Posted: 09 Dec. 2021 20 min. read

Digital Consumer Trends – Touch-less, virtual, health-conscious and eco-wise

Touch-less, virtual, health-conscious and eco-wise

The last 12 months has seen a noticeable growth in the adoption of consumer digital experiences that prior to the pandemic would have been considered nascent. In 2021, digital wallets are now poised to become the most popular in-store contactless payment method, virtual reality headsets and related experiences have grown in popularity, and Australians are now tracking and increasing number of health and fitness measures on their devices more than ever before.

Although discussion around increased digitisation has tended to centre on the dangers of excessive screen time and a society becoming disconnected from each other and the physical world, the pandemic has shown us that thoughtful, well designed, successfully implemented digital innovations can improve our quality of life. The pandemic has also reinforced that digital adoption is occurring across all demographics. Older generations once left behind as younger generations embraced new technologies are now responsible for the largest uptake in digital payment and fitness technologies during the pandemic. 

The shift towards a largely digital society raises questions as to what’s next? Will we see a counter-cultural rejection of the digital world? Or will the confidence we have built in our digital technologies propel us to adopt it more and more in our daily lives? Are we moving towards a hybrid digital-physical reality, or ‘metaverse’?

This article explores some of the emerging digital experiences that have flourished during the pandemic and considers the balance between the benefits of integrating digital technologies into our lives and maintaining awareness of the ecological impacts of our digital consumerism.

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Touchless & virtual: touchless payments, digital wallets/BNPL and VR/AR

‘Tap and stay’

In 2021, the use of mobile digital wallets that allow users to store their debit or credit cards digitally on their phone has increased substantially in Australia. In 2019, 42% of respondents indicated they had not used a smartphone to make an in-store payment, in 2021 this number has reduced to only 15%. 

With mobile digital wallets becoming more mainstream, the new frontier in digital payments is wearable technologies. While wearable device support has historically been deprioritised by many organisations due to low device penetration, this has turned around in recent years. Wearable adoption continues to grow, with smartwatches now accessible by 23% of consumers, up from 17% in 2020 and 12% in 20190. All major smartwatch manufacturers now include contactless tap and go payment functionality, so not only can consumers leave their wallets at home when shopping, they can also leave their phones (assuming their device is equipped with an LTE connection). Although still making up only a small portion of the payments landscape, the use of wearables as an in-store payment method has risen from 3% in 2019 to 10% this year.

Which, if any, mobile payment solutions have you used when doing the following? - Paying for a product/service in-store: Tap and pay solution on wearable devices

All adults 18-75 who have a smartphone

How and when to pay?

Digital wallets are not the only digital payments trend to emerge from the pandemic. Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) platforms have increased in popularity – two of the four most popular forms of mobile online payment methods are BNPL services, and the most popular payment method.

Which, if any, mobile payment solutions have you used when doing the following? – Paying for a product/service online

Base: All adults 18-75 who have a smartphone 

Peer-to-peer payment apps are another space to watch. These services allow users to send or receive money without having to exchange bank details and are increasingly popular. 10% of respondents have used ‘an app that links your mobile number with your bank account so that you can send or receive money without exchanging bank account details’ as a mobile payment method. The uptake has been most pronounced in the younger generations, with one in five respondents aged 25-34 using such apps for online shopping on a smartphone.

Which of the following methods of payment do you usually use when purchasing products / services online using your smartphone? - ‘An app that links your mobile number with your bank account so that you can send or receive money…’

Base: All adults 18-75 who have a smartphone 

The growth in these areas highlights the ‘opening up’ of the payments landscape. Payments focused fintechs and global technology giants with new technologies, innovative approaches to payments, and interactive interfaces have entered the market, and their success has left the incumbent banking and payments industry playing catch up. This has resulted in a flurry of recent activity and announcements including banks launching BNPL solutions, new BNPL solutions entering the Australian market and acquisitions of BNPL platforms by payments services.

