Photo: During the pandemic, the use of the online channel has increased significantly and companies have adapted quickly to continue selling. Credit: Samantha Borges | Unsplash 

By Daniela Perdomo Martínez 
In the last six months we have witnessed a sharp transformation due to the coronavirus in all aspects of our lives. Our parents now shop at Amazon, we have replaced much of our traditional entertainment with digital platforms, and we value living near stores that offer us local products. If before the pandemic the physical channel was the favourite, because moving around could be part of the experience, and this channel coexisted with the online world, now the trend towards the digitl has accelerated, as has the awareness of sustainability driven by proximity consumption. The future is opening up to a scenario where both channels will have to coexist, but not as they have done until now.

Trend in consumption behavior 
Before the pandemic, consumer behavior had been evolving over the last few years towards omnicanality, creating an ecosystem where two purchase channels coexisted: the physical and the digital. Juan Perteguer, Digital Managener of Opinno, indicates that “the online channel has been growing considerably over the last five years, but a clear trend towards coexistence with physical spaces of consumption could be seen.” The expert assures that, before the arrival of the pandemic, it was common to buy over the Internet, but no as the only option: the shopping experience was carried ut by combining the two channels in an integrated way.

The consumer used the physical channel constantly as a showcase or to personally return a product that he had bought digitally and, once in the store, took advantage of the occasion to purchase some additional item. In this way, the two purchase models fed back into each other. However, now the situation has changed.

Photo: The arrival of the coronavirus has completely changed consumer behavior, which has been seen in the need to digitally consume both products and services. Credit: Christin Hume | Unsplash

COVID-19, catalyst for digital consumption 
The pandemic has been an accelerator of digital consumption. This impact on consumer behavior change has been significant during confinement, where there has been evidence of a willingness to buy products digitally that were previously purchased physically, according to the Havas Media Group Spain study. In fact, 72% of Spanish people bought some item online during the quarantine. This change in behavior has been seen not only in the purchase of products, but also in the hiring of digital services. The report states that there has been an increase in the use of digital means of payment and in general in the use of the Internet connection, which has risen by 32%. Another example is that, according to a report by McKinsey Spain, 21% of citizens have begun to use or have increased the frequency of use of services such as home delivery. 

From the consumer's point of view, the coronavirus has put pressure on a public that is reluctant to use the digital channel to carry out virtual transactions and, at the same time, it has been a way of “discovering” a purchase experience that these consumers would not have dared to try if it had not been for the confinement,” says Perteguer.

However, not all consumers have behaved in the same way. The EY analysis reveals other interesting data, such as that some consumers are making big adjustments to their budgets, while others continue to spend normally, but with other priorities. The general variable is that we are all changing the way we consume.

Photo: Even the people who used the physical channel par excellence lived the digital experience, mainly by contracting home deliveries, one of the services that has increased the most. Credit: Brandable Box | Unsplash

Reinvention, a mantra for companies 
Companies have had to respond to the situation and the behavior of customers. Or at least, try to. In the case of retailers, they have been losing ther omnicanality. With confinement, physical sales decreased by 46% compared to January; while online sales increased by 58%, according to data from the  Criteo study. In this sense, retailers with presence in both channels have been compensating the loss of sales in physical store with an increase in the virtual channel.

Perteguer assures that in the companies that have known how to adapt to the situation there has not been a digital transformation, but “an implementation of what had been established until now.” However, it has not been so easy for most organizations, since not all of them have an ecommerce or, even worse, not all of them were prepared to digitize their  processes. The expert adds: “It has been demonstrated that those who where digitally prepared, even if it was not their specialty, have been able to survive thanks to it.”

Online' vs. proximity 
After all this situation, these new behaviors have generated three consumption trends that, as the experts indicate, are probably not transient and are here to stay. According to an Accenture report, the first trend is a growing focus on health; the next is related to conscious consumption, as consumers increasingly strive to limit food waste and purchase more sustainable options; and finally, the growing interest in local products.

Photo: The initiatives that promote consumption of proximity will be the great obstacle that the digital channel has in the near future. Credit: María Lin Kim | Unsplash 

The latter is good news for local businesses, as these establishments have been disadvantaged compared to wholesalers with a digital presence. The rulers of many cities are beginning to implement measures to reactivate local commerce.

The best example is the initiative of the Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, who has launched the project La ville du quart d'heure (The city of fifteen minutes), urban planning which aims to achieve everything that a citixen needs just 15 minutes from home, either on foot or by bike. This will be a possible obstacle to online consumption in the coming years, because consuming local, fresh and seasonal products brings many advantages, also for sustainability: teh reduction of storage, packaging and fuel costs.

The coronavirus is leaving the consumer with great lessons, such as conscious consumption. Increasingly, consumers are thinking carefully about who they will buy a product or service from, and this depends not only on the purchasing facilities offered (online vs. proximity), but also on the transparent communication launched by the company. The future of consumption may be omnichannel again, but it is immersed in a transformation that will change the rules established so far.