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Why Digital-First Economy Means Digital-Only (For Now)

As COVID-19 rages on and lockdowns become a part of everyday life in many countries, we may be making the shift from the digital-first economy … to the digital-only economy.

ACI Worldwide estimates that the second wave of EMEA lockdowns has resulted in a more than 100 percent spike in eCommerce transactions in the retail sector alone, as measured across the first four days of November, and as measured year over year. That comes on the heels of double-digit percentage increases through the month of October across various verticals (and up 23 percent globally, overall).

And we’re not even firmly in the holiday shopping season yet.

Retail is the most obvious candidate for the great digital shift, but there are other data points that show just how entrenched digital has become. Frito-Lay, for example, has estimated that there has been a 300 percent increase in Americans who plan to shop for holiday foods through an online retailer versus last year.

The vaccine — or vaccines — when it (they) eventually appear, may do much to restore confidence in returning to on-premise commerce. As PYMNTS has reported, a vaccine is a major component in getting consumers confident enough to venture out. But it will take while to make sure the vaccine(s) on offer will be efficacious.

Behavioral Reinforcement

And as any behavioral scientist might tell you, the longer a behavior is positively reinforced, the more firmly it sticks. Might it be the case that the digital-only economy that we see take root this year amid lockdowns becomes the norm on the other side of the pandemic?

To quote Shakespeare and a play about a gloomy Dane, the readiness is all. And one thing is true about shifts — they keep going, like some Newtonian law of physics, if they can. PYMNTS research has identified at least one group, the digital shifters, who eye safety as one of the key determinants of how they will conduct commerce, and will stick with digital channels. Convenience shifters will (and do) embrace online conduits that offer their preferred ways to pay. Only 39.2 percent of “convenience shifters” and 30.5 percent of “safety shifters” are very or extremely interested in leaving their homes to resume daily activities, according to the most recent “The Great Reopening” report.

There’s a reason to think that we’ll move toward in-person commerce again — in droves, even — after a vaccine really changes the public health landscape for the better. A (slim) majority of consumers we surveyed have said they miss shopping in stores, at about 52 percent of all those sampled — so the willingness is there, albeit perhaps lukewarm at this stage.

But the advent of connected commerce may render even those in-person meetings between buyers and sellers, merchants and consumers, digital in nature. That would pave the way for an even greater embrace of buy online, curbside (or instore) pickup.

Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say. Necessity brought us to the great digital shift. We’re increasingly making it a way of life.

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