The pandemic has also set the scene for QR payments to become more mainstream in Australia. Building on habits formed from ‘checking-in’ during the pandemic, eQR payments allow users to make payments by scanning a QR code. eQR payments have already been used in Australia, but this new venture aims to make it one of the most popular payment methods in Australia. This goal is not as farfetched as it may sound, with QR payments extremely popular around the world, in particular in China, with reports that 85% of mobile users using QR as a payment method.[i]

VR gets a COVID bump

Virtual Reality technology also received a bump during the pandemic. Access to VR headsets increased 60% between 2020 and 2021 to 8% of consumers, after declining between 2019 and 2020. Uptake is strongest in younger generations, with 16% of respondents aged between 18-24 indicating they have access to a VR headset. While access to VR headsets is still limited and use cases are mainly confined to the gaming industry, it’s a space worth watching closely as companies increasingly experiment with ways to bring VR into everyday life. Companies are increasingly experimenting with ways to bring VR into everyday life. Perhaps the necessity of working digitally and remotely during the pandemic will be the catalyst that sees society become open to the possibility of using virtual and augmented reality in work and daily life, and in doing so pave the way for the reality of a future ‘metaverse’.

Which, if any, of the following devices do you own or have ready access to (i.e. that is readily available for you to use? – Virtual Reality headset excluding cardboard versions

Base: All adults 18-75

Health-conscious: fitness tracking and wearables

COVID fit

The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have provided an opportunity for many Australians to spend time focusing on their fitness and health, and they are doing so using digital methods. Apps focusing on mental health and wellness have seen strong growth throughout the pandemic[i] and 21% of respondents indicated that they have more phone appointments with medical staff than before the pandemic.

In 2020, only 28% of respondents indicated they monitored their fitness using their smartphone. In 2021, more than half (58%) of respondents indicated monitoring their fitness using a smartphone, smartwatch, or fitness band.

The most popular fitness aspect to track in 2021 was step count, with almost half (45%) of our respondents indicated tracking their steps on a smartphone, smartwatch, or fitness band. This was closely followed by heart rate monitoring (29%) and sleeping patterns (25%).

Which, if any, of these do you monitor on your devices such as smartphones, smartwatches, fitness bands, etc.?

Base: All adults 18-75 who have access to a smartphone, smartwatch or fitness band

Wearables in older demographics

Although fitness and smartwatch access is highest in the 24-35 year old age bracket, as with mobile tap and go payments, older generations saw the most growth. For fitness bands, 45-54s represent the biggest increase in ownership/access between 2019 and 2021, going from 17% to 23%. For smartwatches, 65-75s saw the largest growth, from 3% in 2019 to 7% in 2021. This is another demonstration of how the pandemic is prompting older generations to try technologies that might once have seemed out of reach.

Which, if any, of the following devices do you own or have ready access to (i.e. that is readily available for you to use: Fitness Band

Base: All adults 18-75

Which, if any, of the following devices do you own or have ready access to (i.e. that is readily available for you to use: Smartwatch)

Choose your wearable weapon

There are obvious differences in the way fitness bands and smartwatches are being used. Seventy per cent of respondents who own a smartwatch indicated they’d used it within the last day, in comparison to 56% of fitness band owners.

We’re starting to see wearables split into different categories to appeal to different markets. While fitness bands appeal to a niche fitness-focused market, smartwatches appeal to a much wider audience. As Australians begin to embrace digitisation as an extension of themselves, a wearable technology that can seemingly do it all (time, GPS tracking, fitness monitoring, weather, payments…the list goes on) is highly appealing. Potential similarities can be drawn between the replacement of portable music players with smart phones as an all-in-one device. As smartwatches continue to improve the included health monitoring sensors, it will be interesting to see if dedicated fitness bands follow in a similar decline.

Wiser: eco-consciousness and recycling

Enviro watch

As we become more device hungry, consumers are also more conscious of the effects of climate change and the importance of sustainable consumer practices. This has strengthened throughout the pandemic. Sixty per cent of Australians now believe ‘global warming is a serious and pressing problem,’ up from 56% in 2020.[iii] This is affecting consumer behaviours; Deloitte research showed that 32% of consumers were ‘highly engaged’ with adopting a more sustainable lifestyle while 28% have stopped buying certain products due to ethical and environmental concerns.[iv] Considering e-waste is now the world’s fastest growing waste stream,[v] it’s vital technology focused businesses and consumers alike find ways to address this concern.

