retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe 

From the New York Times, a story about how a traditional mode of communication has been given new relevance by the pandemic:

"Phone calls have made a comeback in the pandemic. While the nation’s biggest telecommunications providers prepared for a huge shift toward more internet use from home, what they didn’t expect was an even greater surge in plain old voice calls, a medium that had been going out of fashion for years.

"Verizon said it was now handling an average of 800 million wireless calls a day during the week, more than double the number made on Mother’s Day, historically one of the busiest call days of the year. Verizon added that the length of voice calls was up 33 percent from an average day before the outbreak. AT&T said that the number of cellular calls had risen 35 percent and that Wi-Fi-based calls had nearly doubled from averages in normal times.

"In contrast, internet traffic is up around 20 percent to 25 percent from typical daily patterns, AT&T and Verizon said.

"The rise is stunning given how voice calls have long been on the decline. Some 90 million households in the United States have ceased using landline phones since 2000, according to USTelecom. Wireless calls replaced much of that calling activity, but the volume of minutes spent on phone calls hasn’t changed much over the past decade as people turned to texting and to apps like FaceTime and WhatsApp, according to wireless carriers and analysts."

I find this fascinating.  Like many parents, I suspect, I have long been a little frustrated when my kids have preferred to use their smartphones for texting messages, and would not answer them when I called;  they would, more often than not, prefer to listen to whatever message I'd leave and then respond via text.  (I still don't understand why, on those occasions when they call me and I don't answer the phone, they don't leave voice mail messages …)

It will be interesting to see if, when the current crisis has receded, some of these new habits persist.  They are part of a broader swath of activities - sitting in bars and restaurants, shopping at malls and stores, flying on airplanes, going to sporting events, sitting in theaters - that, if we are honest, we have no idea how they will rebound.

My suspicion is that it will all come back in fits and starts.  I, for one, can't wait to start traveling again … but I must admit to being a little conflicted about getting back on an airplane.

But I do think that we are craving human contact, which is why phone calls and conversations matter … and why they may serve as the foundation on which the future will be built.

That's the Eye-Opener.