We are a research company and collect tons of data every year. This makes us not omniscient, but in many cases we have a pretty good overview over what topics are relevant for different industries and what really moves consumers. During the last weeks, we have reflected about our most recent learnings. In this post we want to share nine trends with you that we consider highly relevant in the consumer goods segment.
Changes in Society
Society has always been changing. Therefore, it is a good idea to keep an eye on its most important developments, since they may completely change the context of how brands are perceived and who might be a potential consumer. Not adapting to these changes is giving away potential for growth.
We have seen a significant change in social values in recent years, and, what’s more important, brands are expected to make these values part of their proposition. Food increasingly has to be seasonal, regional, healthy and organic. Products are expected to be sustainable, i.e. to leave a positive social or environmental footprint. Consumers want to be able to trust a brand and feel confident that these act responsibly on behalf of their customers.
The emotional needs of consumers have also changed and correspond to the conditions of modern life. As life has become more ambiguous and complex, products are increasingly expected to be meaningful and reify one’s identity. As more and more services get automated, an extraordinary personal service can make all the difference. As lifestyles become more individual, customizable products are increasingly part of a competitive edge. As many people feel lonely and isolated in modern societies, the need for connection with others rises.
These changes require brands to respond in one way or another. Manufacturing brands may try to venture into new waters with innovative product line extensions and realize a price premium with leading edge solutions. But even existing products may benefit from an update, e.g. a more environmentally friendly packaging or a brand communication that reflects the changing needs of its target group.
Social change is not only about its values and needs, but also about very material conditions. In many Western countries inequality has risen during the last years. Many citizens feel less secured by the welfare systems of their home countries and therefore consider themselves in a stronger competition with others. This change did certainly not affect all social classes to the same degree, but large parts of the population may have a higher anxiety about the future.
One of our recent surveys among the French population indicated, for example, that a majority expects an economic recession in the coming decade, with negative effects on employment and purchase power. The longer such pessimistic views persist, the more they will manifest in purchase and consumer behaviour: bigger purchases will be postponed, while frequently used products are likely to be supplemented with cheaper alternatives. As certain consumer segments become more price sensitive, suppliers are getting under price pressure. If the costs for raw materials cannot be reduced (which is very often the case), other strategies for lowering the final price need to be found, e.g. removing unnecessary product features, creating more frugal products or scaling up the sales volumes to allow for lower margins. Especially private labels and store brands are very capable in serving this segment.
Another way to reduce costs is cutting the middleman and selling directly to the customer via the internet.
New digital technologies are available to seamlessly integrate all digital touchpoints into our average lives. A Headless Commerce Architecture facilitates connecting an online store with any desired user interface. Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are starting to replace traditional mobile apps by turning any website into a platform independent application. Voice Assistants and conversational interfaces can bridge the gap between how humans naturally communicate with each other and how tediously they interact with technology. Finally, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) blur the boundaries between the real world and virtual shopping environments, for example, when turning the living room into the virtual fitting room of an online store.
Digitalization is not merely about online shopping, of course. It integrates all stages of the digital customer journey. It may start with targeted advertising, continue with tracking conversions and user behaviour, include re-targeting of the most promising user segments, leading users through an optimized flow all along the way from the landing page to the check-out, tracking the parcel until delivery to the customers home and finally encouraging its customers to leave a product review or recommend the brand to others on Social Media. Brands are now able to keep track of individuals all along the customer journey, from the very first contact with the brand until having become a loyal customer. This trend is likely to intensify.
Especially Direct-to-Consumer brands (D2C) seem to be dominating this field until now. However, customer journeys in general have become much more complex and comprise several omni-channel models, where the virtual world interacts with real-world shopping to create a better customer experience, e.g. allowing clients to pick-up, try and return products in a local store, particularly when purchased online. Such omni-channel models offer great opportunities for all players in the market.
The Big Picture
There are many forces at play and there is no clear path forward that would work for every brand. All factors lead to a high competitive pressure and success will show who adapts best to these changes.
Whatever happens, we believe data is the best compass in these uncharted waters.