December 21, 2021 The Pandemic Pulled Some Work and Consumer Trends Forward: Here are 3 More ‘Traditions’ that May Be On the Way Out
- The Pandemic Pulled Some Work and Consumer Trends Forward: Here are 3 More ‘Traditions’ that May Be On the Way Out - December 21, 2021
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Work clichés and traditional habits have sure taken a beating since March 2020.
Even pre-COVID, many workplaces thrived on a degree of remote work and made use of project tools and videoconferencing to address some of the collaborative challenges – and even workplace culture deficits – inherent in remote work. What some continued to label disparagingly “working in your pyjamas” even as recently as a decade or so ago has become the norm, even if people don’t generally wear PJ’s on their Zoom/Teams/Meet calls.
Trends towards shopping online, banking online, buying and repairing cellphones online, using more digital tools, and so on – which had arguably lagged in the years leading up to 2020 – suddenly accelerated.
The pandemic caused certain traditional habits to fade faster. The future was pulled forward.
What about some other (perhaps less obvious) diehard traditions that – rather than “rebounding” post-pandemic – may simply lose their holds on us? First, they will continue to recede behaviorally. Eventually, they will cede their hegemony in our collective imagination.
If the creators of The Simpsons or The Family Guy were professors at business schools, perhaps they’d become famous for the aphorism “First, people stop doing certain things, so businesses stop catering to those things. Then, professors at second-tier business schools eventually stop writing books about catering to those things. Later, anyone talking about catering to those things is someone we should laugh at.”
Here are some additional “things” that are transitioning gradually towards becoming “not really things.”
1. Shipping date cutoffs and deep seasonal sales slowdowns “over the holidays” or in the “off-peak season.”
We have one client that ships large, custom items, so their production schedule and shipping logistics mean you’d need to order quite early to have it arrive in time for Christmas. But is that always the reason for people to begin researching and initiating such purchases? Of course not!
In this client’s case, they do shut down their production for a time, just to give everyone a holiday break. But they’re certainly not averse to taking orders for a slightly delayed shipping date.
The herd mentality about what constitutes the right time to shop, travel, etc. was always part of the broader discourse, and of course, businesses have generally organized their timetables and budgets around seasons. Seasonality isn’t going away entirely. But for one thing, consumers’ deep-seated need to have things arrive “by Christmas,” to wait for “the sales,” or to buy things when everyone else thinks it’s sensible to buy them have been ebbing for a long time. It’s going back in time a bit, but in-person shopping changed to the point where there were fewer and fewer times and days when shopping is off-limits culturally.
Happiness is self-gifting
Beyond that, speaking of online shopping, the pandemic exaggerated our sense of the need to “just get the order in the queue, and it comes when it comes.” Supply chain issues have meant that consumers expect delays and slowdowns. The immense growth in popularity of online shopping, coupled with improved personalization, easier and more integrated buying (better e-commerce UX facilitated by not just Amazon but also Shopify; better phones, Shop Pay, Google Pay, Apple Pay, etc.) have meant that people now buy online in a steady rhythm. Indeed, it might soon seem alien to younger folks, or people with short memories, that there might be a sharp slowdown in buying behavior in December “when the holiday shopping is done.”
The steady rhythm of paying for things online is quite a drumbeat, isn’t it? One of my close relatives’ credit cards sits out on her coffee table, at the ready. It never goes back in the wallet.
As an agency that handles a lot of e-commerce, we’ve seen reams of data to confirm certain trends, such as the key trend that much “gift buying” is first-party: treating oneself. Beyond that, discretionary giving (to friends, co-workers, etc.) is ongoing and is less fraught and less deadline-driven than the traditional “have you got all your Christmas shopping done?,” which presumed a nuclear family plus an extended family mostly in one place showering one another with multiple gifts to be opened and fawned over (even if it’s only a regifted tie or a particularly smelly potpourri).
Of course, many habits continue to die hard. In recent days, I’ve attempted to get in line behind people who were there to mail large “parcels” hoping that they would arrive “in time.” (They won’t.) I didn’t line up. I eventually returned to deal with my not-so-important postal business on a lull on Sunday with only one person in line.
Amazon delivered on Sunday
Long story short, we and our clients are beginning to suspect that catering to buyer intent throughout the former “lull” periods is actually more in tune with how people shop and buy today. Yes, there are peaks and valleys. But more and more, it’s a steady rhythm.
2. Going somewhere when everyone else is going.
For some reason, when it came to international travel and especially winter holidays, tons and tons of travelers have always wanted to cram into narrow windows of time, bidding up prices on accommodations and clogging the airports, roads, and tourist attractions. Some, but not all, of this could be chalked up to work schedules, school breaks, and climate issues, but not all of it. (Long-term-stay people like retired snowbirds coming from Canada to the U.S. tend to be more rational and go for a portfolio view of sunshine – instead of “picking a week or two,” they say “give me four months! I want all the ham!”)
