Customer scanning a QR code in the Amazon Style store.
At the brick-and-mortar Amazon Style store, customers can use the Amazon Shopping app to scan product QR codes to browse sizes, colors, customer ratings, and other details. — Amazon

Why it matters:

  • The COVID-fueled changes in consumer behavior that occurred during the last two years have opened new doors for businesses.
  • Technology ranging from QR codes that enable contactless shopping to digital tools that streamline remote work to video chats with nutritionists has facilitated the expansion of these pandemic-driven trends and is enabling companies to capitalize on them.
  • The tech changes nudged by the crisis have implications for business conducted via virtual, metaverse platforms like gaming and 3D digital worlds, as well as physical, brick-and-mortar shopping.

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the business landscape, creating both challenges and opportunities for companies.

Technology has been at the heart of many of the trends that emerged during, or were accelerated by, the pandemic. Retailers and restaurants turned to digital tools to facilitate contact-free shopping and dining, expanding the functionality of existing technologies such as QR codes, to offer product content and customer ratings, for example.

Perhaps no other pandemic trend has impacted business more than the adoption of remote and hybrid work schedules, a shift that may have long-term implications for business sectors from real estate to technologies that facilitate virtual reality experiences.

“A lot of companies are looking at remote work and what it means for recruiting, and for retention,” said Adam Riggs, Founder and CEO of Frameable, which has created a virtual office platform that seeks to mimic in-person office experiences.

Many of the trends that gained traction during the pandemic had already been simmering among American consumers, such as the increased interest in health and nutrition, which is also being fueled by technology.

“In some cases, the technological changes inspired by COVID-19 will come in the form of an acceleration of existing trends — for example, industrial automation and contactless payments,” research firm CB Insights said in a recent report. “In other cases, like virtual reality, 3D printing, or telehealth, the crisis may change the course of the industry, enabling companies to demonstrate value that, until now, consumers have been unable or unwilling to see.”

Following are five trends CO—’s been tracking that have accelerated during the past two years, with examples of how companies — including Amazon, Walmart, Walgreens, Kroger, Gucci, Chipotle, and others — are capitalizing on those opportunities.

QR codes expand functionality to enhance the customer experience

Brands are leveraging the pandemic-fueled popularity of QR codes to expand their functionality and create a more experiential shopping journey.

Although QR codes had already been around for years when the pandemic hit in 2020, their use soared as a contactless solution for displaying menus amid the threat of contagion. Marketers have since capitalized on that momentum to elevate QR codes from a niche tool that links to basic content into a much more versatile platform to engage with consumers and provide new shopping experiences.

Amazon and Walmart, for example, are featuring QR codes as key elements in their store-of-the-future prototypes.

At Walmart’s incubator store in Springdale, Arkansas, customers can scan QR codes in the pet department, for example, to search for additional product options not displayed in the department, learn about other services such as Walmart’s pet insurance, or order products to be delivered to their homes.

At the brick-and-mortar Amazon Style store, customers can use the Amazon Shopping app to scan product QR codes to browse sizes, colors, customer ratings, and other details. Then they can have an item sent to a fitting room or directly to the checkout counter for purchase.

Companies are also conducting more engaging marketing efforts through the use of QR codes, said Maryann Moschides, Chief Marketing Officer and General Manager at Scanbuy, which has worked with multinational brands including Pepsi, Burger King, and Kellogg’s on QR code campaigns.

“You have to inspire [consumers] with something to do, or to earn, or play a game — something that's worth their time,” she said.

[Read: Marketers from Kellogg to Walmart Optimize QR Codes to Drive Consumer Engagement and Sales]

 Three screenshots showing Filteroff's virtual speed-dating platform.
Filteroff created a platform where users sign up for specific virtual events that interest them, and then go on up to 10 virtual speed dates, lasting three minutes each. — Filteroff

Brands stake out turf in the metaverse

The metaverse offers consumers a different immersive way to experience the internet, and more and more brands have been taking steps to help shape that experience.

Consumers often access the metaverse through platforms such as gaming or 3D experiences, where some marketers have set up virtual storefronts and embarked on other promotional initiatives.

Grand View Research estimated the global metaverse market size at $38.85 billion in 2021, and projected compound annual growth of 39.4% through 2030.

Brands need to tread carefully when they enter the metaverse, however, to ensure that their presence is authentic and is adding some value to the community, said Winnie Burke, senior director of global brand partnerships at Roblox, a gaming platform that enables brands to establish a virtual presence.

Gucci is among the brands that have entered the metaverse and built a substantial presence over time. The luxury goods maker began offering virtual items for sale on Roblox, which led to a pop-up virtual world and eventually the launch of a virtual experience called Gucci Town. Visitors there can dress their avatars in Gucci clothes, connect with others in the digital realm, and explore the virtual replica of the Italian fashion house, which takes on the form of a piazza.

