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A survey of 20,000 Europeans showed the dramatic effect the pandemic has had on digital transformation.

Digital adoption in Europe jumped from 81 percent to 95 percent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. So says a new study from McKinsey Digital in which they surveyed 20,000 consumers from across Europe. Such an increase would have taken two to three years in most industries at pre-pandemic growth rates, according to McKinsey.

The high average, however, masks wide geographic differences within Europe. These differences derived from (1) the severity of restrictions imposed in different markets on people’s movement and business operations and (2) by the digital maturity of those markets.

Germany, the country with the lowest adoption rate prior to COVID-19 among the countries analyzed, saw the largest uptick (28 percentage points). Nordic countries still show some of the highest adoption rates, but Finland has replaced Denmark at the top of the league, with a total of 99 percent having used a digital service in the previous six months.

Reducing the “digital divide”

Noticeable, too, is the extent to which the pandemic has shrunk the yawning gaps that existed between European countries in terms of online activity. The difference between the countries with the highest and lowest digital adoption rates fell from 32 percentage points to just ten during the pandemic.

For example, the top tier of digital adopters included the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland. These countries all surged to over 95% digital adoption under COVID. But there were some surprising additions to this leading cohort. Spain, Poland and the Czech Republic also scored over 95% to join their Nordic colleagues at the top of the list.

And while Germany did realize the highest growth in digital adoption, they also had a lot of room for improvement. Indeed, even with their impressive jump of 28%, the Germans only went from 61% to 89% – still well short of the leader group.

While COVID-19 has evened out adoption rates by country, the same is not true by industry. Not surprisingly, industries like social media and grocery saw the most growth as Europe weathered a series of lockdowns. In the grocery sector, 51 percent of those surveyed used digital services during the pandemic. This compares with only 29 percent previously, a mammoth growth factor of 1.8.

Digital banking and Entertainment also saw impressive growth during the pandemic, as people managed their funds carefully while binge watching Netflix and other streaming media.