2020 Retrospective: COVID-19 and the impacts on how we use technology
Back in March of this year, I remember getting the official email from my work that we were moving to an indefinite work-from-home status. I was actually working from home that week due to extreme morning sickness, as I was about 13 weeks pregnant with my twins, and I remember thinking oh I don't need to go in and clean out my desk. I'll probably be back by end of April or May at the latest. Fast forward to today and I still haven't been to my desk. I'm pretty sure there are some petrified ginger cookies in the corner of my filing cabinet...
Like me, you have probably experienced something very similar in a disruption of the way that you work or live your life due to COVID. There are habits that we as a community are doing less, like eating out or going to a gym, to habits we are doing now more often, like doing virtual calls with our friends and extended family and really getting into binge watching TV. Like really getting into binge watching. I'm an avid Simpsons fan and now that all the seasons are on Disney+ I've dived back again into the deep hole of re-watching every episode (call me if you need a trivia partner!)
I've been thinking a lot though about how the way we live and use technology now has changed due to the pandemic. There are some habits that may return back to before when we get some normalcy again, but I believe that the technology industry is most likely changed for good. This post is to take a few minutes and highlight some of the largest disruptions in the industry this year and what that will mean for us for the foreseeable future.
More time at home = more time on the internet
Throughout the year the largest cause and effect occurred where due to COVID, we all logged in some major hours at home. That caused us to change the way we spend our free time and how we access information to help us in our day to day activities.
One of the largest effects to staying at home was that although consumers continued to access the internet daily, the way we accessed the internet differed from past years. In previous years where we were all "out and about" we often defaulted to using our cellphones. Now in 2020, we sought using tablets and laptops instead as they were more easily accessible. As result, accessing actual websites went way up than their app counterparts.
The New York Times showcased a very visually telling comparison of some of the most high-trafficked sites: As you can see, the average daily traffic skyrocketed on major websites like Facebook or Netflix, but barely changed in their phone app versions.
What does this mean? Well to me, this may just be a short term cause and effect scenario. When we return back to a new normal, phone internet usage may skyrocket again; however, if this continues to trend the same for the next upcoming years, it may cause companies to change their digital strategy. In a direct to consumer market a smartphone has always played as a major tool in delivery of information and services; will companies change their digital strategy course if laptops and tablets continue to be a user's primary access point?
Virtual chat is the new coffee chat
This one is a bit of a no-brainer, but I have to write it! Being quarantined and asked to socially distance for the majority of the year, we've had to find ways to stay in touch with family, friends, and coworkers. As result, virtual conversation and collaboration tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Skype have become household names. I feel like I even use "Zoom" now as a verb just like "Google." That's serious brand recognition when you default your actions to the name of an application!
Tech growth in the entertainment industry
While traditional entertainment outlets (malls, restaurants, movie theatres) have taken a major hit this year, the leisure industry in the United States saw some of its strongest technology growth in a long time. In 2020 the tech budget had an estimate 7.5% increase, which was approximately 3% more than the national average across all other industries.
This growth can be showcased through how the way we play, watch, and interact at home. Video games have become more increasingly popular this year, while watching sports have paled in comparison (mostly because a lot of sports was cancelled this year granted). Television subscriptions have become increasingly popular, especially with the debut of new films on these subscription services instead of seeing them in the theatres. Being pregnant during quarantine, I quite liked this service offering because I was able to pause and pee every 20 minutes; I would have lost so much screen time seeing a movie in theatres!
Drive and Buy!
The supermarket game is changing and I am all here for it. Over the past years e-commerce has already started to change and alter consumer behaviors, but due to the personal preference of individuals wanting to pick out their own groceries, the grocery store has stayed relatively traditional until this year.
Due to this year's landscape and continued technological advances, consumer attitudes and behaviors are beginning to change. Consumers are beginning to adopt drive up services offered by grocery stores and recognizing the benefits of doing so such as reduced (or no) time in store, ability to build an order easily and quickly through one's phone or laptop, and digital tracking of historical purchases. Creating this omni-channel experience is seizing a pretty significant presence in the eyes of a customer and other major businesses are starting to differentiate themselves by the strength of their digital order service.
I personally have loved this trend not only for the safety benefits, but it makes me more efficient in how I plan my errands. And I never have to leave my car, which makes it 1000x easier to shop with twin babies in the backseat!
Get the door it's (insert unhealthy food item)!
OK so I mentioned how restaurants have taken a hit? A revision to that is if a restaurant has the ability to do takeout or delivery, then they aren't out for the count. It's never been easier for them to reach hungry customers through online food delivery sales. Restaurant delivery has not only grown 20% in the last 5 years, it's projected to continue growing with an estimated growth as high as $220B by 2023. This has become so much easier thanks to prominent use delivery apps like UberEats and Doordash, and as well companies investing significant time and money into their digital presence to service their customers.
As well, this plays an adjacent trend that's been growing for some time, which is the increasing presence of a gig economy. Individuals are more often picking up side jobs or "gigs" to help make ends meet. Food delivery tools like UberEats are an extremely easy way to pick up some easy cash and the American worker is all for it. And because of that it creates an easy balance of supply and demand; these apps stay afloat because of a lot of drivers are available to service, and there's a lot of consumers craving pizza and bad Chinese food late at night during the pandemic!
It will be very telling over the next couple of years if these trends will continue for the long-term, but I believe that the pandemic was just an accelerator for a significant change in consumer behavior with technology. Quarantine was a catalyst for more users to become early adopters, and especially as Gen Z-ers transition into the workforce and obtain more disposable income, these behaviors will continue to become more and more embedded into our daily lives.
Looking forward to having a retrospective in 2021 to compare to these thoughts! Happy new year readers!