These forays into the metaverse may help build the brand equity among users, even if they don’t always translate directly into revenues.

Sometimes, however, brands have managed to turn virtual experiences into real-world sales, as Chipotle Mexican Grill was able to do with its Boorito Maze promotion last year. Participants in the virtual experience could earn virtual items as well as codes that could be redeemed for free burritos.

[Read: How to Monetize the Metaverse: Big Brands' Tech Partners Share Tips]

You have to inspire [consumers] with something to do, or to earn, or play a game — something that's worth their time.

Maryann Moschides, Chief Marketing Officer and General Manager, Scanbuy

Pandemic-fueled Zoom culture fosters innovative tech solutions — from collaborative remote work tools to video dating apps

Consumers have become accustomed to communicating via platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams during the pandemic, creating opportunities for other digital platforms to carve out niches of their own in the digital communications space.

Filteroff, for example, created a platform where singles can connect online using video. Users sign up for specific virtual events that interest them, and then go on up to 10 virtual speed dates, lasting three minutes each. Users who agree they are a match can then continue to use the platform to message or video chat for as long as they'd like.

The trend toward remote working has also led to digital innovations in the form of virtual office technologies.

With Frameable’s virtual office platform, called Rehive.tv, users in collaborative work mode can see on a screen where their coworkers are, who they might be meeting with, and what projects they might be working on.

“There’s a lot of information you can take in with more visual cues,” said Riggs.

Rehive.tv, he said, represents a new way of thinking about remote work that incorporates considerably more functionality than traditional video conferencing.

[Read more: 3 Experience-Fueled Startups on Pandemic Pivots Yielding Long-Term Wins in the Post-COVID Economy]

 People working inside a Workbar coworking space.
As a result of new worker preferences, coworking space company Workbar has started offering a part-time membership plan and a suburban office space rental plan. — Workbar

Remote working evolves with new tech-enabled workspace models

The remote work trend is also fueling the growth of coworking spaces, which are evolving to meet the demands of consumers who may be self-employed or who have adopted hybrid working schedules.

“Coming out of the pandemic, most employees’ days are more nuanced,” said Sarah Travers, CEO of Workbar, which offers shared coworking spaces in the Boston area. “They work from home one day, then they work from Starbucks, then they work from a coworking space, and then they go into their corporate headquarters a couple of times a week, as well.”

As a result of these evolving, new work preferences, Workbar and other companies providing coworking space have evolved their strategies to become more flexible as well. Workbar, for example, has added a new part-time membership plan that allows members to use Workbar facilities for 10 days each month. That quickly became the company’s most popular plan, said Travers.

Workbar also offers a new corporate plan through which employers can lease space in the suburbs for workers who don’t want to commute to the main office.

As a result of fewer employees working in offices day in and day out, many companies have also been downsizing their office space and leveraging the availability of coworking spaces to do so.

The Yard, a New York-based operator of coworking spaces, has also made its membership plans more flexible, and has seen increased interest from companies seeking temporary office space or conference rooms.

[Read: Coworking Companies Workbar, Hera Hub and The Yard Eye Growth by Catering to Post-Pandemic Workplace Trends]

Tech supports food-as-medicine trend

The pandemic led many consumers to take a deeper interest in better managing their own health through more careful monitoring of their food intake, and technology is facilitating the trend.

Retailers have long supported their customers with in-store dietitians and color-coded shelf tags that indicate the nutritional attributes of certain products, such as heart-healthy and gluten-free. But increasingly, those efforts are evolving to leverage more sophisticated technologies that allow greater personalization and customization of the shopper experience to meet specific nutritional needs.

Food retailers have embraced tech tools such as video chats with nutrition experts, online shopping platforms sortable by dietary preferences, and digital in-store displays.

“This is a very specific need that consumers have, which has probably been heightened by COVID,” said Arsen Avakian, Founder and CEO of Cooler Screens, maker of a display technology installed on refrigeration units at Walgreens and other retailers.

In the wake of the pandemic, consumers have become much more interested in foods that boost their immune systems, for example, or those that are rich in vitamin D, to help prevent illness, he said.

Cooler Screens allow customers to view the ingredient and nutritional information of products that are inside refrigerators and freezers, without opening the doors.

Kroger Co. is also among the retailers that have embraced technology to help consumers pursue their dietary and nutrition goals. The company’s OptUP mobile app, for example, seeks to help customers shop by dietary preference, view better-for-you recommendations, track dietary health progress over time, and collaborate on personal nutrition goals with Kroger’s dietitians.

[Read: Tech Powers ‘Food as Medicine’ Trend Amid Consumer Quest for Holistic Nutrition]

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Published August 23, 2022