Reimagined Experiences: A Crisis Silver Lining
By Christopher Bevel
When was the last time you bought a book on Amazon.com? I recently looked back on my Amazon orders and realized that I haven’t purchased an actual printed book (you remember those right?) in almost two years.
Now, my order history is topped off with everything I used to have to drive over to my local grocery store, Target or Best Buy to pickup. And, yes– I admit it– I have bought paper towels from Amazon recently.
Reviewing my online order history reminded me of just how many of our daily experiences have been reimagined, improved, made more convenient, more safe.
Crisis Drives Innovation
I have followed business and digital innovation trends for a number of years. It seems that key inflection points in how business and personal lives intersect to create new and improved experiences go through periods of major change every 10 or 20 years. And of course, we’re in the middle of one right now: the Coronavirus Pandemic.
History teaches us that crises can drive positive innovation for the good of humankind. Crisis has a way of shocking the system; providing that ‘kick in the pants’ motivation we sometimes need. And it’s for the good. Re-thinking and funding of new technical, scientific, and policy actions all seem to have one feature in common: they solve big problems that had been left neglected before.
Crisis gives us courage to go down completely unknown paths. It gives us a new bigger reason to question assumptions and take on risk. The one big silver lining that we should take from the Pandemic is that it is proving to be an accelerator for some amazing supply-chain, e-commerce and digital experience innovation across many industries. This innovation is being driven out of necessity to save lives, plain and simple. I cannot think of a better reason for innovation.
So, as I have observed all of the courageous innovation taking place in the world, I wanted to provide a summary of how it has (and will) changed my personal experiences as a consumer and worker.
I love to cook. I’m usually cooking 4 nights a week. I really enjoy discovering new recipes and finding new ways to use ingredients, especially if I can use up what’s left over in the fridge.
For years, I have been a huge fan of grocery shopping. Ok, so I’m weird; I don’t care – I love grocery stores, especially ones that I haven’t been in before. Whenever I travel, I usually stop in the local grocery store. It’s actually a great way to get a feel for the local community vibe.
In short, I’m a dedicated in-store grocery shopping geek. So, it’s a tough sell to convince me to switch to online grocery shopping.
Then the Pandemic happened. As with many things, it changed my thinking on visiting grocery stores. Since March, going to a grocery store has become a much less desirable event. Long lines to enter the store. One-way aisles. People on edge.
Recently, I discovered Amazon Grocery Delivery, via our local Whole Foods Market. Wow – this is a reimagining of an experience that has been a staple of our lives for over a hundred years. And it works! Amazon grocery delivery is dependable and saves time. Ok sure, there are the occasional substitutes to deal with. But still, I can’t believe how easy and enjoyable the whole experience is, from browsing and comparing items, saving my cart for later, to having my groceries delivered fast – sometimes even within a few hours. The personalized recommendations are helpful to discover new products based on my previous purchases; it’s a reimagined trade promotions system.
Amazon’s continual optimizations make the value proposition bundle better and better. Amazon Fresh is free with Prime with free shipping in select cities. Amazon.com offers free two-hour delivery of Whole Foods Market items with a Prime membership. It’s a completely contactless experience. I even get a text photo confirmation of front door delivery – very cool.
For years, grocery stores have been laggards when it comes to change, especially store experience and digital innovations. I’m so pleased to see how much of this has changed in response to the Pandemic. And, it’s not just grocery; it’s all of retail that is undergoing massive change. Supply-chains are becoming more flexible. E-commerce and curbside pickup is now the norm. In-store safety and efficiencies are new priorities. You may even see a new kind of grocery shopper in the aisle with you: the online order shopper, who is filling their cart for someone else. These changes, along with new ‘dark stores‘ are fascinating developments in the grocery industry.
The reimagined grocery shopping experience is paying off. A year ago, only 16 million customers were filling their grocery carts online. Now, that number is over 45 million, a 280% jump in just one year. US online grocery sales grew to a record $7.2 billion in June 2020.
Going To Work
I have worked from my home office since mid March. So, along with millions of other people, I have learned to adjust my way of working to the new normal of shelter in place. I don’t especially like it; but I deal with it, and count myself fortunate to remain employed.
Several companies have announced that their working arrangements will permanently change to remote or stay remote for the foreseeable future. And, it seems to work just fine for many organizations. A Global Workplace Analytics survey showed that 77% of workers say they’re fully productive at home. And managers are largely satisfied with their work performance.
So, the new normal of working has changed so many things about how we work:
- Going to work (walk from one room to another at home)
- Meeting with co-workers (log on to the web conference / team chat)
- Completing critical tasks (try to find a quiet place away from home distractions)
- Having a team-building lunch (it’s now a virtual lunch, order food for delivery ahead of web conference)
Aside from productivity, I believe team wellness (physical and mental) should be a focus for healthy work-life balance in the post-Covid world of work. Doing regular team check-ins and making time for virtual ‘water cooler’ talks should be part of the regular routine. Working from home isn’t for everyone, so managers should make every effort to help the team adjust. There are lots of great examples out there we can learn from.
