Consumers are changing. Their needs, expectations and loyalty are all shifting, adapting to an age of digital transformation that has shattered boundaries and elevated competition among retail businesses and service providers alike.
Therefore, with these disruptions in mind, how can your business keep up with these new market terms, and capture the attention of today's demanding customers? How can it adapt to the patterns and behaviours that define today's commerce environment? Essentially, as we head into 2020, what do customers want?
To find an answer, we've taken a look at the past year's top consumer trends in an attempt to identify how companies can not only navigate these questions - but thrive in the process.
Across industries, consumers are taking note of exceptional purchasing experience, product quality and customer service, gaining insight from the readily available feedback of other shoppers. As a result, their expectations are soaring.
Businesses today are required to identify, understand, and meet these expectations by broadening the lines of communication with consumers. By obtaining feedback on their likes, dislikes and needs, and closely monitoring market competition, customer engagement can allow businesses to foster a closer relationship with their buyers and instigate a sense of mutual trust.
Our lives move fast, and consumers expect to spend minimal time and effort when acquiring the services that they crave; this particular phenomenon has been fueled by - and, indeed, contributed to - the growth of eCommerce. Across numerous markets, consumer purchasing trends show massive increases in online spending, with sales figures consistently slumping in brick and mortar stores across industries.
This is - or should be - to the benefit of businesses, as a declining need for physical presence across sales territories results in lower overhead costs, and thus the ability to invest further in the development of other areas of the business, such as portfolio reinforcement and digital presence enhancement.
To continue to benefit from this shift in customer preference, you should evaluate your customers' online shopping experience with a central value in mind: convenience. E-shops should be functional with seamless user experience best practices in place, while physical product delivery should be prompt and reliable. Data collection must be utilised effectively, offering helpful shopping suggestions and support. Furthermore, you should reward shopper loyalty with dedicated incentive programmes designed to capture their recurring business.
Another form of convenience that is gaining momentum and demand across markets is the subscription-based business model. It allows customers to pre-order products or services to be delivered frequently, without having to repeat the purchasing process at each interval. A newer business model worth investing in, companies can take advantage of this to secure valuable recurring revenue, and benefit from the resulting consumer loyalty.
Buyers now no longer simply approve of the ability to personalise the products and services offered to them. Rather, consumers increasingly expect to be able to customise the offering they receive, increasing their involvement in the production process and leading to a heightened sense of ownership in conjunction with their purchase.
Indeed, the unbounded accessibility afforded to consumers by Industry 4.0 has enabled them to gain unprecedented access to the design and manufacturing process. Whether this is in the form of 3D printing, mobile apps or artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, companies can now offer their customers the opportunity to be involved in this area of the business. The added investment in rolling these capabilities out to shoppers is worthwhile, as they are features that many are willing to pay a premium for.
In the beauty industry, for example, this translates to customising the colours, textures and scents of cosmetic products. This trend has taken off with full force in 2019, led by extreme pressure on beauty brands to both capture and cater to the full ethnic diversity of the general population. In fashion, meanwhile, this has meant consumers gaining the ability to modify the design of clothing, footwear and accessories based on their creative individuality.
Despite the emphasis placed on many aspects of consumer experience and expectation, if a product or service is of questionable quality, then it will not have success in today's climate. Customers continue to seek out - and remain loyal to - high-quality, consistent products.
Quality, however, has been redefined by consumers in recent years. Products now come under scrutiny right down to the ingredients and materials used in their composition. The fashion, beauty and food industry are experiencing heightening demand for products that are environmentally friendly and contain non-synthetic components; think of keywords such as vegan, paraben-free, and non-GMO. A significant number of consumers are shunning products that use synthetic fragrances, artificial colours, harsh detergents and silicones – the list of non-desirable ingredients goes on.
This trend has created new sub-categories within traditional markets, making it easier for startups to gain ground with modern consumers. Meanwhile, traditional businesses struggle to catch up, as even the slightest changes in manufacturing processes can delay production times, and therefore affect profitability.
Smaller businesses can take advantage of this focus and develop 'clean' products to market to a targeted audience, aligning with their strong, identifiable values and, indeed, possibly shaping the progression of these industries in the years to come.
Customer service has always been important. Building trust between your brand and your customers, however, has never been so key to survival, due primarily to the rise of online consumer information sharing.
Buyers are now empowered to share their experiences and feedback with peers online, transcending territories and industries. This means that a singular negative buyer experience could cost a company existing and future customers, translating in the long-term to financial losses.
For this reason, resolving negative experiences as soon as possible should be a top priority for your business. Pre-determined resolution strategies should be identified to address a myriad of potential issues, and measures should be put in place to ensure that customers leave the resolution exchange feeling positive, instead of disgruntled.
Indeed, with considerable scrutiny on how businesses value their consumers, the traditional customer service model must adapt. No longer is one business unit enough to implement a customer-first approach fully. Now, each department and internal team must be aware of the mission and vision of the company and share its top priority: making customers happy. This company-wide understanding will allow employees to better address customer feedback, positive or negative, and influence buyer satisfaction at each stage of the purchasing cycle.
One of the most significant changes in consumer behaviour has focused on ethics; essentially, morality matters for today's buyers. A company's vision and community intentions increasingly impact the emotional connection customers develop with the business, and directly affect their purchasing choices and loyalty.
Companies of all sizes have addressed this trend through the adoption of fairer trading practices and production processes, and your business should be no different. Undertaken either independently, or by participating in existing initiative programmes such as Fairtrade, its vital to ensure that trading conditions throughout your supply chain are ethical and mutually beneficial.
Finally, a committed and active corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy can go great lengths to deepening the relationship shoppers have with your brand. The promotion of positive work within relevant communities can heavily influence customers' perception of your brand, particularly if the shoppers themselves feel included in the campaigns and initiatives.
Customer needs are undeniably changing and growing. 2019 has seen shifts in consumer trends that show no signs of slowing down, indicating that companies must be quick to adapt in order to survive and thrive. Ensure that your business takes advantage of new technologies and strategies to fulfil customers' needs, provide better products, offer seamless services and thus capture consumer attention and loyalty.
What other consumer trends are worth paying attention to? Join the discussion below and let us know your thoughts.