Report: Consumers Want ‘Third’ Workplace, Less Business Travel Post-COVID-19

Companies are shifting from reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic to reinventing products and services to better meet customers’ needs, according to a new survey from Accenture, which is based in Dublin and has offices in Detroit, Livonia, Troy, and Ann Arbor.
work from a cafe stock photo
Consumers have expressed interest in increased working from home and working from “third spaces” such as cafés, bars, or hotels in Accenture’s latest COVID-19 Consumer Research study. // Stock photo

Companies are shifting from reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic to reinventing products and services to better meet customers’ needs, according to a new survey from Accenture, which is based in Dublin and has offices in Detroit, Livonia, Troy, and Ann Arbor.

The survey reflects the latest results of the COVID-19 Consumer Research study.

After a year of lockdowns, 95 percent of global consumers Accenture surveyed said they made at least one change to their lifestyle that they expect will be permanent. Working from home, changing travel patterns, and an increased desire to shop locally are challenging industries to rethink how they cater to the pandemic-adapted consumer.

The latest survey of more than 9,650 people in 19 countries and a booster survey of nearly 7,000 respondents across 23 metro areas in North America, including 300 consumers in Detroit, support Accenture’s previous findings that many changes in behavior will likely be long-term.

“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,” says Oliver Wright, senior managing director and head of Accenture’s global consumer goods industry group.

“Born out of disaster and necessity comes opportunity; the pandemic has sparked a new wave of innovation. 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.”

Companies have simultaneously transformed multiple parts of their enterprises and reskilled people in what previously would have been longer-term step-by-step programs. Many consumer-facing companies have re-platformed their businesses in the cloud, addressed cost pressures, and continued to build resilience and security by putting infrastructure in place to enable innovation.

The pandemic forced a rapid shift to consumers working from home, with many expressing they want flexibility in how and where they work moving forward.

About 75 percent of remote workers in Detroit who will continue to telecommute once the pandemic subsides say they would like to occasionally work from a third space — a location other than their home or place of employment — and 35 percent said they would be willing to pay a fee 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.

Meanwhile, 44 percent of Detroit respondents who normally travel for business expect to reduce these activities in the future. The current outlook indicates the return to travel will resume principally in the leisure market.

“The pandemic has forced ‘creative pragmatism’, especially for travel and hospitality firms grappling to find additional revenue streams during the crisis,” says Emily Weiss, managing director and head of Accenture’s global travel industry group. “Some hotels turned rooms into pop-up restaurants while others experimented with offering temporary office space to customers seeking a third space to work. 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.”

Many consumers also say their shopping habits have changed. The pandemic led to a rise in e-commerce, with the proportion of online purchases for products such as food, home décor, fashion, and luxury goods by previously infrequent e-commerce users in Detroit (defined as those who used online channels for less than one-quarter of purchases prior to the pandemic) has increased 391 percent since the outbreak.

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

“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.”

The latest data for the survey was collected from Nov. 28-Dec. 10, 2020 and Feb. 25-March 5, 2021. The booster survey, which interviewed 6,986 people, gathered information from 23 metro areas in North America, including the 300 Detroit consumers, from Feb. 26-March 16.

Accenture is a global professional services company with capabilities in digital, cloud, and security. It offers strategy and consulting, interactive, technology, and operations services. It serves clients in more than 120 countries.

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