IBM report: Four things that will never be the same post-pandemic

A new report reveals surprising trends to expect even after the majority of the world receives the COVID-19 vaccine.

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Image: iStock

After more than a year of quarantines and social distancing, the world is on the verge of opening back up since hundreds of millions of people around the globe have received a COVID-19 vaccine. IBM's Institute for Business Value polled more than 15,000 adults worldwide in February to gather opinions on everything from the workplace of the future, social trends, shopping and travel in a post-vaccine world. 

The report, "An Injection of Hope: Life After the COVID-19 Vaccine," was released on Thursday, and noted that 68% of people are confident in the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine, while 32% are not. Overall, 63% of respondents said that 71-80% of the population will need to be vaccinated before they feel comfortable resuming their pre-pandemic lifestyles. The report found, "Overall, vaccine reluctance and uncertainty is higher among respondents in suburban and rural areas than urban areas. More people in higher income brackets and with higher educational levels intend to receive the vaccine once eligible."

People are thinking about how they want to work, socialize, travel and shop once they are vaccinated. The IBM IBV report dives into each of these topics to determine what the future will likely bring, and the findings are that while the world will be in a new normal, it will never be the same as it was pre-pandemic.

SEE: COVID Vaccination Policy (TechRepublic Premium)

What the vaccine means for the future of work

Despite the initial unrest employees experienced in their switch from on premises to at home, 62% of people do not want to change their current arrangement, even after they have been immunized. Of those who say they prefer working from home post-vaccine, nearly 80% are currently working from home remotely and approximately one in five work in a hybrid model.

On the other hand, people who have a hybrid work arrangement at the moment want to do something else after they're vaccinated. Nearly 30% of these individuals want to work from home or remotely, while 27% want to go back to the office.

Retail industry changes in a post-vaccine world

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Image: IBM's Institute for Business Value

Retail will get a boost from the vaccine, too. The majority of consumers said that once they get the shot, they plan to go back to malls and shopping centers. According to the report, "it seems the tides are turning for this struggling sector. 73% of respondents that typically visited shopping malls and centers before the pandemic indicated that they will return to those stores once vaccinated."

One in five respondents said they plan to primarily shop online even after immunization. The convenience factor is the main reason customers around the globe plan to continue shopping online. Interestingly, 14% of people surveyed, primarily in the U.S., the U.K. and Germany, said that nothing will lure them back to brick-and-mortar stores.

According to a separate retail survey IBM conducted in February and noted in the new report, toys, games and hobbies will be the most popular in-person shopping items with an expected 121% boost in that department, with apparel, footwear and accessories coming in second, with an anticipated 76% increase in sales. 

Curbside pickup will be used less frequently across most categories, including furniture, personal care and household products. The food and beverage sector will be hit the hardest, with about half of grocery shoppers of all ages no longer opting for curbside pickup and instead going into the store themselves. 

Travel trends after the pandemic

After being cooped up, sheltering at home or riding around town in a car with just their pod, people are ready to travel. Thirty percent of people who have been either partially or fully vaccinated, versus 23% of those who have not, say they will take an overnight trip in the next six months. The report found that 25-to-39-year-old respondents are 62% more likely to travel within six months after their vaccination than people over 55 years of age.

This will be a boon to the travel industry, because the report noted that in 2020, "in the U.S. alone, the travel sector lost $492 billion—a 42% year-over-year decline. International and business travel saw the steepest declines, falling 76% and 70% respectively."

However, the report pointed out that, "a sizable subset of the population plans to stay home indefinitely. Roughly 1 in 4 respondents say they do not plan to travel in 2021, even after they receive the vaccine."

Consumer air travel, while yet to rebound, is showing signs of a potential return. Thirty percent of respondents said they'll travel by plane more often after they're vaccinated, but 23% said they will fly less.

Business travel will be reinvigorated, with IBM IBV predicting two to four times more people traveling for business in most countries, but mostly those who are younger. Older business travelers are more skeptical, and only 8% of respondents who are older than 55 said they would go on a business trip without a vaccine, and only 25% of that age group said they would travel for business even after they have been vaccinated.

And in regards to the aforementioned road trips, there will be a personal preference for auto travel for those who haven't and who have received the COVID-19 shot. Only 10% said they plan to use their personal vehicles less after they get the shot, 47% said they'll use it more.

With the images of Princess Cruise Lines' Diamond Princess and its quarantine docking still prominent in the media, the report pointed out that the cruise industry, "may experience the most significant net decline, with 26% of people saying they'll travel on cruise ships less, and only 17% saying they'll use them more."

Your age predicts how much you'll socialize

Attitudes toward the post-vaccine world vary widely across generations. IBM IBV found that the youngest adults of the pandemic, those in Generation Z (people ages 18 to 24), were "arguably the hardest hit by the fallout caused by the pandemic" and "tended to be outliers." This is the generation most reliant on their mobile phones. The report stated, "And with virtual communication largely supplanting in-person interaction for more than a year of their young lives, Gen Z may have cemented a preference for digital experiences that will outlast COVID-19."

Gen Z was the most outspoken, the report noted, in indicating a desire to spend time with people outside their households once they got the shot, 27% versus 19% of Gen X and 16% of those over 55-years old. However, they're less likely to find social venues appealing than those older. Only 60% of Gen Z plan to visit large-crowd social venues such as art galleries, museums, amusement or theme parks, movie theaters and live sporting, theater and concert events once they're vaccinated, whereas 71% of millennials and 69% of Gen X are looking forward to these activities. 

But the average Gen Z adult (60%) will go to restaurants, bars, salons, barbershops and free venues like the beach and public parks, the report found.

"Habits formed during the COVID-19 pandemic have raised consumers' expectations of digital engagement, especially in service industries like retail, travel & transportation," said Jesus Mantas, senior managing partner, IBM Global Business Services. "As we anticipate the 'post COVID-19 pandemic normal,' businesses should accelerate their digital evolution with AI and Cloud based solutions to help remain competitive. Investing in hybrid physical and digital experiences can help provide a more personalized experience."

Survey methodology

The IBM IBV polled more than 15,000 adults in the U.S., India, U.K., Canada, Germany, Mexico, Spain, Brazil and China in February 2021. The survey focused on consumers' perspectives on the COVID-19 vaccine, what they plan to do once they are vaccinated, and how it may affect their perspectives on a number of issues, including retail spending, transportation, future attendance at events in large venues, and returning to work.

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