With U.S. airline-passenger miles down some 70 percent as COVID-19 has consumers afraid to fly, Amazon and other eCommerce players are trying to get Americans to do their sightseeing and other once-routine activities from the comfort of their own homes.
For example, instead of dealing with the expense and public exposure of flying to Europe, consumers can watch a 60-minute guided virtual tour of Prague for just $99. Amazon Explore also offers guided learning excursions, as well as “shopping tours” where a local host will ship any items that pique one’s interest enough to buy them.
While nothing can replace the sensory sensation of seeing exotic destinations in person, the hope is that people will enjoy the next-best-thing while the real deal is more or less unavailable — or at least undesirable.
Such experiences could benefit not just consumers, but also merchants in once-popular travel destinations that are now struggling. For instance, the Spanish government’s statistics agency reported on Friday (Oct. 2) that spending by international tourists visiting the country plunged 79 percent in August to $2.9 billion from $13.7 billion in August 2019. All told, Spain’s foreign-tourist revenues tumbled 73.8 percent during 2020’s first eight months to $19.6 billion from $74.9 billion in the same 2019 period.
According to the recent PYMNTS study The Great Reopening, The Road To A Digital Normal, the transition to digital is becoming a much more routine way of doing business. More and more consumers are shopping online or having groceries or meals delivered — and look set to continue to do so even post-COVID, the study found.
“Many consumers no longer expect or even want their lives to return to the way they were before the crisis began,” the report said. “They are not as interested in shopping in stores or at supermarkets as they once were, for example, and the idea of commuting to offices has lost its appeal for those who have grown accustomed to working from home.”
For instance, the study found that only about 5.5 percent of middle-income consumers want to travel domestically, while only 2.4 percent of upper-income individuals ($100,000+) are looking to do so as well. And regardless of income bracket, less than 3 percent of respondents expressed interest in traveling abroad.
Movies Move Online
With such lackluster consumer interest, travel and other industries that seemed just months ago to be ill-suited to moving online are suddenly doing so.
For example, brick-and-mortar movie theaters are facing unprecedented competition from streaming alternatives to first-run films. Consider the summer blockbuster “Mulan,” which Walt Disney Co. originally planned to premiere in theaters but instead released directly to its new Disney+ streaming service.
While Disney+’s long-term viability remains to be seen, at least one short-term advantage is clear — Disney keeps all of its streamed Disney+ revenue to itself vs. paying a traditional 50/50 split with theaters.
Car Shopping Goes Virtual
Car buying is another example of a business that’s moving online more than anyone would have expected just months ago. The traditional model of going in person to a dealer to kick the tires and haggle over price was already under pressure from growing online competitors even before the pandemic.
But now, consumers are finding they don’t mind doing the entire process digitally — from making out a financing application to securing insurance and car registration. While General Motors and Fiat Chrysler recently reported weak Q3 results, the digital side of the car business is enjoying unprecedented momentum.
Gambling is another business that’s seeing customers unexpectedly taking to online alternatives. With brick-and-mortar casinos either closed or operating at limited capacity in recent months, online sportsbooks and eSports wagering ballooned in 2020’s first half.
Welcome To The ‘New Normal’
While some of the newly popular virtual ventures will certainly fail, one big thing supporting their continued expansion is the public’s growing comfort with the new online normal.
As PYMNTS study noted: “Recovery [is] no longer about how long it will take for life to return to normal once the pandemic has passed, but about how long it will take for a ‘new normal’ to emerge and what it will look like when it does.”