We are in the middle of the largest and quickest shift in consumer behavior mankind has ever experienced. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced consumers inside and many businesses to shut their doors, at least temporarily. But consumers still want — need — to buy.

So, they’re buying online. They’re working online. They’re finding almost everything they need online.

This shift is not a moment. Not a short-term inconvenience. It’s real, and it will stick around long after states have reopened and we have a COVID-19 vaccine.

Exactly How Quick Was This Shift?

This shift to radically online, on-demand consumer behavior happened almost overnight. If we look at typical tech adoption curves, it takes years (sometimes decades) for tech to take off. It takes even longer for it to permeate entire societies.

  • Google’s origins trace back to 1996, but it didn’t gain real traction until 2002 — 6 years later. Now over 20 years later, Google’s a verb.
  • Credit cards began popping up in the 1960s, but adoption took nearly a decade to noticeably increase, driven by merchant use and regulations in the 1970s.

Whereas most major consumer trends take years and years to develop, this one took weeks. So when I say it’s the fastest consumer shift in behavior we’ve ever seen, it’s because it’s obvious.

But The Tech Isn’t New

The changes we’re seeing in how consumers choose to work with businesses are not altogether new. Being able to conduct business online, get paid online, and communicate electronically have all been mainstays in our society for the last decade. Adoption of these tools and embracing of a contactless client experience, however, have varied wildly by market segments.

Whereas large companies like Domino’s and American Airlines have dedicated apps and artificial intelligence powering their call centers, a majority of small businesses don’t have the necessary technology. Or, what they do have is insufficient.

A Software Company’s Perspective

At Thryv, the two biggest objections we’ve heard over the last two years from small business owner prospects are:

  • I’ve done it this way for years, I don’t want to change.
  • I don’t have the time to adapt, or learn a new way of operating.

For most people, these are obvious objections. If we are honest with ourselves, a majority of small business owners started their own business because they had a passion for a craft and they wanted the freedom to be their own boss. They wanted the flexibility to run their business their way — not the way of a software company.

The market is a funny beast, though. No one actually gets to operate this way. No one lives in a vacuum. All businesses, large and small, are ultimately at the mercy of consumer expectations.

If you don’t meet consumers where they want to be met, your competitor will.

Taking Business Online, For Good

Think about it this way. In the middle of this pandemic, no one would even think about attending an in-person yoga class. I imagine there are individuals longing for and eagerly awaiting the days when they can get back to it. In the meantime, they’re saying, “Namaste” in their living rooms.

Let’s fast forward 60 days. All states are open in some capacity, and yoga classes (most likely with masks) are happening again. Absent a vaccine (which isn’t due for a while), there will be a new cohort of consumers. This cohort actually enjoyed the flexibility and safety of the at-home yoga class. They liked not having to visit the studio in person. So they don’t really want to go back to how it used to be.

They aren’t ready. They may never be.

Stop Waiting, Start Adapting

What this pandemic taught us is how interconnected the entire world is. Even after a COVID-19 vaccine is available, what’s to say COVID-22 isn’t lurking around the corner?

The bottom line is this: If you are one of the business owners hoping and praying for the end of this pandemic so things can return to normal, you’re missing the point.

It’s time to adapt. Not just for the weeks and months while we work through reopening the country. It’s time to adapt and prepare for a new normal on the other side of the pandemic. Your goal should be to attract and retain the customers who never want to return to the way you used to operate. They want contact less, effortless, and they may want it forever. It’s on you to offer it to them.

Embracing technology isn’t a nice to do, it’s a must do. And choose wisely. At Thryv, we may have been a bit early in the space of providing one simple and fully integrated platform to help your customers work with you from start to finish. But that need is here now more than ever.

We’re spending our days helping business after business adapt, grow and overcome the challenges they are facing, not just for the short-term, but as their new business model. Are you ready to adapt?