Which Pandemic-Driven Retail Trends Are Here to Stay?

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Many of the changes to retail shopping that took place during the pandemic-era were transient. Demand for curbside pickup and contactless delivery, for example, peaked in 2020 and 2021.  Other changes in retail trends have been more permanent. 

Across the country, retailers are continuing to see surging interest in mobile shopping and contactless payments. 

Fifty-percent of consumers now prefer their loyalty program rewards or rebates to be delivered digitally to their mobile devices, and the share of consumers who say they intend to use “three or more digital wallets” in the coming years went from 18% in 2021 to 30% in 2022. The number of consumers that use contactless payment has increased from 25 million to 31 million as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well.

The legacy model of carrying around a single leather wallet is gone — and by all measures, it appears it isn’t coming back anytime soon.

“A big takeaway that we have discovered is the shift toward digital wallets and contactless payment as a result of the pandemic,” says Russ Mann, vice president of marketing at the Advertising Checking Bureau (ACB), an organization that develops and manages local channel marketing programs for manufacturers and retailers. “We’ve seen studies that detail the changes in how consumers shop. Before the pandemic, 38% of consumers used digital wallets but that number has since increased to 55%.”

Mann and his team at the ACB have been monitoring pandemic-driven changes in buying behavior and the implications these changes can have on different markets. In his view, digital transformation has been “propelled years ahead of expectations” because of the pandemic. Consumers today feel more comfortable than ever connecting with brands via the internet or their mobile devices. 

“We’ve seen studies that revealed that since the pandemic, 59% of consumers have started, or increased, their use of digital wallets,” Mann says. “The shift to digital shopping methods has also seemed to contribute to an increase in shopping frequency, as 69% of consumers reported that they were shopping more often since adopting digital wallets.”

Brand Misconceptions

Simply having a mobile shopping option is not enough to meet consumer expectations and support modern buyer behaviors. In 2023 there is a lot of competition in the retail market, and because of the pandemic, offering an online shopping experience is no longer considered unique, Mann says. 

Consumers today are expecting more when they shop on their smartphones, as well. Rather than seeing those mobile shopping expectations as a burden or a hindrance, brands should see them as an opportunity to implement the kinds of changes that grab customer attention and exceed expectations.

“As more and more shoppers are choosing to make online purchases, brands should consider reflecting this behavior in their rebate and incentive programs. Offering digital or virtual rewards is a good way to connect with these shoppers that operate predominantly online. Connecting with these shoppers offers brands the opportunity for deeper engagement on loyalty and social platforms to upsell and cross-sell from their product portfolio,” Mann says. “Tying into a change we have seen in buying behavior where digital wallet use is becoming more prevalent, 84% of shoppers want to be able to redeem money stored on their digital wallets. Brands can meet these expectations by having redeemable virtual rewards as part of their incentive programs.”

Looking forward, Mann believes consumers will continue to shift toward seeking out more mobile shopping options. Brands will have to continue investing in developing innovative, engaging mobile experiences just to keep pace.

“Mobile shopping provides consumers with convenience and a seamless experience that is not limited by geography, store availability or time. As brands continue to shift their business models to reflect customer preferences of an online shopping experience, the use of mobile shopping technology will become more prevalent,” Mann says. “Driving retailer app usage through customized offers and rebates will also be key to future customer engagement and user experience.”

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.