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Pandemic ‘Sparks’ Innovation Across Consumer, Retail Sector

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Arthur Zaczkiewicz
·4 min read
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Despite the challenges and supply chain disruptions triggered by the global pandemic, researchers at Accenture assert that COVID-19 has “sparked a new wave of innovation” across the consumer and retail industry. The assessment is based on a survey of more than 9,600 consumers across 19 countries.

Authors of the report, released today, said, “Successful consumer-facing companies are repurposing physical locations, exploring new business models, and rapidly adopting advanced analytics and other disruptive technologies to find new sources of growth.” Accenture said the pandemic has “changed the way people live, work and socialize, accelerating demand for innovation, as retailers, consumer goods, and travel companies shift from reacting to the crisis to reinventing products and services.”

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Oliver Wright, senior managing director and head of Accenture’s global consumer goods industry group, said the “ripple effects of the pandemic will be felt for some time and serve as a powerful illustration of the need for consumer-facing companies to be agile, resilient and responsive to change.”

“Born out of disaster and necessity comes opportunity; the pandemic has sparked a new wave of innovation,” Wright said. “As companies fundamentally rethink ways of doing business that deliver growth, many are using advanced analytical capabilities to spot, respond and target changing consumption trends. For instance, British beer company, Brewdog responded with agility and creativity throughout the crisis — shifting to produce hand sanitizer, creating virtual bars, setting up the Brewdog Drive-Thru, and repurposing physical locations to create coworking space with Desk Dog.”

Digging into the survey results showed that 95 percent of those polled said they made “at least one change to their lifestyle that they expect will be permanent.”

“Working from home, changing travel patterns, and a growing desire to shop locally are challenging industries to fundamentally rethink how they cater to the pandemic-adapted consumer,” Accenture said in a statement.

One notable trend identified in the report is the emergence of the “third space,” Accenture said.

“The pandemic forced a rapid shift to employees working from home, with many expressing that they want flexibility in how and where they work moving forward,” the authors of the report stated. “More than three-quarters (79 percent) of respondents said they would like to occasionally work from a ‘third space’ — a location other than their home or place of employment — and more than half said they would be willing to pay up to $100 per month out of their own pockets to work from a café, bar, hotel, or retailer with a dedicated space. This highlights a potential opportunity to grow revenue for the hospitality and retail industries.”

The idea of a third space was pioneered on a large scale by Starbucks, which the company calls a “third place” where patrons use the café to relax, read, work, meet and network. The “third place” is part of the company’s guiding principles.

Accenture said the desire to work in a “third space” dovetails with a change in attitude toward business travel. Of those polled, 46 percent said they have “no business travel plans post-pandemic, or they intend to cut previous business travel by half.”

“How long this view will hold firm remains to be seen, but the current outlook indicates that the return to travel will resume principally within the leisure market, pushing the industry to adapt and become even more efficient to make up for lost income,” Accenture stated.

Emily Weiss, managing director and head of Accenture’s global travel industry group, said the global pandemic “has forced ‘creative pragmatism’, especially for travel and hospitality firms grappling to find additional revenue streams during the crisis.”

“Some hotels turned rooms into pop-up restaurants while others experimented with offering temporary office space to customers seeking a ‘third space’ to work,” Weiss said. “While there has been experimentation with innovation in select pockets, companies need to scale these new services and address travelers’ renewed focus on health and safety, for example, by using the cloud to help enable fully contactless interactions.”

Most notable of all changes in consumer behavior has been online shopping. Accenture said prior to the pandemic, 25 percent of purchases of fashion apparel, luxury goods, food and home décor were made online. These categories are now seeing triple-digit growth.

Jill Standish, senior managing director and head of Accenture’s global retail industry group, said that leading retailers and brands “were quick to adapt to the surge in e-commerce and are using technology to serve customers in new ways.”

“Many adopted disruptive technologies such as augmented reality to recreate the physical store experience and help shoppers better visualize a room of furniture or an outfit, while others repurposed closed stores into local fulfillment centers with picking and packing technology,” Standish explained. “Even in a post-pandemic world, companies will need to satisfy consumers’ appetite for online shopping with fast delivery and get more intentional about the investments they will make in their people, supply chains, physical stores, and digital channels to be well positioned to drive growth.”