut it though. Customers want an actual human to talk to directly when needed. All these roundabout “solutions” just delay resolving the issue and strip away that need for real-time immediacy that modern consumers demand. Having to find workarounds yourself completely defeats the point of instant service.

Conditioning consumers

The problem arose due to not having the right people, the right tech, and the right solutions in place. With consumers almost conditioned to want that immediacy, live chats and immediate responses are part of the expectations consumers have.

Fast and efficient service is a function of success now. And in some instances, you can actually start off by providing that very personalised and detailed service to set expectations early.

It’s a well-known fact that younger generations are more happy to be tech connected and don’t necessarily feel the need to call. However RDG insights division research has show that this pre-disposition to prefer digital or physical interactions is a result of a consumers personality, Limbic Insights™ neuroscientific personality profiling shows us that certain personalities are driven by oxytocin, and are more in need of a physical interaction – regardless of age.

It is no longer enough to group your customers behaviours by their demographics, understanding their emotional drivers are key to creating a frictionless journey for each consumer.

If you’re looking to understand “Why” your customers interact with you and how to use this to drive foot traffic, increase conversions and improve frequency of visitation reach out to me for a complimentary discussion

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