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Pandemic dramatically sped up shift to online shopping, Mastercard CEO says

People will go back to shopping in stores when it's safe, but not as often as before the pandemic, says Michael Miebach.

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Mastercard CEO said Tuesday that the coronavirus pandemic caused online shopping to accelerate at a much faster rate than previous years.

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Online shopping became essential in 2020, increasing by about 20% from the previous year, Mastercard CEO Michael Miebach told viewers during a virtual CES panel Tuesday. While some consumers are looking forward to visiting local businesses again when it's safe, Miebach says that growth rate won't go back down to slower pre-pandemic figures. 

"Years of digital acceleration have been kind of compressed into months," Miebach said.

Going forward, consumers will be more likely to make repetitive purchases of everyday items online, having learned how to do this over many months of lockdowns and business closures. In-store purchases may be more limited to purchases that consumers want advice from knowledgeable retailers before making.

Miebach's prediction follows remarks from Best Buy CEO Corie Barry, who said at a separate CES keynote that customers will also want to keep options like curbside pick up.

As retailers and payment processors continue to sort through trends from the past year, a picture of the pandemic's impact on how we buy things is becoming more clear. More online retail provides more data for commerce giants to comb through and find how to get customers to come back to store websites, Miebach said. Additionally, the need to introduce services that let people keep shopping while protecting customers and employees from COVID-19 has prompted retailers to try new solutions at a faster rate than normal.

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Miebach, who shared the virtual stage with Accenture CEO Julie Sweet, also remarked that the country's focus on systemic racism stemming from the murder of George Floyd prompted changes that may have impacts beyond the past year.

Mastercard approached the issue by committing to bring more Black and Indigenous people of color into leadership roles at the vice president level and higher, as well as examining pay gaps and other inequalities within the company, Miebach said. The company is also examining how it can create a more "financially inclusive" system that gives more opportunities to people of color, including a $500 million commitment to invest in Black communities over the next five years.

Sweet said the events of 2020 put extra emphasis on efforts to create a diverse workforce at all levels. Noting that a team with diverse viewpoints leads to better work, Sweet said the goal isn't just altruistic.

"It's not only the right thing to do, but it's the right business answer," she said.