We are all counting down the days to when we can return to some sort of normality. Recent reports of not just one, but two to three highly effective vaccines create great hope and relief that we are on the cusp of getting our pre-COVID lives back. However, despite the good news, consumers may not be so quick to return to shops and restaurants the way they did before the pandemic, even when the vaccine is available and shutdowns end.

Business-as-usual will be anything but
Vaccine news is the ray of hope we have been waiting for to end the nine-month pandemic that has hammered sales at many restaurants. It has led to tens of thousands of closures while shifting the industry in a profound, if not a permanent way. Many customers will return to restaurants as a show of support and solidarity, but it is estimated that a 1/3 will be cautious and wait for some period of time, while the final 1/3 may not return to normal dining-out routines for a long time.

The pandemic was a daunting threat that required immediate measures. It forced both individuals and business to rethink how we live, move, and get together. As a result, consumers across the globe have radically changed their purchasing behaviors. What they buy, and especially when and how they buy, has changed. Consumers are now much more wary and demanding. It is no longer about price or selection, but instead their focus has shifted to safety, cleanliness, and overall quality.

People want a different dining experience, and it’s a safe one.
Minimizing contact has become top-of-mind. Channels and options that formerly seemed like digital convenience are now a necessity. Consumers have moved away from physical store shopping and in-door dining to online delivery and curbside pick-up options. Facilitated by smartphone apps and digital payments, curbside pick-up in particular has experienced significant growth with restaurants. According to Adobe Analytics, right at the beginning of the pandemic between late February and late March, buy-online-pickup-in-store orders, which includes curbside, increased 87% year over year.

Curbside pickup has always been a big opportunity but COVID-19 has hastening adoption of curbside pickup services. Customers see curbside as an option that can minimize health risks while still getting product in-hand immediately. The service provides a higher level of convenience to the customer, the transaction can remain contactless; adding a level of safety many customers now expect and require.

Curbside here for the foreseeable future
While new service models like curbside pickup was initially conceived as a temporary solution, it has become a standard feature during the past few months – and it turns out that customers like it. Evidence suggests that COVID-19’s impact on consumers new purchase behaviors will be longer lasting with curbside pickup being undoubtedly one of the trends that will stick post-virus. A survey entitled COVID-19 And The Future Of Commerce, found that 87% of consumers want restaurants and other brands to continue to offer curbside pick-up and other processes that limit the need for in-person visits, with almost as many 77% saying they will take the need for in-person contact into account when they decide whether or not to visit a business and 65% of consumers have indicated that they’ll will continue to incorporate their new purchase behaviors going forward.

Ordering and buying online and pickup at curb is something that consumers have fully embraced. It is a very desirable option and the integration of the service is answering a need from consumers. Not only does it address their safety concerns but it is more convenience and much quicker for the consumer.”[Curbside] is the continuation of the general trend around convenience… Consumers are demanding this service. Consumers want options and flexibility, and some don’t want to even have to get out of their car.” Laura Kennedy, Kantar Consulting.

New post-COVID reality
The motivation to focus on and invest in offering off-premises sales may have been COVID – but the pandemic accelerated what was likely already going to happen. Consumers are going to stick with curbside because of the benefits the service model. Curbside pickup is the next iteration of the industry-wide trend toward ecommerce and convenience.

How restaurants address this new service model reality is going to be a key part of who thrives during the recovery, and who doesn’t. Brands that are choosing not to adapt to new business models – even though they could have a better product, better competitive pricing but are lacking on the service element will be left competitively disadvantaged. Those who are taking their time to adopt to these new service expectations and reinvest in technology to provide safe solutions that are fast and contactless will be in a better position post COVID.