As COVID-19 recedes in much of the developed world and economies reopen, business leaders are asking themselves if the online operating models they ramped up during the crisis will have staying power or if consumers will return to the mall, the doctor’s office, and the local bank branch. Short answer: there’s no going back.
On average, 70 percent of the increase in online activity that has occurred since the pandemic erupted will continue after it ends, according to an Oliver Wyman Forum survey of consumer sentiment in 10 major countries. The digital stickiness is remarkably consistent across sectors, ranging from 56 percent for buying auto or home insurance to roughly 75 percent for buying prescriptions, doing routine banking transactions, and consulting a financial advisor.
The durability of digital habits shows that many consumers value the ease and convenience of online shopping. The growth potential and the challenge of fulfilling it will vary by sector, but the opportunity for companies that rise to the challenge is meaningful across the board.
Consider the more digitally mature financial sector. Before the crisis, people were already conducting nearly half their routine banking transactions online. Yet digital banking activity still jumped by 27 percent during the pandemic, and consumers expect more than three quarters of that to persist.
Food retailing sits at the other end of the spectrum. Online grocery shopping doubled among our survey respondents, and they expect more than two thirds of those digital habits to continue. That’s a big boost for an industry that typically sees overall annual growth in the low to mid-single digits. And the potential to extend those gains in coming years is dramatic as people estimate that even after the recent gains, online will account for only 14 percent of their grocery shopping.
Digitization can bring wider social benefits as well. The percentage of people who went online to fill prescriptions doubled to 16 percent in the pandemic. Compare that to the first wave of the pandemic in the United States last year, when overall prescription volume fell by more than 10 percent from March to June as lockdowns and fear of contagion kept many people in their homes. Online capabilities enabled many people to obtain much-needed medicines at a very trying time. That’s yet one more reason why digital channels are a must-have for almost every business.
To retain the rapid growth in digital adoption, companies cannot coast on what’s been gained during the pandemic. Instead it is more important than ever to recognize the opportunity, stay close to their customers’ evolving needs, and continue to reimagine the customer experience.