There is no doubt that the pandemic has disrupted almost every aspect of people’s lives over the past two years. At first, there was a shared expectation that one day, soon, everything would be back to normal – and it seems many still have hope for that. Yet, as the third year of the pandemic begins, there is a growing understanding that there will be no return to the current situation. As people navigated through new ways of working, parenting, learning and living, it was not just the circumstances of everyday life that changed, but the way people choose to live it. Their priorities have changed to accommodate a new outlook on life, bringing new expectations and preferences for living life – as consumers and as employees.
I recently spoke to Gary S. Laben, CEO of Dynata, the world’s largest data and insights platform for insights, activation and measurement, about this new era he calls the ” new economy of experience”. Laben shared insights from Dynata’s latest report, Global Consumer Trends: The New Experience Economy, which uses responses from 11,000 consumers in 11 countries to better understand and illuminate emerging trends.
Gary Drenik: What is the new experience economy and why should leaders pay attention to it?
Gary S. Laben: The pandemic has changed almost everyone’s life. New mindsets and behaviors emerged as people redefined their values and redefined their life priorities.
The pandemic has also led to widespread digital adoption, as people have been able to work, shop, and connect with others from the comfort of their homes. This dramatic increase in virtual experiences over the past two years has also changed preferences and attitudes about everything from augmented reality and the metaverse to cryptocurrencies. Essentially, the way people choose to live every aspect of their lives has changed profoundly. We call it the new experience economy.
We still see a desire to get back to normal, and while that’s understandable, our data shows that we can’t reset the clock. Organizations that fall back on the same ways of operating that served them before the pandemic must prepare for a different response from employees and stakeholders. At the same time, opportunities abound for innovators looking to shape the future of work, shopping, payments, culture and entertainment.
Drenik: How have people’s priorities changed? What can we learn about what is most – and least – important to people?
Laben: Overall, people are now more focused on themselves and their loved ones. Continued isolation, stress and health issues have caused people to prioritize quality time with loved ones and focus more on their physical and mental health. These are also top priorities for Americans, while spending time and energy on work is a far lesser concern.
We know that the pandemic has inspired many people to maintain close ties through video calling platforms. What’s interesting is that even though social distancing and Covid-19 restrictions have eased, Zoom, Facetime, WhatsApp and WeChat have become a staple of life – a way to stay close to friends and his family.
Drenik: It makes sense that as people redefine their priorities, attitudes towards work also change. We see this playing out now in the Great Resignation. What can we learn about how people choose to experience work?
Laben: It’s actually quite interesting, as we see several themes developing in the American workforce. Of course, the big quit, with so many people dropping out of the workforce and forcing organizations to recruit and retain talent. Many factors have led to this point, but the result is an economy where employees have the bargaining power – and they know it.
Our survey found that Americans are particularly confident about their job prospects. Two in three agree that there are plenty of good jobs right now, giving them more opportunity to rethink their working lives. Many are also looking for a change.
What are they looking for? Flexibility. When considering the most important qualities in their ideal job, a flexible work schedule ranked first (after salary and benefits, which are table stakes). And 55% prefer the option of working remotely, either entirely or as part of a hybrid plan.
A recent Prosper Insights & Analytics survey also shows that working remotely avoids travel, is safer than working in the office, and saves people money. Generational differences are also emerging, with Gen Z and Millennials much more interested in work/life balance and the possibility of having a “side job” when working from home.
Drenik: This is a report on global consumer trends, so let’s dive into consumer trends. What can we learn about online shopping and augmented reality? Will brick and mortar stores become a relic of the past?
Laben: There is no doubt that online shopping has increased over the past two years. Eighty-six percent of U.S. consumers now shop online, with 62% reporting an increase from pre-pandemic times. Prosper’s data also recognizes that we’ve reached a new normal: people are buying more online and less in-store than at the start of the pandemic, with little fluctuation over the past eight months. Despite predictions to the contrary, consumers are not ready to give up the physical shopping experience. The future of retail is fascinating.
Our report indicates that consumers – US and global – want the best of both worlds, balancing convenience and quality control. Online shopping offers greater convenience and flexibility to shop anytime while avoiding in-store crowds. But the lack of quality control and the inability to touch and smell the products make shopping online an imperfect solution.
Neither option is going away, but augmented reality can help bridge the gap between the two — and could improve both. Nearly half of Americans surveyed expressed at least some interest in augmented reality shopping experiences; among them, eight out of 10 would be at least somewhat likely to make a purchase.
Drenik: Speaking of augmented reality, let’s talk about online experiences and the metaverse. Is there a real appetite for experiencing events in a virtual setting, or is it all hype?
Laben: Absolutely. American consumers believe the metaverse has the most potential to transform their experience of culture, entertainment and travel, with younger people being the most interested. While one in five Americans believe the Metaverse could transform social and cultural experiences, Millennials and Gen Z consumers are significantly more enthusiastic about its potential – with travel, concerts and gaming being the activities the most popular.
People find virtual entertainment experiences convenient and economical, but they also agree that it doesn’t equate to being there in person, which it is. The opportunity is not to replace in-person experiences, but to enhance and expand social opportunities. This will create new revenue streams and new customers, and in doing so, give people an unprecedented opportunity to access experiences and places.
Drenik: It’s not just digital experiences, but also digital currencies on the rise, right? Are consumers ready to embrace cryptocurrency?
Laben: We certainly see that alternative currencies are no longer unconventional. Nearly one in three US consumers – and one in five globally – have purchased or invested in cryptocurrency.
Americans are also very open to being paid in crypto, especially Millennials and men. Fifty percent of Millennials (and 60% of millennial men) are extremely or very interested in getting paid in crypto.
Drenik: Thank you, Gary, for your thoughts on the new experience economy. This understanding of consumer perceptions and priorities is critical for organizations preparing for a post-pandemic future.