As researchers, we are always looking to spot new trends in consumer behaviour before they happen. As Big Data continues to create opportunities for researchers and data scientists alike, businesses are able to scour data sets and uncover potential customers. What is more tricky, however, is understanding and predicting the macro trends that shape our society as a whole.
30 years ago, no-one could have known the phenomenal importance the internet would have in modern commerce. Only 10 years ago, it would have been difficult to comprehend that mobile payments could ever be conceived, let alone become integrated into mainstream stores. Even now, we have little idea about how society will progress — what will and will not be important to consumers of the future. Will it be hyper-personalisation? Will brands cease to exist? Will there even be a need for physical currency?
Understanding the answers to these types of questions can give companies a long term competitive edge. We have yet to see whether early adopters of mobile payments will benefit from the innovation, but the early indications are that they will. And there is already talk of adapting virtual reality devices for business and research purposes. Knowing whether or not this will become a mainstream habit will help organisations firmly cement their role as an industry leader. To help you predict the trends that will become central to consumers’ lives over the coming years, we have put together a short guide.
Ditch the Data…
Obviously, Big Data gives organisations a huge advantage — those that have the capability to structure and interpret it will have access to unique insight. But data is based on previous behaviour. It can tell us what has happened in the past, with a hint of what the future might hold. But could data alone predict the next explosive change in behaviour? Probably not.
Instead, we must turn our attention to the qualitative understanding of people and their actions. Rather than asking, ‘What have consumers been doing?’ we should instead ask, ‘What drives consumers to these actions?’ If we can understand the core psychological and behavioural traits that form the basis of actions, then we will be able to reliably predict what innovations will become integral to consumers. Of course, it is not that simple; if it were then there would be no contest — we would all know the future.
But if we take the example of the internet, then there are some clear reasons why it has become such a large part of consumer life. It removes barriers to market entry, allowing more organisations to create stores and find an audience. It removes barriers to purchase, making it easy for customers to connect with and purchase items. The key driving principle beneath this is simplicity. Of course, the wave of simplicity is not over yet. The internet is constantly developing and currently undergoing a UX revolution.
What’s the message behind this revolution? Users want a better, more simplified experience. We should be developing websites and online presences based around what consumers want — and consumers want simplicity. The application may be different, but the core ideology is the same: technology is an enabler for an easy and enjoyable purchase experience.
…But Not All the Data
It should go without saying that while data may not be the best predictor of consumer behaviour trends, it is still an important aspect of understanding how this will form in practice. If we were to remove data entirely, then we could safely assume that every new innovation that makes life easier will succeed. But, more often than not, these ventures will fail.
It is at this stage that data should be considered. Use it to discover which technologies and products customers have adopted and why. What are the common factors shared between each? Perhaps it is an internal influence, company culture, retail channels or levels of investment. Diving into detailed data can really give your next idea a competitive edge. Combined with an understanding of overall macro trends, you are giving yourself every chance to succeed.
Talk to People
It is often easy to forget the value of talking to people and understanding their point of view. An independent outlook can be incredibly beneficial, creating a new perspective and new way to see trends. What one person may see as simplicity, another may see as reductionist. Find people who challenge your own beliefs and engage them in discussions. It’s only by understanding a well-rounded and multi-faceted view of any potential trend that you will be able to assess whether or not it may become mainstream.
Don’t let your own judgement cloud decision making. Even if you are in love with the latest piece of technology, that does not mean it will be successful. Perhaps you are an early adopter, but you may also be part of a niche. Talking to more people, understanding their barriers to purchase, what matters to them the most and how they behave on a day to day basis will give you a much better platform on which to base your judgements.
Overall, there is no quick and easy way to predict how consumer trends will change in the future. But by looking to gain psychological and behavioural insight into what drives people, we may be able to make an educated guess. Of course, there will still be an element of risk, but by backing this research up with data and predictive modelling, it is possible to reduce that amount of risk significantly.
What do you think will be the next big change in consumer behaviour? Do you think virtual reality will become as central to our lives as the internet? Do you believe the sharing economy will take over? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.