Interestingly, despite the strong consumer sentiment for sustainable products, when it comes to purchasing a new phone only 2% of respondents indicated that ‘use of recycled materials’ was important to them when deciding what to buy next. Similarly, when disposing of an old phone only 10% indicated they ‘recycled it for free using a recycling scheme or service.’ However, only 5% of respondents indicated actually ‘throwing away’ their old phone.

Aside from price, which, if any, of the following are most important to you when deciding which smartphone to buy next? - Use of recycled materials

Base: All adults 18-75 who have a phone or smartphone

What happened to your previous mobile phone when you bought or received your current phone?

Base: All adults 18-75 who have a phone or smartphone

Rather than indicating apathy on the part of consumers, it’s possible these statistics point to a lack of clarity around recycling opportunities with the digital industries. Unlike, regular recycling using council collection, e-waste requires consumers to proactively source dedicated recycling programs. Consumers are looking to businesses to help them make sense of this and make more sustainable choices. According to Deloitte research, 50% of consumers want ‘more clarity on how to dispose/recycle old products’ and 46% want ‘more clarity on the origins or sourcing of products.’[vi] This represents an opportunity for businesses to provide clear information at all stages of a product's lifecycle and practical steps for recycling. Many companies are already taking proactive steps and for those that aren’t they are likely to find consumers will increasingly make purchasing decisions based on environmental and social factors.

Bottom line

The pandemic has accelerated Australia’s move into the digital world with contactless payments and digital wallets becoming mainstream, virtual reality headset adoption getting a bump, and smartwatches accelerating as a wearable of choice. The pandemic has also seen a growing number of individuals now frequently accessing data from their devices to make choices about how they live their lives – in some ways we have never been more reliant on our digital companions. Businesses should look to take advantage of these mainstream shifts in digital behaviour and focus on designing products and services with a broader and now more tech-savvy, eco-conscious set of the population in mind. Experimenting with immersive virtual experiences and messaging about sustainability of digital products are trends to factor in over the coming 12-24 months.

Unless otherwise referenced, the statistics in our 2021 Digital Consumer Trends articles are based on a survey commissioned by Deloitte Australia. It involved a representative sample of 2,000 Australians aged between 18-75 and was conducted in late July 2021, at a time when Australia's second wave of Delta cases was on the rise and restrictions were being introduced and changed every few days across NSW, VIC, QLD & SA. Numbers have been rounded for ease of comparison.

Deloitte refers to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (“DTTL”), its global network of member firms, and their related entities (collectively, the “Deloitte organisation”). DTTL (also referred to as “Deloitte Global”) and each of its member firms and related entities are legally separate and independent entities, which cannot obligate or bind each other in respect of third parties. DTTL and each DTTL member firm and related entity is liable only for its own acts and omissions, and not those of each other. DTTL does not provide services to clients. Please see www.deloitte.com/about to learn more.

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[i] https://global.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202102/02/WS6018c23ea31024ad0baa6b4c.html 

[ii] https://www.bustle.com/wellness/tim-cook-mental-health-shine-app 

[iii] https://poll.lowyinstitute.org/charts/attitudes-to-global-warming

[iv] https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/consumer-business/articles/sustainable-consumer.html

[v] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/01/how-a-circular-approach-can-turn-e-waste-into-a-golden-opportunity/

[vi] https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/consumer-business/articles/sustainable-consumer.html

More about the authors

Peter Corbett

Peter Corbett

Partner, Consulting

Peter is the National Telecommunications leader and the Sydney leader of Monitor Deloitte in Deloitte’s Consulting practice. Peter has over 10 years’ experience in the development and execution of corporate/business unit strategy, digital strategy and transformation, channel strategy, strategic due diligence, customer experience/service design and operating model design for leading multinationals. Peter works at the links between strategy, operations, technology, creative design and innovation. His career experiences include successfully implementing complex transformations following a new strategy, as well as developing new businesses that disrupt traditional industries through business model innovation. He has delivered this type of work in US/Canada, Europe, Asia and Australia/New Zealand.

Eleanor Schwager

Eleanor Schwager

Analyst, Energy and Climate Advisory

  Eleanor is an Analyst in the Energy and Climate Advisory team, having previously worked in the Monitor Deloitte strategy practice. She has experience designing and delivering solutions to complex strategic problems for organisations navigating disruption, transformation or emerging growth opportunities. She currently focuses on assisting organisations to identify and action decarbonisation business opportunities.