Buying A Car
I’ve been shopping for a new car recently. I usually start with online car marketplaces such as CarGurus.com or AutoTrader.com to get a sense of what’s available in my price range. Then I’ll check out KBB.com or Edmunds.com to find out what my trade-in is worth, and what a fair offer for the replacement would be. I really like the calculators that help me figure out what my car is worth in my local market.
Recently, I’ve noticed Youtube ads for Carvana.com, ‘The New Way to Buy a Car.” Carvana is a relatively new company built upon a disruptive model geared to completely change how cars are bought and sold. This new model is digital first, direct-to-consumer, with no dealerships and a minimal physical footprint. And it seems a good fit in a post-Covid world.
Here is how Carvana is reimagining how I buy a car:
Let’s say I’m in the market for a recent model sportback sedan with automatic and all-wheel drive. In my local searches, I can’t find what I’m looking for nearby, so I decide to expand my search across country. I can do this now, because with certification programs, 360 degree virtual tours and super detailed descriptions, I’m more confident about what I’m buying without physically seeing or driving it.
Once I have my new car selected, I can arrange for it to be delivered. And, I can even arrange for my trade-in to go back the same way. Carvana has built an in-house logistics network and my new car would be delivered within a day or so after purchase. Or, I could pick up the car from one of Carvana’s “car vending machines.” I also get a 7 day money back guarantee. So, it’s a great combination of trust and convenience.
No haggling. No hassles. This new way of buying a car reduces operating costs which translates to lower prices and more investment in customer experience. I can feel good about buying a car again.
Carvana’s strategy seems to be working. After some rocky ups and downs since the IPO in 2017, the company has seen strong growth during the pandemic as people are shifting to e-commerce for buying cars.
Visiting The Doctor
By many accounts, telehealth, or virtual care, is fast becoming an accepted part of seeking healthcare as the ecosystem of care providers, insurance companies, technology partners and policy makers continue to support and drive innovations that will reshape how we visit our doctors in the future. The innovation support system of policy makers, funders, technology providers and thought leaders is growing stronger every day including new guidance from the CDC, and new philanthropic ventures such as Schmidt Futures that aim to fund these innovations. Virtual and remote care systems are moving from promise to results: improved access to care, especially in shortage areas; improved patient experience and education; and improved outcomes.
According to McKinsey, consumer adoption is growing fast, with 11% of US consumers using telehealth in 2019 to now over 46% trying virtual methods to replace cancelled healthcare visits. According to Acumen Research and Consulting, the telehealth market is anticipated to grow to over $20 billion by 2026, from just $3 billion pre-Covid. McKinsey estimates up to $250 billion of healthcare spending could be virtualized. It seems the biggest opportunity for telehealth to bring benefit is as an alternative to non-critical emergency department (ED) visits, urgent care visits, and after-hours consultations, which frees up much needed capacity for more pressing care needs, including infection treatments. Experts estimate one in five emergency room visits could potentially be avoided via virtual urgent care offerings.
The benefits of virtual care extend beyond just added convenience of receiving care anytime, anywhere. There is also the promise of changing behaviors, which account for a lot of our overall health condition. A World Economic Forum expert panel asserts virtual care and other innovations can lead to more preventative health delivery approaches, with improved education and delivery methods.
Moving To A New Home
About a year ago, I moved from Chicago to Pittsburgh, and bought and sold a home in the process. In the past, I have worked in the real estate industry, so I’m pretty familiar with how residential home buying and selling works. As with grocery, the real estate industry is another one of those laggards that has been slow to adapt to new consumer expectations.
That’s why I was pleased to be able to use one of the newer business models in real estate, Redfin, a discount, digital-first full-service Realtor. Redfin is a web-based real estate company that utilizes technology in a number of ways to optimize the entire home selling and buying experience. I used them to sell our property in Chicago, and the experience went very well.
First of all, Redfin is a licensed full-service Realtor brokerage just like any other in terms of the services they can provide. You will work with a team of professionals including a licensed Realtor plus several support staff that help manage the process.
Second, routine communications and transactions are digitized and made easy. From online marketing to scheduling showings, to having a personalized home selling portal, to signing documents, it was all very convenient. As a result of being born of the digital age, Redfin’s operating model is much more cost effective, and this benefit is passed on to the consumer in the form of reduced selling commissions, usually around 2%.
Of course, you also use Redfin as home buyer just by using their website to search homes. Their website is one of the best in the industry, and was designed around a superior map-based search tool, and highly visual property descriptions. A profile allows for easily saving searches and properties and receive updates when status and price changes.
Now, in a post-Covid world, as more people aren’t bound by location for work, and with mortgage rates at all-time lows, it seems the residential home market should see healthy growth, particularly in city to city moves. I’m glad that innovation is helping to make our most significant financial decision (moving) an easier and less stress free experience.
We’re now in a whole new world due to Covid, that has dealt millions of us a pretty harsh new reality. However, several new innovations are now emerging and accelerating out of necessary to meet these new challenges.
I consider it a silver lining because the world is gaining benefit from several amazing supply-chain, e-commerce and digital experience innovations across many industries. This change is being driven out of necessity to save lives, plain and simple. I cannot think of a better reason for innovation.