How the rise of e-commerce during the pandemic is fueling ‘liquid expectations’

According to IBM’s Retail Index, COVID-19 has accelerated e-commerce adoption by five years. As many consumers turned to online shopping for the first time, this accelerated the growing ‘what you see is what you can get’ consumer rationale. Today, consumers expect to receive any product or service to be delivered at their door, seamlessly and safely. And these expectations are no longer bound by the borders of one industry.

Consumers compare the Amazon or JD same- and next-day delivery standards to the slow delivery of a new credit card – which still takes 7 to 10 business days on average. Or they wonder why the service level during a doctor’s visit cannot resemble more their experience at the Apple store. This effect is labeled liquid or fluid expectations, meaning that consumers’ experiences with any product category affect how they experience products in other categories, previously thought to be unrelated.

How liquid expectations transform even the most traditional industries

Due to these liquid expectations, consumers compare any new experience to the best experiences they ever had elsewhere, regardless of place, category or industry. Consequently, companies are no longer solely competing within their industry, but also across sectors and regions. Even in the most traditional sectors like insurance, we see innovative players acting upon these liquid expectations.

An example is Tractable, an insurtech start-up which is disrupting the way insurers handle claims by applying AI to accident and disaster recovery. The technology looks at photos to assess the damage and estimate the repair costs in real time, so that claims can be settled faster. Instead of the usual days or even weeks to round up a damage claim, Tractable only takes minutes. And so Tractable responds to consumers’ desire for fast, frictionless experiences, just like what retailers such as Amazon or Luckin Coffee offer.

Similarly, the healthcare industry is disrupted by novel players that have an eye for the liquid expectations of patients and caregivers. PreeMe+You app, for example, allows parents of premature babies in the ICU to be in constant contact with their child and the care team. If you can get real-time updates on a shipped parcel, why wouldn’t you expect the same service for your most precious possession? Via the PreeMe+You app, parents can track their baby’s progress in real time and know how it is doing at any moment. It’s a comfort when they can’t be with their baby, and it helps them to stay on the same page with the care team.

An outside-in perspective to deal with liquid expectations

One thing disruptors like Tractable and the PreeMe+You app have in common, is a strong outside-in mentality. Rather than focusing on improving their existing business models, these organizations shape their business to the shifting consumers’ needs and wants. The pandemic reality – impacting consumer behavior and expectations – forces brands to look beyond the boundaries of their sector, and respond with a relevant offering.

Companies that are truly outside-in-oriented fuel their decision-making by keeping an ongoing finger on the pulse of what consumers think, feel and do. It’s no longer enough to take a snapshot of their consumers’ everyday life to fuel decision-making. Through structural collaboration, businesses and marketers immerse in the consumer reality and get a better understanding of their liquid expectations.

Does your brand keep up with these so called ‘liquid expectations’? Download our latest digital bookzine to read more about the role of consumer collaboration in managing them.

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Tom De Ruyck
Thoughtleader Future of Research
Managing Partner

Contact Tom