Here’s an interesting experiment: Search the phrase “here to stay” in Google News. Among the range of concepts and trends that pundits expect to outlive the pandemic include bitcoin, dining and delivery, subscription services, remote or flexible work, QR codes, e-bikes, streaming in-theater movies at home, certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn’s music scene, subway flooding and the COVID-19 virus. Those are all within the first 10 search results, among a list of 997,000,000 other possibilities.
“Here to stay,” and its oft-repeated cousin, “the new normal,” are two concepts that are making the rounds a lot these days, as U.S. consumers emerge from their living rooms and start rebuilding their lives on the other side of living under quarantine. We know the world is about to change in a big way, again, though how much and in what direction is still a matter of speculation as the great reopening continues. How much is here to stay remains to be seen.
While a lot of the shifts that have come about in the last 18 months are certainly sticky, their final forms are likely still under construction in an economy that is increasingly digital and connected.
Crypto’s Shifting Course
Bitcoin in specific, and cryptocurrency in general, have gotten a lot of “new normal” and “here to stay” pronouncements in 2021, from the likes of Elon Musk, PayPal and Amazon. Just last week, Square/Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey officially anointed bitcoin as the coming “currency of the internet.”
Just as that statement on bitcoin might be a bit overly optimistic — given its unstable price, its connection to cybercrime and the fact that almost no one spends it like a real currency — the “new normal” prediction connected to bitcoin may also be overly optimistic. But the wider category of cryptocurrency might be a slightly different story.
Crypto is a complicated place, Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire told Karen Webster in a conversation last month shortly before the firm announced its plans to go public via SPAC, with the volatility of cryptos like bitcoin, its brethren and offshoots. But it is also home to things like stablecoins, a burgeoning asset class.
“There are many, many different types of crypto assets that economically incentivize a lot of different things,” maintained Allaire. “All of them can grow.”
But what’s here to stay, he noted, isn’t one coin or another, but the fact that firms will be iterating on blockchains. That assertion is supported by recent PYMNTS data that shows growing consumer interest in spendable cryptocurrency. The report found that 60 percent of cryptocurrency users are “very” or “extremely” interested in using cryptocurrency to make online purchases because they think these transactions are more private or secure. That goes up to 69 percent among holders who have already made purchases with cryptocurrency, and drops to 49 percent among holders who have not. Twenty-three percent of those who don’t hold cryptocurrency would be “very” or “extremely” interested in using it to make more private or secure online payments, and 63 percent of holders who bought cryptocurrency as an investment would be highly interested in using it to make online purchases that are more private or secure.
Crypto, it seems, may in fact be here to stay — though in what form people want to hold it, and how exactly they want to use it, is still being defined.
The New Omnichannel Reality
Consumers’ shift to digital during the pandemic is fairly easily explained by the reality that when stores were closed, people still wanted to shop — and online was the best, and often the only, game in town. And while the digital shift is likely sticking around for the long term, people want to get out again. They’re still going to order online when it suits them, but as they start to have other options, the odds are that staying in won’t be everyone’s top choice.
As PYMNTS data indicates, consumers will be looking for omnicommerce options designed to maximize ease and convenience. In fact, some 94 percent of consumers reported that convenience is what drives their choice of merchant. And convenience means different things for different consumers: Some 31 percent of customers report that they are now more likely to order out and dine at home, while 27 percent report being more likely to purchase groceries online first before heading to the store to pick them up.
This digital shift hasn’t proven to be a shift to an online-only life, but to one where digital tools are present in some form for every interaction. That has also reshaped how consumers want to pay in stores, their awareness of cybersecurity matters and much more. The individual advances and technologies may or may not stick around and go the distance — but the underlying shifting consumer preferences, PYMNTS data demonstrates, are increasingly looking to be permanent.
Of course, in order for anything to be here to stay, COVID-19 would first have to actually go. Based on recent case counts, the virus seems stubbornly determined to stick around, though it still seems a bit premature to declare it is here to stay. But it does make it difficult to predict the new normal when the old abnormal refuses to move on.