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The global pandemic accelerated digital innovation – but which tech is here to stay?

The global pandemic accelerated digital innovation – but which tech is here to stay?

Our relationship with digital technology has altered dramatically over the last year, as Covid-19 disrupted lifestyles, transformed work arrangements, and impacted business operations. Overnight, the ability to connect with people over distance became the number one priority for companies, emphasising the importance for businesses to be agile, adaptable, and adjust to people’s needs. 

Technology has offered the means of achieving this across almost all sectors, so after more than a year of rapid innovation, which of these developments is here to stay? 

Uniting fitness with flexibility

Finding new ways of staying fit became a concern for many at the beginning of 2020, as social distancing forced gyms to close and placed constraints on outdoor exercise. Fitness also became crucial to the mental wellbeing of consumers, as they collectively navigated a period of uncertainty. As a result, fitness apps saw a massive rise in popularity, with downloads growing by nearly 50% during the first half of 2020. 

Mobile apps provided at-home access to fitness-based video content from gyms and influencers, who also took to social media to create the sense of camaraderie that can only be built through shared physical exhaustion. Strava, an app which allows communities of athletes to both communicate and compete, saw an average of two million registrations in each month of 2020. Peloton witnessed similar success during the pandemic, emulating the popularity of boutique fitness studios through its stylised spin classes. With businesses successfully adapting to offer convenience and flexibility for consumers, we can expect this technology to maintain its relevance as hybrid work models evolve. 

Reimagining the retail experience

Non-essential retail has had to adapt to a new, all-digital consumer base. While digital-first and omnichannel retailers pivoted more easily during Covid-19 restrictions, retailers relying on physical stores and face-to-face engagement strategies suffered the most. Since restrictions have eased, high streets are drawing footfall back to bricks-and-mortar stores, but there is still uncertainty around the long-term impact of changing shopping habits. 

In light of this, technological innovation is expected to have a lasting impact on how brands and shoppers interact. Retailers have put more effort into using AI to build tools such as chatbots, bridging the gap between offline and online experiences. One brand leveraging this technology is Lidl with their Winebot, Margot. Margot is able to educate customers on wine choices and food pairings, answering questions based on 640 types of grapes. Not only is she able to deliver informed suggestions, but also adapt to consumers’ language to deliver a hyper-personalised experience. After the chatbot was released, users praised its accuracy on social media – testimony to the far-reaching impact technological innovation can have on brand reputation.

Automation and innovation go beyond the “front of house”, however. Consumers’ uptake of e-commerce means retailers need to manage and coordinate orders at a scale many haven’t experienced before. With shoppers now readjusting their habits, retailers must be prepared for everything, both online and offline. Tech solutions from companies such as Fluent Commerce, which has partnered with Dutch pharmaceutical retailer, Etos to roll-out a new order management system (OMS), will offer the capability to unify and automate the management of in-store and online orders. This includes inventory management, home delivery, ship from store, and click & collect. Research reveals that 90% of consumers who have been using click & collect more often since the pandemic will keep this up once restrictions are lifted. The unpredictability of the consumer landscape means future-proofing operations is vital for businesses, even after lockdowns ease.

Better collaboration for businesses

The world of work has also been reshaped since March 2020, as many experienced the mass migration from the office to remote working. Companies and employees alike have reflected on the pros and cons of the office and how teams can collaborate moving forward. Research from McKinsey & Company found that along with the acceleration of digital, the crisis has brought about a sea change in executive mindsets on the role of technology in business. In particular, companies with declining revenues acknowledged they were behind their peers in the use of digital technologies. 

One business benefiting from the digital acceleration is Zoom, with the firm’s sales in the last three months of 2020 up 370% compared to Q4 2019. While Zoom’s mission statement to “make video communications frictionless” reflects businesses’ priorities as they anticipate the rise in long-term remote working, there is an increasing emphasis on harnessing the creativity that can be lost without office spaces. Solutions such as BlueJeans, a video conferencing platform that focuses on collaboration, are offering a full array of whiteboard and screen sharing tools to help digitise offices. As the next step in workplace evolution, companies will continue to look for ways of facilitating meaningful collaboration between disparate teams.

 It’s clear that technological innovation will both guide and be guided by consumer behaviour. For businesses and brands, it is imperative to have a culture that encourages experimentation and acts early in response to changing demands.

To learn more about how technology is shaping the future, read our previous blogs at https://teamgingermay.com/thoughts.

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