A new era of human-centered convenience has arrived, and it’s not going away. In 2020, the on-demand economy has become an unpredictable one, thanks to sudden surges in demand and rapid changes in customer behavior. It’s no longer enough for enterprises to make it easier for people to buy what they want and when they want it. Now businesses must sense and respond to consumers’ heightened needs for physical safety and emotional reassurance. Some businesses are adapting better than others, but all enterprises are under pressure to reinvent convenience.

From On-Demand to On-Demand + Safety

The era of on-demand convenience arguably began when Amazon was founded in 1994. Since then, Amazon has continued to set the bar for what it means to deliver what people want when they want it. But many other retailers such as Target and Walmart have successfully adapted, too, with services such as curbside pick-up. And companies outside of retail, ranging from Netflix to Uber, have built entire businesses off the on-demand economy that Amazon ushered in. 

In 2020, though, every business — even the pioneers of the on-demand economy – are facing a new challenge: adapting to how people’s needs have changed in an era of social distancing and personal anxiety. Consumers are still asking “Where’s my stuff?” and “How soon can you get it to me?” but they’re also asking new questions, such as:

  • “Will the in-store experience be safe?”
  • “How will interacting with store associates work in-person? “
  • “Do I really need to visit the store at all?”

In addition, we’ve seen dramatic surges in demand for products ranging from toilet paper to puzzles as people adapt to extended periods of living in isolation and distancing. These behaviors have created unpredictable surges in demand, leading to widely reported product shortages and delivery delays. Even the masters of the on-demand retailing have faced shortages. That’s because supply chains everywhere are being rocked. According to a McKinsey survey, 85 percent have struggled with insufficient technologies to support the supply chain. Decision makers lack real-time visibility into changes in demand. They’re usually working off forecasting models created before the pandemic changed everything.

How Might We Humanize Convenience?

All that said, some businesses – especially Amazon, Target, and Walmart — are adapting better than others. But even the businesses that have successfully implemented curbside delivery services – and the forward-thinking industry leaders who are this very moment going full speed ahead with next-generation convenience capabilities such as drone delivery – are overlooking a huge opportunity: humanizing convenience.

Convenience remains an efficiency play. Businesses focus on delivering products and services widely and rapidly, whether to the home or at the curbside. But how can they make those experiences trustworthy? How can businesses make the new era of on-demand delivery more bearable and even pleasant to ease the strain of social distancing? Could a business make the mobile experience of ordering and pick-up a bit more interesting by adding interesting product offers or even something intangible such as tips for mindful living and self-care?

These are important considerations at a time when people continue to endure enormous stress, whether a parent is squeezing in a product pick-up between back-to-back Zoom calls and looking after their kids at home or a person in a higher-risk health category is cautiously leaving their home to visit Target or Walmart. According to a recent report, parents and other caregivers are experiencing increased stress and poorer health due to the strain of the pandemic – and no parent needs a study to tell them that. And as one publication put it so well, the grocery store has become everyone’s “anxiety-filled hellscape.” Consider now how many people are reading the same news articles as this one from CNBC, in which Dr. Anthony Fauci urges Americans to adopt a bunker mentality and hunker down for the winter. The last time American lived in lockdown, 72 percent said they could barely manage the mental strain.

How might businesses embracing a new era of convenience and anxiety meet their emotional wants and needs, too?

We believe the answer is for businesses to:

  • Make convenience more human especially at the last mile of delivery, where a transaction is completed. This can be done when businesses use more personalized data to understand their customers’ behaviors and preferences and then conceive of ways to make these moments of convenience more interesting and uplifting to their customers. All this requires better data, insight, and imagination.
  • Improve their supply chains with real-time intelligence that provides complete transparency, which is what powers convenience. To do that, businesses need complete data transparency, supported by AI to provide real-time insight rooted in machines that teach themselves how to react and act on changing consumer behavior — not insight based on old forecasts, which many AI models still do, unfortunately.
  • Conceive of better business models and technologies that adapt to changing behavior.

Our offering, Human-Centered Intelligence, helps businesses transform their supply chains by supporting decision makers with intelligence. As a result, businesses improve their speed to market and humanize convenience. Reach out to learn more.

Mike Edmonds

Mike Edmonds

Managing Director, VP Product