As the first business day of 2021 proceeds, the internet is full of predictions. There might be a temptation to play it extremely safe going into another new year, but as PYMNTS CEO Karen Webster pointed out in her commentary this week, the problem with safe predictions is that they border on being truisms, and as such aren’t all that illuminating or educational for anyone reading them.
What’s important, she noted, isn’t reading the crystal ball so much as looking around and seeing that the way we live, work, pay, shop, stay connected, stay healthy and spend our leisure time had been digitizing gradually for years – because that’s what consumers wanted, needed, demanded and have ultimately come to expect.
“Now, digital is the first — and in some cases the only — touchpoint that consumers have with merchants and that businesses have with other businesses. 2021 will be the year businesses recognize that digital isn’t another channel to deploy and manage, but the front door to getting and keeping their customer relationships,” Webster noted.
The year 2021 and beyond has become the “bring it to me” economy, where time is the new highly valued currency – so valuable, in fact, that consumers and businesses are willing to pay money to accrue more of it.
Over the last nine months, PYMNTS surveyed tens of thousands of consumers about their emerging preferences in the pandemic era, and found that the preference for having products delivered versus getting them for themselves has sharply emerged. By a ratio of three to one, consumers chose delivery at a cost over the notion of curbside pickup or in-store pickup for free.
That explosion of interest in the “bring it to me” economy is what notably drove the splashiest IPO of the year: DoorDash. Coming into the market with a rather head-turning and unexpected $713 billion initial valuation, DoorDash saw its business soar to profitability as restaurants were forced to shut down their dining rooms nearly overnight, and needed an incredibly fast integration into the world of online ordering and delivery that DoorDash was uniquely positioned to offer.
“Restaurants are heading into a terrifying winter with no lifelines other than delivery platforms,” MKM Partners analysts told MarketWatch earlier this year.
It should be noted, however, that DoorDash’s big, booming entrance into the public markets has not been quite enough to silence the skeptics who noted that DoorDash has to prove that it can operate as a profitable firm without the blowing wind of COVID-19 at its back.
“It’s just like Zoom. They’ve benefited from a massive disruption to the system,” Paytronix CEO Andrew Robbins told Karen Webster shortly after the IPO. “The reality is that’s going to ease. People like to go back to their old behaviors, so that’ll happen. But some of what’s here will remain, and it will be interesting to see exactly how much and what they can do with it.”
But Robbins and Webster agreed aside from the fate of DoorDash and its competitors in the food aggregator space, the sea change in the digitization of the dining industry is not a temporary phase in response to a crisis – it’s how people eat now. DoorDash may not always be ascendant, but the need for speed and optionality enabled by digital tools is going absolutely nowhere.
It’s a reality made increasingly obvious by the ever-expanding vertical reach of the “bring it to me” economy. The autonomous delivery startup Nuro has received permission to launch commercial driverless services on public roads in California, making it the first firm cleared to do so by the state DMV, according to TechCrunch. The new permit will allow Nuro to operate commercial services — meaning it can charge for delivery — in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. So far, a specific partner city has not been named.
“Issuing the first deployment permit is a significant milestone in the evolution of autonomous vehicles in California,” DMV Director Steve Gordon said in a press release. “We will continue to keep the safety of the motoring public in mind as this technology develops.”
And develop it will, with an ever-expanding reach. As Sylvain Perrier, president and CEO of Mercatus, noted in the company’s annual predictions for RIS, the changes kicked off by the pandemic are now gaining speed as opposed to rolling back.
“As the pandemic continues, more grocers and CPGs will adopt intelligent automation to handle the growing demand for scarce products in certain categories,” Perrier said. “Grocers will also continue investing in automation that powers efficient, contactless services such as automated checkout, fulfillment technologies (micro-fulfillment centers), central-fulfillment centers and picker robots, and driverless delivery vehicles. And as grocers scale up their eCommerce operations, they’ll be focusing specifically on fulfillment technology to efficiently power their CPG-sponsored promotions and newly launched auto-replenishment programs.”
If all goes as hoped, 2021 will see consumers get some relief from the pandemic and have a richer array of choices returned to their lives. But as the data and the development of the market indicate, those choices will be increasingly digital – and will be premised on consumers who are seeking convenience and willing to pay a bit extra to get it.
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