Survey hints at the rise of a new digital consumer post-pandemic

Technology hooked up homebound Australians during lockdown and the changes will resonate into the future

Credit: Dreamstime

A quarter of Australians say working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic has made them enjoy work more; 45% are seeing quality of life improvements through the flexibility of working from home, more than 50% of people believe their smartphone has made them feel less isolated, and women are more likely than men to find working from home easier, according to the new Deloitte Digital Consumer Trends 2020 report.

The Deloitte Digital Consumer Trends Survey replaces the company’s annual Mobile Consumer Survey. As mobility has begun to intersect with other areas of Australians’ digital lives, the report has evolved to focus on the digital consumer, the enabling technologies in their lives and how consumption and attitudinal trends are developing.

The 2020 Australian findings are based on a nationally representative sample of 2000 consumers aged 18 to 75, polled online during June and July 2020, a time when most of Australia was coming out of its first lockdown and experiencing ongoing movement restrictions.

Deloitte partner and national telecommunications lead, Peter Corbett, said: “The devastating impact of COVID-19, and the resulting lockdown, has undoubtedly acted as a catalyst: speeding up consumers’ digital adoption and introducing new trends at a rate few could have predicted. During lockdown, digital became our window to the outside world, and each other, as we craved connection.

“This year’s Digital Consumer Trends survey explores the rise in online shopping, banking, video streaming and device purchases in response to the lockdown. As Australian businesses look to define their new normal, understanding the immediate and long-term impact of COVID-19 on digital behaviours is paramount. We believe the extreme events of this pandemic will spawn the digital trends of tomorrow.”

Working from home is working out

Digital technology enabling people to work from home (WFH) is improving their perception of their jobs overall. Twice as many respondents (25%) said they now enjoy work more as a result of working from home, compared to those who find it more stressful (12%). Whether it’s more time spent with the kids or fitting in a quick surf before the workday starts, 45% of respondents said greater flexibility to manage their day is improving their lifestyle. More than 90% of Australians are benefitting from reduced travel needs, with a third gaining nearly a whole productive day back per week (5.5 hours). It’s leaving more time for life admin and recreational activities.

Deloitte Consulting Partner, Kate Huggins, said: “Thirty-seven percent of our Australian survey respondents are now working from home – almost five times more than pre-pandemic levels. While over half of Australians who work from home have had an almost seamless experience from a technology perspective, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for all respondents – one-in-five said they lose a productive day a month due to ineffective tech. And without access to the office, technology issues can be hard to remedy.

“Overall, though, most of us are feeling positive about the shift, with more survey respondents finding the experience of working from home easier (41%) than harder (28%) to manage. There is one clear trend in the data: female respondents appear to have an easier working from home experience (50%) than their male counterparts (35%). This not only suggests they may be more adept at the art of flexible working but could be more likely to continue working from home after the pandemic too.”

“Siri, what day is it?”

As the days in lockdown rolled into one, digital devices emerged as both a source of entertainment and a point of connection. This period of intense social isolation has shifted the way we use these devices.

Twenty-six per cent of respondents picked up a new digital device as a direct result of being at home through the pandemic. Laptops, smartphones and televisions saw the biggest increase in one-off purchases, with close to 10% of respondents shelling out for these personal or home entertainment devices. Laptops are proving popular for online shopping, and television and game consoles have re-established their dominance in streaming and gaming respectively. Despite people being less mobile, the smartphone has further cemented its position as their digital gateway to the world.

“We may technically be in a recession, but consumers appear to be spending on the devices that help them feel connected,” Corbett said. “While forced isolation and closed off borders could have created a more insular society, we’ve seen a focus on connection through the pandemic.

“We have increased our use of all screens in our search for ‘collective experiences’: using devices to connect over Zoom, through email, via networked gaming with friends and by plugging into pop culture to watch the same TV streaming shows as our friends and colleagues. A lasting legacy of this pandemic will be a greater awareness of the preciousness of human-to-human contact – whatever form it takes. This focus on connection is likely to persist, along with the technology and devices that make it possible.”

More than half of the people surveyed said they used their smartphone more during lockdown – primarily for communication or entertainment – reinforcing their search for connection. Thirty-five percent of respondents spent more time checking social networks, 31% streaming films or TV series, and 26% watching TV programs.

The rise in the number of people using social media can be partly explained by lockdown. More than half (52%) believe smartphones have made them feel less isolated, solidifying their connection with both the device itself and the social media platforms they access on it.

“Clearly, our connection with social media is complicated,” Corbett said. “In the 2019 Mobile Consumer Survey, 60% of Australians said they wanted to limit their mobile phone use. While we appear to have compartmentalised our concerns about smartphone addiction for now, this may return with a vengeance after the pandemic.”

The way we pay has changed

As we tried to keep our distance through the pandemic, more Australians were logging on to shop. During lockdown, online purchasing of non-grocery items increased to 24% of respondents in 2020, with 55% stating that the shift is permanent.

Laptops have taken over as the dominant device for online purchases. But 46% of respondents are also using smartphones to browse shopping websites and apps, with 34% purchasing a product via their mobiles.

More Australians are accessing banking services on smartphones, with 63% of respondents regularly checking their bank balances. Specifically, older generations (55+ years) are embracing the push towards online banking, with 80% of respondents intending to continue following the lockdown.

“The pandemic has not only made Australians more comfortable with online transactions but could pave the way for digital interactions to be our default,” Huggins said. “Consequently, we anticipate that the role of physical sales and service channels in the customer journey needs to be reimagined.”

Will technology save us? Or harm us?

Contact tracing apps, QR codes and temperature checks – technology is helping Australians stay one step ahead in the fight against COVID-19. Eighty percent believe the companies they interact with use their data, yet only 31 per cent of respondents were significantly worried regarding the use of personal data by companies they interact with online, a decline from 54% in 2018.

General attitudes towards 5G remain cautious, with only 6% of respondents using a 5G service. Only 15% of respondents say they are willing to switch as soon as 5G becomes available in their region. Most are currently ambivalent or uninterested; 31% said they would probably switch eventually, and 19% only when 5G was the standard offering and there was no alternative.

Another concern is the increase in conspiracy theories linking 5G to health risks and the spread of COVID-19. Australia is managing this perception well, with just 16% of respondents believing there are health risks associated with the technology, similar to countries such as the UK (14%) and China (13%). Respondents from countries such as Austria (36%) and Ireland (20%) show a higher proportion of the population believe these risks exist.

“As there was with 3G and 4G before it, there is some public scepticism around 5G,” Corbett said. “This is in part driven by the general public’s poor understanding of the technology with 61% of respondents saying they do not know enough about 5G. It points to a huge opportunity for networks to engage Australians and highlight the benefits of 5G to their lives – particularly at a time when digital connection has never been more important. While consumers know little about 5G, 43% believe it provides better mobile connectivity. Capitalising on this feature could be key to its uptake.”

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By Mike Gee

PC World
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