As the Canadian economy continues to gradually re-open, businesses across various verticals have one main goal in mind: Re-open and get customers back. Essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies have shown that social distancing is possible within a retail environment, and they’ve set a standard for how retail environments should look in the near future.
As a result, consumers now expect that retailers will make a reasonable effort to ensure social distancing and minimize risk. Companies have responded by spending recent months securing and installing fixtures like floor decals, sneeze shields, and sanitizing stations.
However, while these short-term preparations are critically important, they should only be the beginning of a brand’s response to COVID-19. The pandemic, like other major global events in the past, has driven significant changes in consumer behaviour and expectations—and forward-thinking brands are now adapting for the long term.
Compass Group is one example. COVID forced it to shut down the majority of its locations—prompting the company’s highly strategic response. While Compass understood the importance of re-opening as soon as possible, it also recognized that COVID-19 had triggered changes to consumer behaviour that would impact the company long-term. Specifically, the pandemic accelerated the use of digital channels in the food service industry, where consumers have become accustomed to digitally enabled, contact-free, ultra-convenient paths to purchase.
Compass has now acquired tech start-up Feedr, with a view to leveraging capabilities that better match the new reality we all live in. Using Feedr’s platform, Compass will be able to offer mobile ordering and pre-payment. The app also allows the company to take a more active role in the health and wellness of consumers by enabling them to track their food intake, view their nutrition more comprehensively, and make healthier choices.
This move by Compass underscores a couple of key realities for businesses in the new normal.
First, they need to understand which changes in consumer behaviour are here for the short term and which are here to stay. While there is some debate over what exactly the long-term impact will be, there are two changes the majority of experts agree on:
- The pandemic has rapidly accelerated digital adoption—by as much as 5 years.
- COVID has elevated consumers’ expectations of convenience and flexibility.
These factors raise big questions for organizations across many verticals. In financial services, for instance, what role will the banks’ branch networks play? In retail, will experiential shopping still be a strategy in combatting online competition? And how can retailers better collect and use data through more pervasive digital channels?
The second reality for businesses is that it’s more important than ever that they have the necessary capabilities and communication systems to meet these elevated expectations and interact with consumers how and when they want.
One thing is certain: The ability to adapt to consumers’ emerging needs will be the difference in getting ahead of the competition.