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A pulse on evolving consumer expectations and digital readiness

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The Covid-19 pandemic has drastically changed how we interact with the world. Our expectations of the brands we engage with have also irreversibly shifted. A digital transformation has been underway for some time, but the pandemic accelerated consumers’ adoption of digital far faster than what many brands were ready for.

Appnovation recently conducted research that measured American and Canadian consumers’ digital readiness and future expectations of the brands they interact with.

While a more digital world is here to stay, many consumers will once again embrace in-person experiences when it’s safe to do so. Brands that can combine these two worlds in terms of purchasing as well as store design will set themselves apart.

Consumers expect and want more online brand interactions

Across industries, online interactions have increased during Covid-19, and consumers state they’d like this trend to continue – even in industries like automotive and grocery, where interactions have traditionally been in-person.

Millennials’ expectations for seamless digital experiences surpass those of other generations.

Though gen Z is not far behind, millennial consumers have the highest expectations for smooth and efficient digital experiences, regardless of industry. Brands that remove friction and add convenience will be rewarded with loyal customers. Go beyond free shipping and offer a simpler path to purchasing, or a subscription model that bundles offers and conveniences.

There’s an expectation that in-person consumer experiences get more digital, too.

As people begin to safely return to public spaces, they’re looking for hybrid human-digital experiences. An increased comfort with gesture and sensor technology propels this – though it varies by industry, with consumers citing hospitals, airports and hotels as the places they’re most comfortable using this touchless tech.

There’s an appetite for touchless technologies, but brands need to address security concerns in some cases.

Consumers like the convenience, accessibility and security that voice recognition offers, but have mixed feelings surrounding facial recognition. With an increased desire for personalized experiences, brands will walk a fine line in leveraging the right technology while ensuring it’s not intrusive.

Which industries are leading the way?

Online interactions have increased since the pandemic began across financial (+5%), healthcare (+6%) and retail (+14%). The exception to this trend is the travel and tourism industry (-5%), where overall interactions dropped dramatically due to travel restrictions.

Interestingly, post-pandemic online consumer behavior is expected to further increase over pre-pandemic numbers across all industries, with financial (+10%), healthcare (+21%), retail (+20%) and travel and tourism (+15%) seeing significant jumps. This indicates that there’s no return to ‘normal’ – rather, our normal is shifting.

So, although consumers are happy to engage digitally with brands, they’re also happy to seek out the best experiences – and they will cross industries to get it. Simply put, consumers go into experiences with pre-established expectations of what that experience will be like. Missed expectations result in a frustrated customer who may never return; met expectations result in satisfaction; and exceeded expectations result in the “delight” that will set brands apart in a landscape where industry lines are getting blurrier every day.

When asked about the importance of digital experiences in different industries, consumers were clear about their readiness. Over half of consumers aged 25-54 consider digital experiences to be very or extremely important in financial (67%), travel and tourism (55%) and healthcare (54%).

Retail (46%) isn’t far behind, showing even traditionally non-digital industries are ripe for change. In fact, consumers say it’s the industries where digital readiness is lowest – like automotive (33%) and grocery (39%) – that are most in need of technological improvements. Almost one-third of consumers feel automotive (30%) and grocery (29%) could improve digitally.

We asked consumers to rate how they perceive the current digital state of different industries and found that up to one-fifth of consumers feel there’s need for improvement across industries, with numbers as follows: retail (21%), healthcare (18%), travel and tourism (15%) and financial (12%).

Healthcare deserves special attention due to its significant impact on the most important aspects of consumers’ lives. While new approaches to harnessing the patient digital front door are critical in getting proper care to certain populations, there are other demographics that cannot adapt to new technology at the same rate, or at all. The healthcare industry must exercise caution in its implementation of technology and ensure all patients can easily get the care they need.

Implications and opportunities

It’s not just consumers’ digital behavior that’s changed – their expectations of digital experiences have quickly evolved as well. To further complicate things, your customers are no longer comparing your digital offerings to your direct competitors alone. They’re also comparing the experiences you give them to the experiences they get in completely different industries. So while competition is greater than ever, so is the potential to create stand-out experiences that will define our new digital era.

Get more consumer insights in the full report. Anton Morrison, vice-president experience design, Appnovation