CHICAGO — It seems nothing changes faster than consumers' demands and needs — and that won't change in 2015.
With the new year approximately two months away, Mintel trend analysts identified four key U.S. consumer trends that will have the most impact in 2015. They are: smart technology; the blending of digital and brick-and-mortar retail; a growing awareness of consumer rights; and the rejection of gender stereotypes.
The world of synced devices, including wearable technology and smart home appliances, will mainstream as trusted retailers and manufacturers satisfy the consumer appetite for collecting data and controlling devices, according to Chicago-based Mintel.
"Smart innovations are no longer the domain of start-ups," said Stacy Glasgow, Mintel's consumer trends consultant. "Major players such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Samsung, as well as retailers, are embracing the trend and raising consumer confidence in it."
Mintel's research finds that interest is high as 59 percent of U.S. consumers are interested in using an app or website to control their home. Yet, savvy consumers are recognizing there should be synergy between these smart services. Four in 10 U.S. consumers would like to buy technology products that easily connect to products they already have.
Compatibility is likewise a concern, since 22 percent of all U.S. consumers have already purchased a wearable device like a smart watch or Fitbit.
Smart devices also go beyond health and home economics, with telematic devices that monitor driving habits. Going forward, data-collecting device manufacturers will invite companies to become analysis providers. The next stage will be for banks, grocers and doctors to do more to develop data relationships.
My Wallet, My Way
Consumer expectations for on-demand convenience are blurring the lines between digital and brick-and-mortar retail, driving immediacy not just in shopping, but also expanding it into any consumer interactions with businesses, Mintel said.
The Internet has disrupted traditional approaches to shopping, setting up an expectation not just for convenience, but for immediacy. Brick-and-mortar retailers have melded with the digital as more locations offer in-store pickup for online orders and, on the other side, virtual-only services open physical stores, the research firm noted.
"The ability to get hands-on with what was formerly only virtual could gain more customers for these e-commerce retailers," Glasgow said. "Companies are also bridging the customer relationship gap left by online-only interactions with unique service approaches like creating community spaces, as insurance provider State Farm did with its Next Door Café."
Expanded Wi-Fi plans for trains, planes and even Uber-mobiles will ease the ability to shop while in transit and encourage more "click-and-collect" services, such as the grocery pickup service being tested by Walmart.
"At the heart of this trend is that our on-demand, instant gratification culture is spreading," Glasgow said. "These conveniences also are not only for city dwellers as more business models, including in-store pickup or subscription services, bring the benefits of modern life to suburban and rural residents. This 'at-your-convenience' expectation is likely to influence other customer service-based industries, and we predict that consumers will want to see more customized, on-demand access to financial services, health care and more."
Fight for Your Rights
According to Mintel, growing awareness of customer rights and corporate misbehavior will drive consumers to demand more fairness and justice from companies, with consumer input becoming almost integral.
Technology has transformed protests from organized marches to a bare minimum of "clicktivism," or the ability to express one's opinion, support or dislike through online petitions, viral video views and social media posts, the analysts explained. Consumers are now demanding openness from companies — more information, responsibility and accountability.
"The desire to sit-down-and-click to share one's thoughts will likely continue because consumers have begun to see the power these viral revolts can have," said Jenny Zegler, Mintel's trends analyst. "In 2014, 'clicktivism' forced companies to revise marketing campaigns, to reformulate ingredient statements or to simply acknowledge consumer sentiment."
Consumers also can exercise their rights at the cash register, purchasing only brands that align with their ideals on marriage equality, minimum wage or political party affiliation. In the U.S., 18 percent of 19- to 36-year-olds go out of their way to buy from companies or brands that support LGBT issues, Mintel data shows.
Corporate policies influence restaurant choice, too, with Mintel research finding that 82 percent of U.S. adults who visited a restaurant in the past month say a restaurant that treats its employees fairly influences their choice. In addition, 63 percent of U.S. adults choose a restaurant because it actively supports the humane treatment of animals.
"For those companies that are not proactive or are seen as insincere, we expect to see a continuation of protests against these real — and perceived — transgressions," Zegler explained. "In 2015, companies globally will increasingly be forced to apologize, admit their mistakes and show a human face. Companies also may find themselves more eager to consult potential customers on their products, promotional campaigns and company policies."
People are questioning traditional notions of gender, rejecting the restraints of stereotypes and embracing the freedom to be themselves and do what they want. In 2015, the United Nations and European Union will issue new goals regarding gender equality and empowerment, laying the groundwork for global conversation, Mintel noted.
"With the world's focus on gender this coming year, we expect to see much more conversation — and controversy — about equality in the professional, political and social spheres," Zegler said. "People will speak louder and clearer about progress on the part of governments, businesses and brands that shape the opportunities and social expectations that they face in their daily lives."
Mintel data shows shifts in consumer behavior that reflect attitudinal changes to traditional gender stereotypes.
Nearly three-quarters of U.S. men say they feel more attractive and 70 percent say they get a confidence boost when they are well groomed. Meanwhile, U.S. women aged 18-34 are more likely than men in the same age range to buy tickets to live sporting events (35 percent vs. 28 percent) and branded merchandise related to their favorite sports (22 percent vs. 16 percent).
Marketers need to show they understand consumers' modern perceptions of gender, namely that consumers are much more complex than the social constraints built around them.