By April of this year, an astounding 62% of US online adults had performed some kind of online transaction for the first time as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic — many began ordering products online for delivery, others experimented with digital payments or started banking online, and some opted to receive medical advice or participate in holistic wellness programs entirely virtually. The pace of consumer behavior change has clicked into another gear, and within a single year, we will have seen the most dramatic transformation of how we buy compared to any other year in recent history. While businesses race to shore up resources and catch up with this unprecedented rate of consumer change — against the strain of navigating a raging global health and financial crisis — we at Forrester have been looking even further down the line of the horizon. We have been asking: What is the future of B2C buying, and what do business leaders need to survive and thrive in the next decade?
We’ve said previously that any successful business transformation starts with an incisive understanding of consumer behaviors, attitudes, motivations, and needs. And once again, after months of analyzing deep quantitative and qualitative data, industry case studies, and myriad business models, we discovered that three specific shifts among empowered consumers will seed the most powerful forces that shape the future of consumption. Given the trajectory of consumer change over the last decade along with new patterns of activity brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, prepare for these consumer trends to catalyze forthcoming waves of innovation:
- Consumers will buy from — or avoid — brands because of perceived company values. Already, over 60% of the most emboldened US and European consumers say they regularly purchase from companies that align with their personal values, and consumers are becoming more sensitive to company values this year. From Chick-fil-A to Danone, consumers seek out brands that demonstrate an ongoing commitment to certain values across their brand strategy, manufacturing practices, supplier partnerships, employee experience, and corporate partnerships.
- Product and service experimentation will proliferate. Ten years ago, 39% of US online adults said that they were always willing to try out new brands and products; today, 53% agree. As more brands feed consumers’ appetite for experimentation — for example, by pivoting to product trials or sending shipments of new products through subscription boxes — they condition consumers to expect an element of experimentation before and during the purchase experience. Two weeks ago, Netflix started allowing consumers to watch select content for free without the burden of signing up for a subscription — or even for the typical free trial.
- Consumers will demand both traditional and new buying and delivery methods. This week’s launch of Walmart+, the subscription service that offers benefits like delivery, discounts, and scan-and-go purchasing in physical stores, is not an isolated event — it signals that consumers are demanding better experiences of every kind. As consumers experiment with e-commerce variations that promise new modes of product discovery and acquisition, shoppers still hold fast to the tried-and-true channels that have become engrained in their routines. Today, the most empowered consumers say that they are likely to buy more from retailers online and spend more time in physical stores as distancing restrictions are lifted over the next 12 to 24 months.
The future of consumer buying is not a shift from traditional to digital, nor is it an abandonment of self-service in favor of delivery; it’s all of the above. Consumers want values-based experiences, experimentation, price, and convenience, and they don’t want to make the trade-off. The most successful forthcoming innovations will yield new products, services, and delivery models that cater to all consumer motivations at once.
The disruptions we’ve seen during 2020 were unexpected, but in just a few years from now, they won’t look like an anomaly. As consumer-facing businesses enter the most frenzied phase of innovation they’ve experienced, they must internalize the data, research, and advice that will guide them to reinvent their engines of growth. See the full results of this research collaboration on the future of B2C buying with my brilliant colleagues by downloading our complimentary e-book or by reading our latest report, “Vast, Fast, And Relentless: Consumer Buying Enters A New Era.”