Bricks & Mortar Is Dead. Digital Still Sucks

About half of us don’t trust public spaces, avoid travel, won’t go to dine-in restaurants, and won’t shop in bricks-and-mortar stores. And that’s not changing any time soon … even if Covid-19 miraculously goes away, or a vaccine is available tomorrow.

But there’s more bad news.

The digital substitutes for these real-world activities still suck.

Those are the conclusions of an almost-3,000-person international study on brands, people, and digital experiences. Essentially, our pandemic habits have become exactly that: habits. And they’re going to stick around for at least some period of time, even after Coronavirus is gone. But unfortunately, the digital infrastructure that we’ve built to replace our former shopping and dining and travel habits … still has gaping holes. And still doesn’t really meet our needs the way it theoretically could.

Behavior change, even after Covid-19, according to the study:

  • 58% of people will continue to avoid crowds
  • 52% will avoid unnecessary travel
  • 46% will spend less time inside stores
  • 45% will dine out less often

“Communicating with businesses, friends, and family via messaging, video, and other mobile/online services — instead of in-person — are also behaviors that will endure,” says Sinch, the company behind the study. “And yet, the research shows enterprise brands have been slow to innovate via messaging.”

The problem is that even though 97% of corporate executives believe that Covid-10 sped up digital transformation, that transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, money, and major integration effort. So there are big gaps between what we want from companies we buy from, and what we’re actually getting.

Digital business-to-customer gaps, according to the study:

  • 91% of us want to get notified about suspicious activity by our banks and credit card companies; 31% get notified  
  • 89% of us want to hear about service outages; 27% actually do 
  • 88% of people want text messages about urgent public health care issues; 24% get them
  • 88% of people would like to be able to make appointments by text or messaging; 36% can 
  • 78% of us would like mobile or online health assessments with medical professionals; 14% can actually get them
  • 73% of people would like personalized videos for services a brand will render (like what a mechanic needs to do to fix your car); 16% do 

The trend is not hard to discern.

“Customers are now overwhelmingly mobile-first, and they want utility at the press of a button: the ability to reserve, confirm, purchase, cancel, inform, entertain, and seek connections in an intuitive, personalized way,” says Sinch CMO Jonathan Bean. “These behaviors aren’t going to change, and brands need to adapt accordingly for the long haul.”

The result of the pandemic is that our behaviors have significantly changed. Shopify and Amazon and Peloton and Zoom are doing record business thanks to those changes. UPS and Fedex have seen years worth of growth in just weeks. DocuSign stock is up 176% in 2020. Meanwhile, some of the worst-performing stocks are Walgreens, Marriott, and Ross Stores.

One of the key differentiators: mobile presence.

“So many great brands have almost no mobile presence, while tech giants take all the revenue,” says FollowAnalytics founder Samir Addamine, which builds low-code mobile apps for brands like Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company (full disclosure: I do some consulting for FollowAnalytics). “You need to be where your customers already are.”

The challenge, of course, is time. Consumers are going to use solutions that are available now: they won’t wait months or years for a brand get their ducks in a row. Nor, of course, will investors.

The Sinch study surveyed a panel of 2,890 consumers across 14 countries. The full report is available here.

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