Even pre-COVID, I’d noticed in recent years that bookings can be a bit slow in January for certain warm-weather locales. There are probably a number of reasons for that, but I’m convinced part of that is cultural. We “work” at certain times and in certain months, and other times, we “take a break.” Notice how many bars and restaurants are full on a Tuesday night (heaven forbid) even vs. Thursday night, when apparently the weekend has already started?
How quiet are golf courses on Mondays and Tuesdays? And yet, between the rumor that doctors golf on Wednesdays and the apparent fact that Thursday is getting close to the weekend, courses start to fill up as the week goes on. (The happy retired members of course love to play on Mondays and Tuesdays, and on weekends when they get the reserved tee times while everyone else climbs all over one another for a tee time at 12:46 p.m. on a Saturday. “Yes, Saturday – what, don’t you have a job?”)
So for whatever reason, for most people, a vacation in January “isn’t done.” Employment and school schedules may continue that trend to a degree, but what about everyone else who simply got caught up in the same, ultimately false, narrative?
But that’s changing.
The notion of fewer people in any one locale as being a key benefit to any choice of venue seems deeply ingrained now that a highly transmissible disease has been ringing the planet for nearly two years. Lower-density travel would appear to be a long-term trend that won’t end soon.
Countering that, there is also simply a lot of pent-up travel demand. This might not translate into low-density experiences in the U.S., for example. So the notion that one shouldn’t go somewhere in November because the weather is slightly cooler, or because it’s actually creepy when fewer people are around, has begun to abate.
The result of all of this will be some subtle shifts in psychology and a smoothing of the seasonality that has been typically assumed.
Until one day, the shift seems not so subtle, and we can laugh at the folks who cling to the old belief system.
But just one more point: can someone explain the disconnect here? In the delightful scene from A Christmas Story (released in 1983), set in Hammond, IN in the 1950s (and shot in Cleveland and Toronto), the family’s turkey is devoured by the neighbor dogs, so they show up at the (deserted) local Chinese restaurant to get some grub.
But nowadays, hundreds of people cram into a Chinese restaurant, namely The Mandarin chain in Canada, for the Christmas Day, all-you-can-eat, special Christmas edition buffet. WOh, well, they did until the pandemic. The Mandarin stopped being a buffet during the pandemic. Never mind. (Wait? Someone’s talking in my earpiece… Oh. I see. The Mandarin is a buffet once again and their Christmas buffet is open daily from Dec. 23 through Jan. 3 with roast turkey being available from Dec. 23 to Dec. 26!.) I have to admit, I’ve still got a weakness for the Mandarin’s buffet, holiday or no holiday. I’m glad to see they’re reopening. Some habits die hard indeed. Stay safe, everyone. I won’t be there this year.
3. Results-first workplaces, and increased loyalty to third-party contributors.
There’s a lot of buzz about “results-first” workplaces these days, and dropping the “nine-to-five.” These kinds of trends tend to rest on straw-man arguments and lead to unrealistic expectations and misunderstandings about what “results” mean. That being said, as a remote-first workplace since inception, we’ve always welcomed employees with a letter that included a significant section describing the importance of tailoring one’s work priorities to, well, priorities, as opposed to the “clock” that you “punch.” (Clock-punching is relatively rare nowadays, but you’ve seen Barney and Fred do it on the Flintstones, and it does augur a tedious and trivial life. I’d avoid the prehistoric clock-punching if I were you.)
As a small business owner, I don’t like bureaucracy, and I love results. At the same time, I don’t really take well to the notion of people holding down four additional side-hustles to maximize their incomes while holding up some kind of proof of the “results” that were achieved. Collaborating, learning, and research play a big part in driving results. Thin goal-driven behavior seems like chasing a mirage.
Our shop isn’t so important in this regard as the power shift that the pandemic – along with pre-existing trends in remote collaboration – has enacted. Talent is everywhere and certain stereotypes about “in-house teams” have been fading away. Along with this may have come an attenuation of the deep bonds of trust that reside in “in-house teams” that at one time often pitted them against some of their third-party contributors due to ingroup bias.
As a provider of agency services, these days we’re being treated and trusted every bit as much as people who work directly at our client companies. The power shift in favor of employees has also lessened the irrational bonds between managers and employees, which means we’re on more of a level playing field. Service providers who work remotely have become more similar to employees who work remotely. If you perform, you’re accorded respect. Perhaps, though, not the level of deep respect and loyalty that one often felt in companies that spent more time in close physical proximity.
Soon, to those who cling to outmoded assumptions, we will say “Ho! Ho! Ho!” Or better yet, just ha-ha!
Next time I write to you, dear reader, perhaps we’ll muse about the demise of “let’s grab a quick coffee.”