The list of “un” words goes on and on, and the descriptions tend toward the negative. But there’s another way to describe 2020 these days: “almost over,” as there are only 17 days left before 2021 gets off and running.
And just as important, the pandemic that has defined most of the year can likewise be accurately described as nearing its end. As of Monday (Dec. 14), the first doses of vaccines went to Americans, particularly frontline medical workers who need them most.
Which leaves the big question: What happens next? When COVID-19 is gone six months or a year from now, what will consumers be like? Will they return to the old normal and ditch all of those new digital habits, or will they decide that the outside world is overrated and stick to their clean, connected lives?
The reality will likely fall somewhere in between those two extremes. The past eight months of data that PYMNTS has collected from consumers tell a pretty clear story on that point.
There are plenty of things about the outside world that consumers miss and are likely going to get back to as soon as they get an “all clear” from health authorities and caseloads start to really retreat. For example, many desperately want to get back out to seeing family and friends, and they increasingly want to dine in restaurants again.
They also liked traveling internationally and hope to get back to it someday. And they look forward to attending live events in person once more. They even, in many cases, kind of miss their daily commute into the office.
Consumers’ habits changed a lot in the past eight months, but consumers didn’t become different people entirely. There are plenty of parts of their old lives that many will seek to return to.
But not all, because what the PYMNTS data has also increasingly indicated is that many consumers have transitioned in their commerce habits in ways they’ll be loath to let go even when the pandemic passes.
Some of these new digitized habits are poised to go the distance and simply become a part of the new normal.
Shopping: It’s Not Just for Weekends Anymore
For example, the latest edition of the PYMNTS/Visa 2020 How We Will Pay report shows an interesting change in U.S. consumer habits. Few consumers build their shopping around a Monday-through-Friday, 9-to-5 work schedule any more.
Connected devices mean many Americans run errands whenever it happens to be convenient during the week. For instance, the report found that in 2019, nearly three quarters of U.S. consumers did their grocery shopping on Saturday or Sunday, a figure that dropped all the way to 53 percent in 2020.
Even fewer consumers report shopping for retail purchases on weekends during 2020. According to PYMNTS data, just 46 percent of consumers shop for retail goods on the weekend now, whereas 65 percent did so in 2019. That equates to a decline of 48 million U.S. consumers.
The figures show that consumers now dictate their shopping schedules based on the convenience enabled by online and mobile channels as opposed to buying things on a fixed day of the week. And since consumers don’t adopt difficulty for its own sake, having tried and found these new digitally enabled shopping methods convenient, it seems unlikely they’ll default back to weekend shopping.
Digital Grocery Has Gained Ground
Consumers have also warmed up to digital grocery shopping quite significantly over the past eight months, and in a way that strongly indicates they won’t be abandoning it anytime soon.
According to PYMNTS’ latest Omnichannel Grocery report, 63.9 percent of U.S. consumers have bought groceries via digital channels during the pandemic, whether using a traditional desktop website, a mobile app or an aggregator.
As to how they like to receive those groceries once ordered, at-home delivery tends to lead among consumers, with 42.2 percent reporting using it. That stacks up against the 39.7 percent who’ve opted for curbside pickup and 35.2 percent who’ve picked up their orders in store.
Still, consumers do show some lasting preference for some in-store shopping, particularly when it comes to perishable goods. Some 83.1 percent of grocery shoppers who buy fruits and vegetables prefer doing so in store, as do 81.3 percent who buy fresh meat. So do 77.3 percent of shoppers who buy dairy products.
But the research also shows that 21.1 percent of all consumers who buy non-food grocery items such as shampoo, first-aid items and cleaning products do so online, while 14.3 percent who buy packaged food products do as well.
This strongly suggests that consumers enjoy the experience of buying groceries online, save for those products (fruit, vegetables, meat, etc.) that they feel they need to inspect in person before buying.
And, notably, consumers have gotten more comfortable over time moving their produce purchases online as well. That means the digital grocery seems to be growing up into a new retail reality as opposed to a limited-time solution to an unusual problem.
Voice Assistants as the New Commerce Concierge
According to PYMNTS/Visa 2020 How We Will Pay data, consumers are also chatting up their voice assistants to shop and pay throughout the day.
Eight million consumers used voice assistants to make purchases while shopping for retail goods or grocery products during the survey period. That’s an increase of 45 percent since 2018 and 8 percent since 2019.
Moreover, the data revealed that 14 percent of all voice-assisted purchases are made while consumers are doing other things around the house. Voice device ownership also increased 5 percent in 2020, and one-third of U.S. consumers now report that they own one.
That figure grows even higher what one looks at just bridge millennials, who are both more likely than the average consumer to own voice-enabled devices — and almost twice as likely to use them to make purchases.