Three COVID-Era Trends that will have a Lasting Impact
For the past year, as the entire world reeled from the effects of the pandemic, the ways in which people work, shop, play, live and learn have changed dramatically. However, the resulting digital adoption wasn’t entirely new behavior, but a great acceleration of trends that existed before the crisis.
It’s been a generation-defining year in many ways. It’s closed the gap in the digital behavior that we used to see between millennials, Gen X and boomers. The older groups were the most heavily impacted, with their shift to digital continuing to serve both functional and social areas of their lives.
As we look ahead at a year that will continue to bring more fluctuations in behavior change and consumer sentiment, staying agile is now the modern marketing approach. And to that end, it’s worth a look back at the last year to see some of the biggest changes, with many of them here to stay.
Today’s video landscape is rapidly changing how and what we watch
With all the digital trends that the pandemic has accelerated, video has been the most exciting to watch (pun intended). Growth of short-video creation and consumption is exploding. Both the number of people and time spent is on the rise. TikTok leads in this space, with Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube gaining momentum. Some of the momentum can be explained by easy creation and consumption on mobile, including YouTube’s own short-form mobile experience, called “Shorts.” Only some channels support paid advertising, so many marketers have created their own videos in hopes of increasing organic engagement.
Video streaming and connected TV are also trending. This was the case even before the pandemic, but the increased cord cutting helped to solidify the trend in 2020. And as viewers spend more time at home, they are streaming more content than ever before on connected TV (CTV) screens. YouTube reports that while people still watch a lot of content on mobile, TV is quickly becoming their fastest-growing screen. In December alone, more than 120 million people in the U.S. streamed YouTube (or YouTube TV) on their smart TV.
Another existing trend that gained traction during the pandemic is livestreaming. Usage is growing and viewership is up across several platforms and new features are being introduced, expanding opportunities for brands and creators. Instagram and Facebook reported big gains in livestreaming during the early months of the pandemic, gaming platforms as well. While some use cases may be less relevant in the post-pandemic world, livestreaming will remain popular in many forms, including streaming commerce — more on that next.
The flight to digital has introduced new ways to shop
With the lockdown, we’ve seen 10 year’s growth in e-commerce in just three short months and for good reason. Who doesn’t remember having to scramble to find essential items like toilet paper or eggs? Many stores were either closed or out of stock of many necessities so many people of all ages had to turn to the internet to shop or to find information. Even with early signs of recovery, a recent study found that 76% of consumers have changed the way they shop and many will continue with digital behaviors such as retail “click and collect” and restaurant curbside pickup long after COVID.
With ecommerce skyrocketing and less people browsing in-store, social feeds have played a whole new role in discovery. The social media media giants have been ramping up their ecommerce features for years, but accelerated many of their efforts when the pandemic struck. Now social media brings shops to users instead of users to shops with new offerings to solidify their role in the purchase funnel such as Facebook Shops, Instagram Shop, shoppable ads and shoppable content.
The social commerce trend is heating up now more than ever and taking many forms, with Nike introducing its own platform and Linktree raising funding for its new social commerce roadmap. Brands and platforms are doubling down on this new shopping behavior which is expected to stick around.
Streaming commerce is also gaining popularity and is expected to, along with social commerce, reshape the shopping landscape. Livestream shopping has played an increasingly important role in product discovery, not unlike the early days of television shopping networks.
Instagram livestreams, which spiked in usage during the pandemic, offer brands the chance to tag products with a tap-and-buy option. TikTok unveiled its first livestream letting people buy products directly through the app. Facebook partnered with Anne Klein to debut shoppable livestreams late last year with Facebook Shop’s live in-app shopping feature.
As brands and retailers experiment with livestreaming, it has emerged as a viable way to connect with their homebody consumer and provide a frictionless experience to the extent that many consider it the future of shopping.
The homebody economy will continue to thrive
Although we will no longer be forced to stay home with restrictions lifting and more people being vaccinated, the homebody behavior is likely to continue. It’s safe to say that people will quickly flock back to restaurants, start traveling and attending events again, but the convenience of staying home will remain.
After all, the trend of “staying in” was a growing market described by Vox back in 2018 and its billion dollar impact on the businesses that benefited from it. Millennials were at the center of it, spending as much as 70% more time at home because going out was “too much effort” or they couldn’t afford to do otherwise.
McKinsey predicts that there will be a rebalancing, with people spending more time and money out of their homes, but still buying things for their home or investing in home improvement. Many made the best use of their space, setting up a gym or workspace, a convenience that they’ll continue to enjoy long after the reopening.
It could be that many won’t need to return to the office until September if at all. Many companies have told employees that they can continue to work virtually, the majority transitioning to a hybrid model. That being the case, the home may need to continue to serve its multi-functional role for the foreseeable future.
So while we transition into the next normal this year, with many shifts due to pent up demand, or the many unknowns that still face us, the digital landscape has forever changed for marketers in many ways. Marketing after the pandemic will be based on new truths. The ways we connect with consumers will continue to evolve. But uncovering and responding to needs will continue to be critical for growth. It pushes boundaries and stretches us into new directions. One thing’s clear, the shift to digital has been a profound one.