This year has been a very strange one.
From the personal to the professional, online or offline, we’ve seen many dramatic changes and shifts in behavioral trends. However, it’s fair to assume that, over time, some changes won’t stick, and our behaviors will go back to normal.
However, there are also changes triggered by the global pandemic that will stick over the long haul.
So, what does the data tell us about a post COVID-19 world, after a vaccine is developed and economies start to rebound?
Verto has plenty of data, and we have analyzed the impact of COVID-19 for short-term consumer behaviors and medium-term trends. We also spoke with many of our customers and industry expert partners to get their insights to extrapolate what the long-term picture might look like. Here’s a summary of our conclusions. (To review data from our behavioral COVID-19 Tracker, check out the links at the bottom of this post.)
Implication #1 – Communication services and messaging tools will continue to be in high demand.
Even before the pandemic, users were incredibly active on social media (SMS messaging, voice calling, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.). However, usage of all communications platforms and apps increased as governments issued shelter-in-place orders to control the spread of COVID-19. This has touched not only the consumer side of things, but also the business world. Zoom, for example, has consistently ranked as one of the communications apps that’s seen a surge in audience numbers.
We think these behaviors will stick. The Covid-19 was a trigger to try, adopt, and start integrating these communication tools like business messaging/chat tools and video conferencing in our personal and professional lives. Even when we can return to offices, the use of these tools will remain higher than earlier. Let’s remember there were active user bases for these tools earlier: think of anyone who traveled frequently and continuously for work, or worked remotely. Now, almost all people in business need to try these tools, and they’ve learned how easy and fluent they are to use. In the future, the friction to use these tools will be lower and the appetite to do more remote work will be higher.
Implication #2 – Even though physical retail suffered, online shopping actually increased and will likely be even more popular after this summer.
When it comes to retail, certain brands—Amazon, eBay, Walmart, and more—have long dominated the online space. As the pandemic heated up and physical stores shuttered temporarily, online shopping increased.
In my personal experience, most people increased their usage of apps and mobile devices to order meals, groceries, household goods, etc. throughout the spring. Again, for many people this was the only way to shop or spend money. Even though restaurants and retail stores are now reopening, the barriers to experiment with online shopping are lower for consumers who otherwise would not easily explore these options. This has accelerated and boosted the adoption and diffusion of a variety of commerce related services.
Implication #3 – It will likely take time for outdoor sports, health-related hobbies, and travel to bounce back after widespread restrictions.
Some categories that saw an audience dip during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic will likely normalize eventually. But it will take time.
We predict a return to normal levels of audience engagement based on the fact that some of these categories (sports, health-related hobbies, travel) are simply fundamental to the way we live. Some areas will bounce back more quickly than others–we might see live sports return before travel, for example. (It might take years for airlines to resume all their routes, and for all bankrupt hotels to make up for months of zero bookings.)
Implication #4 – There’s a strong demand for access to trusted sources of news and information, but brands aren’t giving consumers what they want.
Based on user counts, page views, and time spent, we know consumers are hungry for news and information about the COVID-19. (We saw huge audience numbers flocking to official government sources of information.)
This doesn’t mean that all these sites, apps, and services are functioning like they should. In fact, many people are conflicted—they don’t know which sites to believe in and their confidence in the accuracy of information (including governmental sources) is spotty.
The way experts and executives communicate with consumers and citizens is paramount as the pandemic continues. The current data tells us we need to improve, and there’s a high demand for access to trusted sources of information.
Implication #5 – Both offline and outdoors, traveling and sports dropped during the pandemic, but most digital services have stable audience engagement.
One of the most important findings has been the balance of offline vs. offline shifting, perhaps and likely for the long-term. In many areas, offline was doing pretty well despite the rapid growth of online commerce and other services over the past 20 to 30 years.
However, now many offline businesses are out of business, including small offline retailers, car rental agencies (like Hertz), hospitality services, travel agencies, airlines, and hotels. It is not easy (and will perhaps be impossible) to refresh these businesses. There’s just no appetite to bring more capital in, or rescue all these offline businesses.
On the contrary, even though the online world has its own challenges and businesses that were not able to make it, Verto data shows most online services were doing okay for the duration of COVID-19.
Actually, two-thirds of all top U.S. services have pretty much retained their audience or even gained a bit; digital is more resilient to shocks that relate to the physical interactions and contexts, and this will hold true in the future, too. That is, if we don’t see additional or similar shocks to business. Most of the disasters, unfortunately, have a more significant impact on the offline world.
Implication #6 – Online education and teaching tools have made a serious entry to the mass market, and consumers will adopt such tools more easily in the future.
Study and schooling has been slow to evolve to digital. Most of us attended school in person, as have our kids, and their kids. In other words, educating ourselves online is pretty foreign to most of us. (Even though most schools make wide use of computers and technology systems.)
This spring was, however, we saw serious shifts for schools, educators, students, and parents. Practically overnight, many huge institutions and school systems adopted a strict remote education system using online tools like Microsoft Teams, to organize classes, education, lectures, homework, testing—and all the related communications and support systems related to these activities.
And what do you know? These shifts worked really well in most cases!
This has affected not just students and teachers but administrators as well. Everyone is seeing the potential of moving education to a virtual format.
In the future, we’ll see more remote schooling, education in remote places which will offer more autonomy and flexibility around holidays and travel. Naturally there is always the place for social interactions and face-to-face interaction; but, in terms of balance, online education has undoubtedly made a giant leap forward.
For more detail about the data referenced in this post, review relevant data (taken from our Behavioral COVID-19 Tracker) in these recent blog posts:
- In April, Digital Audiences Continued to Flock to Communications and Messaging Services
- A Few Extremes in Audience Losses and Gains
- Biggest Gainers and Losers among Online Service Categories
- For Most Digital Services, No Radical Changes in Audience Reach
How are consumers in your market using their digital devices to research purchases and shop during the pandemic? Contact email@example.com to see how data from our COVID-19 Tracker can give you actionable insights about your target digital audience.