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NEW YORK—Brick must now Click.

The adoption of technology throughout the retail sector and the health care field, from larger national players to smaller independent groups and providers, was already underway. But the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 accelerated, amped up, pushed the trend ahead, and is likely to have been the watershed development that is transforming both sectors forever.

Many of the world’s largest consultantcies, including McKinsey, pointed out that the pandemic was the “tipping point” for technology. The company’s recent Global Survey of Executives underscores that adoption of digital technologies—executives responding said they accelerated the digitization of their customer and supply-chain interactions and of their internal operations by at least three to four years and that this change is likely to be here for the long haul.

With businesses fast-tracking their digital technology decisions, it was the behavior of American consumers who led that charge. As Accenture pointed out in late summer 2020, “People are living differently, buying differently and, in many ways, thinking differently. Long-term trends have been accelerated. The impact is profound. Retailers are reshaping their businesses in real-time, to permanent effect.”

Accenture COVID-19 Consumer Pulse Research, conducted every two weeks since March 2020, indicates that habits formed now will endure beyond this crisis, “permanently changing what we value, how and where we shop, and how we live and work.”

Aside from raising their priorities toward health, safety for their friends and family and a financial sense of safety for their spending, consumers—of all ages—quickly jumped online for much of their spending, and e-commerce saw 10 years of growth in the space of a few months. And that shift to online purchases (and familiarity with new tech options) will shape consumer purchases into this year and well beyond, even among what used to be infrequent online shoppers and even as the economy stabilizes going forward. The use of “digitally enabled services” will increase for a range of uses from buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) to virtual try-on (VTO), accessing some health care interactions online, virtual styling and consults, and more.

Per Accenture, shopping is now “local, mindful and digital.”

Accenture advised retailers:

• Create closer partnerships with local businesses to meet the demand for local, trusted and authentic products and shopping experiences.

• Consider introducing or increasing value and mid-range brands within the assortment, to meet the demand from cost-conscious consumers.

• Continue to focus on broader and holistic health and wellness offerings—strategies that include changes in assortment, driving education and awareness.

• Focus on incentivizing conscious consumption by driving public/private action and consumer education (that is, taking part in purchases connected to a “purpose.”

• Provide options for shopping digitally—offering consumers different ways to shop will help to generate loyalty.

What this means for optical retailers and vision care providers is significant and we are already in the midst of a new era of digital tech, as national and regional retail groups look to speed up processes and independents do the same, all according to the scale that digital can bring. From improving selection and smoothing interactions with dispensers and sales associates, improving “choice” and selection and diversifying delivery, all of this is redefining the customer and patient experience in the modern era.

In the optical dispensary, there are dozens of new and updated technologies coming to the forefront, as our topline review in this month’s Cover Topic illustrates. Optical is in the midst of learning to support its “brick” in new and refreshed ways. But many ECPs and retailers are now finding tools and resources to help facilitate the “click” as well.