/ Is this the 'Real' Digital Revolution?

For many years people spoke about the digital revolution that was underway — remotely distributed teams, ‘digital nomads’, cloud-based services and the indomitable rise of online shopping.

It was an emerging norm, but for many of those not working in the tech sector it was something that would happen, gradually, until it took hold indefinitely at some point in the future. Everyone knew the rise of e-commerce was slowly decimating the UK high street in the form we currently know it... but we never knew there would be such a potent accelerant to fan the flames just around the corner.

Around the world, the lockdowns which happened in the first quarter of 2020 led to a seismic global shift of mindset and workplace change. Something that was going to happen gradually got a shot in the arm, and happened a lot sooner. Stocks in tech firms soared. People were forced to shop for everything online. Working from home was actively encouraged. 

But the big question now is whether consumer behaviours have adjusted — and will stay this way — now that the lockdowns are being eased. Many commentators predict that the changes happening now will be permanent. Lockdowns lasted long enough for new habits to form (this takes 66 days on average according to UCL research) which means that some switches made during this time (from going to the cinema to a night in front of Netflix, gym membership to online fitness videos, or a physical schlep around a supermarket to an online grocery shop from your sofa) are less likely to ‘snap’ back.

Some things will, I believe, return in some semblance to how they were before. The bottom may have fallen out of the aviation sector for the moment, but people are creatures of habit — the desire for a holiday and a change of scene could soon override the initial impulse to avoid travel, once travel is deemed ‘safer’. In fact Brand Gym’s David Taylor points out that after 9/11, “fear forced people to stop flying, even though they were legally allowed to do this. Yet within a year there was a sharp snap-back in demand encouraged by tightened security measures”

But what form this travel will take remains to be seen, although our work with WSP's Future Mobility department has given us great insight into future predictions of this behaviour. With regards to tourism this could mean more car journeys in the short term, as people favour domestic getaways; while many business flights might forevermore be deemed too costly (environmentally as well as financially) when faced with the now global norm of meeting clients in a Zoom room. 

What is clear is that while some behaviours of our lives will bounce back in some form or another, other aspects have been catalysed. By this I mean: digital. 

Arguably the only known is that the use of digital interfaces are now becoming all the more part of the fabric of our day-to-day lives. Brands who don’t understand this now, really need to sit up and take notice. 

Tim Berners-Lee might have invented the World Wide Web in 1989, but this truly is the start of the real digital revolution. Virtual schoolrooms, online conference calls, webinars, contactless payments, e-commerce stores with real-time chatbots replacing shop assistants — even the adoption of QR codes to scan menus in restaurants — our digital experiences (and normalisation of these) are on the ascent. The combination of our movement towards a more digitally-enabled world pre-Covid, combined with our tendency to ‘switch’ to certain behaviours after this lockdown period, mean that that time is now. And that time is digital.

— Cat How, Creative Director & Co-Founder