Op-Ed: Socially Distant, Digitally Connected

The importance of connection in traumatic times.

Contrary to what is seen on television, COVID-19 has shown that survival tools such as a speedy internet connection and a smartphone or computer device are essential today when a disaster or, in this case, an infectious virus strikes. 

Sakeena Karam, analyst at Hall and Partners MENA, gives us her take on what it means to be digitally connected during the pandemic.

Consumers nowadays are living a connected lifestyle. They socialize, communicate, watch, shop and even manage their environment through their digital devices – slowly but surely integrating technology into their everyday activities. The COVID-19 crisis has further accelerated this digital shift, highlighting the critical role that digital plays, not only in consumers’ lives but also for brands to quickly adapt and stay connected during these difficult times.

The pandemic became a catalyst for digital adoption by consumers and brands. Within 8 weeks, the e-commerce industry grew to levels that were projected to take 4 – 6 years. Increase in usage of telemedicine served as a potential option for those seeking medical care. A recorded 62 million downloads of video conferencing applications were seen in the beginning of the pandemic as employees settled into their remote work setting. Disney+ achieved a subscriber base of 50 million in 5 months, which its rival, Netflix, took 7 years to build.

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While businesses adapt to this fast-tracked boom in technology, consumers are also embracing the change as 1 in 5 consumers reported purchasing their groceries online for the first time – 1 in 3 for those 56 and above. In the past, shopping for groceries online was uncommon, but that is no longer the case. Hall & Partners’ Global People Pulse reported that 34% of consumers are buying through online or through apps. There appears to be less reluctancy with digital. Locally, around half are making more online purchases, with card or digital wallet the preferred method of payment for 61%. For a population that was more inclined towards cash payments, this is quite the transformation.

Despite the situation slowly returning to ‘normal’, most consumers are confident that they will continue with these behaviors. What COVID-19 has done through its quarantine and lockdowns, is that it reinforced these digital habits in consumers building their trust, resilience and showing them the convenience that was always present yet rarely experienced.

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It is no surprise that a digital takeover was coming. However, the outbreak was the nudge consumers and brands needed to jump into this digital landscape. As consumer habits shift to incorporate a digital life – with even the less tech savvy now moving towards the connected lifestyle – brands need to push efforts in serving this consumer segment by focusing on security, convenience and building trust.