Technologies4 min read

The Great Digital Frontier

Blakely Thomas-Aguilar
VMware "Digital Frontiers" study explores consumer trends and sentiments during the pandemic and the rising demand for better digital experiences across all industries.

For Better or Worse

From grocery shopping and eating out, to doctor appointments and personal finances, so many experiences changed over the last year. But for the better or worse?

The “Digital Frontiers” global research effort explores the links between tech innovation, people and society. More specifically, it looks at how technology helps push exceptional digital services and experiences—and if consumers feel organizations are doing it right.

To get a pulse on global consumer trends and sentiment during the pandemic, YouGov and VMware surveyed more than 13,250 people worldwide.

Here are key insights from the study into how and where organizations are—and aren’t—meeting customers’ digital expectations.

Consumer Trends: Digital Everything

Suddenly and swiftly, the pandemic flipped the proverbial switch to “digital everything”—shopping, living, working, schooling, banking and more. In 2020, over half (52%) of adults embraced new digital services from organizations and enjoyed the experience.

Yet worldwide:

  • Fewer than half of people surveyed believe the companies they interact with* deliver an improved digital experience now compared to before the pandemic.
  • Over half of all respondents would switch to a competitor if their digital experience didn’t live up to expectations.

A closer look by industry reveals where respondents believe organizations failed to adapt or improve services with the changing market.

The majority of respondents believe they are personally responsible for increasing their digital skills. However, the youngest generation (18–24-year-olds) are concerned about their elders. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of that group worry their older relatives can’t keep up with the new digital world and therefore, won’t have access to services they need and want. In fact, 3-in-10 (34%) people aged 55+ respondents describe themselves as not digitally active or digitally naive.

Rising Demands for Better App Experiences

Today’s consumers have digital experience expectations. Those surveyed—more than 40% of whom identify themselves as digitally curious or digital explorers—want to know their data and devices are protected. They also want services that are simple to access and use.

Top 5 Consumer Priorities for Digital Experiences

"Still thinking about digital experiences, in general, which three, if any, of the following are the most important things you want to see today from organizations?"

  • 62% - High level of security and data protection
  • 44% - Ease of use across all devices
  • 39% - Apps that deliver services simply and effectively
  • 34% - Faster speed of service
  • 23% - Constant delivery or improvements to services and experiences

Companies that don’t meet these expectations will lose customers. Only 10% said they’ll remain loyal to companies that fall short on digital experience. Yet, 37% agreed that “2020 has made me more forgiving of organizations getting things ‘wrong’ while they trial new digital services to improve my customer service experience.”

“There’s no question new digital experiences have been integral to many businesses’ very survival. Although companies successfully made the digital switch, this research shows many have not delighted customers with these new online experiences. Businesses that fail to focus on improving digital experiences are likely to lose customers. But those that do it well have everything to gain.”

— Matthew O’Neil, Industry Managing Director, Advanced Technology Group, VMware

Appetite for Innovation

Although key industries*, most notably retail, fell short in delivering cutting-edge digital experiences, consumers remain eager to try new offerings. These are just some of the industry-specific insights the research uncovered:

Financial Services

What’s more important these days than a wallet for financial transactions? Almost half (47%) of survey respondents say their smartphones—32% for the 55+ crowd, rising to 54% among 18–24-year-olds.


Survey respondents were most negative about buying experiences. In fact, only 16% are excited at the prospect of ongoing virtual interactions with retailers vs. in-store experiences. Today, 58% of respondents agree they would leave a retailer’s website if an issue couldn’t be solved immediately. But there is hope for brands.


Healthcare is a bright spot. Over half (53%) of respondents are now comfortable with—or even excited about—replacing all routine medical appointments with virtual consultations.

New innovations are coming into their own in healthcare, particularly AI, robotics and secure personal data.

Survey Reveals Lack of Trust among Consumers in Many Industries

As much as digital now impacts all aspects of our lives, people remain wary. And their trust in technology remains uncertain. Many are convinced of the positive impact tech is having today and in the future. Yet, they don’t believe companies are acting in people’s best interests.

A Path Forward

“2020 was the year of the digital switch. In 2021 digital services will need to live up to consumer expectations. That means creating, delivering and protecting great applications, services and experiences for digitally hungry consumers. And a move from digitizing to becoming digital.”

— Matthew O’Neil, Industry Managing Director, Advanced Technology Group, VMware

The onus really is on business leaders to set and exceed these digital business objectives:

  1. Anticipate and meet customer and employee needs.
  2. Optimize operations to dramatically increase go-to-market speed.
  3. Strengthen security to reduce cybersecurity threats and mitigate losses.

Organizations willing to rethink digital strategies and reimagine processes have a path forward.

  • Ensure digital services and experience meet customer expectations. Otherwise, they will go to competitors.
  • Optimize for user simplicity, great apps and security as these are critical to digital success.
  • Know everything is to gain. There’s a real opportunity to get digital right with a ready-made, digitally curious audience.
  • Recognize the fastest path from digitizing to digital experience is the right digital foundation.

By accelerating digital transformation strategies, organizations can rapidly deliver customer and employee value. A good place to start: modernizing infrastructure and applications—which includes building, running, managing, protecting and connecting apps on a digital foundation—as well as enabling the anywhere workforce. Both are foundational to digital business success.

Leading Change

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