Our Group Marketing Director, Shane Kavanagh, explores some of the latest consumer data resulting from the pandemic around the future and trust:
There is an idea in quantum mechanics known as the ‘many worlds’ interpretation. The idea originated in the 1950s and one of the directions it has spun off into is the ‘Multiverse’ Theory made famous in popular culture by the character Dr. Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory. Essentially, the theory argues that when you measure an event the universe is literally duplicated, splitting into one universe for each possible outcome from that measurement.
When we look at this moment in 2020, the evolution of Covid-19 and its effect on the multitude facets of our lives, it feels like this could be a ‘Many worlds’ event. We still have no clarity on how the emerging easing of restrictions of human movement and interaction in countries and across continents worldwide will affect consumer behaviour but it will have many impacts and they may all happen in parallel.
One of the key areas will have many effects, that every nation, government and business worldwide is talking about is trust.
Trust in the new normal
For sure ‘Trust’ as a concept had been commercialised and commoditised well before Covid-19. From brands commissioning research on their customers trust in their product or service to the emergence of online trust ratings systems like Trustpilot and their impact on Search Engine Optimisation, consumer preference behaviour and purchase intention, the idea of understanding and harnessing trust has long appealed to any organisation that relied upon consumer or public preference.
Trust is a fickle thing. Once you have it, you work hard to keep it. Once lost, it is hard to gain back. In a post-Covid world, what is trust going to look like?
This is where the number of outcomes splits. It will likely split on multiple lines, creating fragments within consumer behaviour driven by how and what we trust (or do not trust) within various industries.
World One – Retail & Trust
Though growing before, during Covid-19 digital technology is dominating and online shopping is king. Volumes in the retail sector have seen up to 74% increases in March compared to the prior year. By the end of 2020 online retail in the UK is predicted to hit more than £222bn, an increase of over 11%. Prior to Covid this growth rate was in single digits. This is being replicated across the world as physical retail is currently curtailed and the future of consumer trust in bricks and mortar hinges on how we emerge from lockdown and what hygiene and sterilisation measures are put in place in-store in the long term.
The likelihood that this trend will continue has significant implications for how retail sets itself up for the post-Covid world. It will impact staffing levels, safety equipment, store layouts, insurance and critically the balance between bricks and clicks. While some companies may see this new world as a threat, those that up their game and adopt eCommerce quickly building for a digital future will benefit.
World Two – Transport & Trust
Whether domestic or international travel this is a brave new world. This world is likely to split down two very distinct lines. Those who can and will and those who won’t cross borders. Lack of trust will be part of it and, potentially, cost will be the other.
While consumers will fly, drive, sail or explore via rail, there are many predictions being made on how this will go. Some airlines are predicting immediate returns to low fares once restrictions are lifted, other commentators are talking about a return to the cost, rarity and spacing of 1980s travel due to the necessary social distancing and vehicle/craft sanitation between flights. The big question is how will consumers respond in the short to medium term? There is no doubt the desire to travel will be there and many will take it but will others trust the idea of self contained travel more? Will we see a resurgence of ferry travel between countries with a sea border. Some operators are exploring allowing groups to travel together and, if they want, to never have to interact with a strange seat, room or person throughout the journey. The likes of the Eurostar rail system between London and France has the same effect. Drive on at your point of departure and drive off at the point of arrival. You need never leave your car. If end-to-end contactless transport is the future of travel then airlines, ferry and rail companies can potentially learn a lot about digital ordering, contactless payments and service/product delivery from the restaurants and retailers who have been forced to innovate to survive during the pandemic restrictions.
World Three – Locations & Trust
The days of consumers weighing price sensitivity and desired experience as the key factors in decision making for travel are gone. Yes, they will still be relevant but the point of overlap in that venn diagram just got a lot more complex. Trust, though always there (trust around value, crime etc), will jump in priority and is likely to take on a number of additional influencing elements. On the 6th of May 2020, the World Economic Forum published an article on what travelling will be like after Covid-19 and they identified a key point that is new to the decision making structure for travellers – collaboration between industry and governments around the world when it comes to health and hygiene. While consumers will likely look to countries that dealt with Covid-19 most effectively (hats off to New Zealand) in the short term, they will need to see cooperation around digital identity and, if feasible, immunity passports to enhance their trust. This will require the accelerated “use of digital technologies. Next, they will need to develop a cohesive policy and legal regime around the deployment of digital technologies that balance the protection of civil liberties and public health. The third challenge is to ensure that different digital identity solutions can operate together”.
World Four – Accommodation & Trust
Hotel and accommodation industries have seen immense change in the past few years even before Covid-19 emerged as the single biggest threat in generations. The sharing economy was most notable in its adoption by consumers and disruption of traditional industries in this sector. It seemed like out of nowhere the market went from a few small couch sharing and house swapping websites to an entire industry dominated by the likes of AirBNB – resolving the friction between consumers’ increasing desire for variety, autonomy and value, and property owners understanding of the value in their spare rooms and rental homes across the world. The explosion of the shared economy directly threatened the hotel model but ask yourself this, when restrictions are lifted where will you, as a consumer want to stay? Will the likes of AirBNB and their hosts be able to convince consumers that they can trust in a standard of hygiene and sterilisation between stays or will long established hotel brands come up with a trusted Quality Assurance mark for decontamination of rooms and common areas that consumers will revert to in times of uncertainty. Will the digital payments and contactless methodology that was already forming part of the check in/check out experience in modern hotels be enhanced by contactless experiences across the board?
The Sheldonification of our future
Without realising we were doing it we have Sheldonified the world “I just don’t understand how this happened to me. I’m scrupulous about my hygiene, I regularly disinfect my hands, and I avoid contact with other people on general principle” (Character of Dr. Sheldon Cooper).
Whatever the outcome of the reaction to Covid and whichever world we end up with, the one thing that is certain is that everything will be far more complicated, for a time at least. Replicating the experience of travel through digital means is difficult. Technologies such as Virtual Reality might help but the true reality is that nothing will replace the feel of sand between your toes, the smell of almost anywhere within the tropics or the taste of your first pint of Guinness in a small bar in Kerry, Ireland.
Businesses and consumers will increasingly have to adopt and adapt to new digital realities. Trust and transactions; monetary and data combined will inevitably form a key part of our future. Understanding consumer behaviour and collaboration on the development of new solutions at governmental and industry levels will deliver a future with less risk, greater trust and more opportunities for innovation while leaving quantum mechanics to physicists and popular TV comedies.