Monday, 2 April 2012

Consumer Shopping Trends for 2012

While 2012 is already 4 months old, we wanted to take a look at some of the trends that are being touted as coming into their own in 2012. Some of these trends feel like they have been around for awhile already and are only now just taking off (yes, we're talking about you QR!). Here is a summary of some of the trends that we agree with and see happening or are coming just around the corner.

1) Cashless - More companies and consumers are going to be going cashless with credit, debit and gift cards paving the way to getting the distraction of spending countless minutes finding the right coins and bills out of your purse/wallet/man bag or whatever else you are keeping your coinage in these days. Swiping your smartphone will become more and more easy and ubiquitous as the major players in the industry find the best way to make you want to use cards to do all your transactions. The benefit for credit cards and banks is easy. Using your cards makes it far easier to track your consumer spending. The trick will be to avoid the VHS/Beta issue and find a platform that works with everyone. Look for other companies like Google and Facebook to make a major play in this area as well. We already have seen Google with their Google Wallet initiative but it has not exactly taken off with consumers. But anything that has personal information attached is something that the tech giants are going to want to be involved in.

2) More Personal Connections to Consumers - As twitter, facebook and other social media companies become more entrenched in our daily communications and recommendation filters, look to companies to become more personal with their communications to their market consumers. We already see how small companies create long lasting partnerships with their clients by creating a more personal touch and reaching out to their users. Users who receive this personal treatment and correspondance feel more in touch, better informed and more involved in a company. They feel like they are important to the success of the company and that what they say matters. The team here know from experiences with other websites how empowering it is to be emailing someone high up in a company and not just some faceless person in a call center in India. This is the type of user experience we want to emulate ourselves. Consumers want their brands to be more in touch with their experiences, more human and less like a faceless corporation only serving their own and their shareholders needs. While they are bound to their shareholders in making profits, companies can offer other ways of communicating the values their customers hold important.

3) Location Awareness in Mobile Shopping - Location awareness has already become integral to our experiences with mobile (foursquare, gowalla, yelp, etc). However, this technology has only skimmed the surface of the possibilities and the possibilities for merchants and ad networks. We are expecting more and more pervasive uses of location awareness/data as the year progresses. Privacy concerns may make the mobile market hesitant but the richness of abilities it allows for marketing and real-time engagement are too enticing to ignore. We will likely see better communicating of how data is being used to offset these privacy concerns and, as we have seen in other instances, privacy concerns will only be brief flashes, important to a few minority. Most users don't seem concerned enough, despite what surveys state, to read through the terms of services or take the time to turn of these settings.

4) Resell/Trading - We are increasingly buying more and more consumer products. One of the issues is that we are increasingly buying into the idea of always having the newest of a product. Witness the ability of Apple to bring out a new iPad 3 and sell 3 million in one weekend when the iPad 2 is still a viable, useful and only 1 year old product. There is nothing wrong with it and yet we yearn for the newest, shiniest and coolest product. It's a continual case of keeping up with the Jones'. Yet in it's wake are left millions of still useful gadgets and consumer products. Gazelle is a company making a surge in the market of giving consumers a way to trade in their used products for money. Ebay and other auction sites have for a long time auctioned off people's unwanted materials. However, companies and brands are now getting into it providing unique ways of helping consumers unlock more value out of their products. Amazon allows students to get gift cards in exchange for the value of used books, cds, dvds and others. So why is this becoming more a trend. Today's consumers increasingly like being thought of as being savvy and environmentally conscious shoppers who are creative in how they shop. The easier it is for them to resell or trade their brand name merchandise the more devoted they will become to those particular brands.

5) Instant Visual Gratification - Look for companies to use QR codes, Google Goggles and other visual elements combined with mobile technology to create more ways to capture the mobile shopper. Not long ago, places like TED talks were showcasing large pieces of technology you wore around your neck that allowed you to manipulate images. This as leapfrogged into the technology you have in your pocket and use everyday; the mobile phone. Not only are QR codes becoming more ubiquitous and better known to the consumer (though outside the US, we still looking at QR codes as if they strange doodles someone left behind. That's right Canada! Let's move into the 21st century already!), newer technologies that allow animations right within the image itself are coming. At SXSW, one company was using images like movie posters to create animated commercials. Simply using the companies app and using the camera to display the poster image would cause it start the otherwise static image to begin moving. Starbucks got into this idea in their last Christmas promotion. Look for more of this to happen. Where companies will really use this to their advantage will be to have the image display data about the image right to the viewer.

View the rest after the jump!


6) Online Waging Hostile War on Offline Stores - Amazon is pushing hard and will continue to do so in 2012. They are increasingly making it easy for shoppers to display products on their mobile phones in offline stores and showing competitive pricing should the shopper buy the same item through Amazon. They are undercutting offline stores to the point where some offline stores are refusing to discuss products without charging a discussion fee for talking to the customer about a product. Often, the store employee will spend a lot of time discussing a product only to have the customer make a decision, check online to see what the cost of the item would be on stores like Amazon, either by scanning the barcode or simply using an app like Google Goggles, and purchasing the item online. To stop this type of hijacking, merchants are taking to putting their own custom barcodes on products. With online stores increasingly taking offline stores to task and sales online steadily increasing, offline stores are finding it extremely hard to stop this consumer trend. Travellers are often one of the main culprits as they attempt to save themselves the job of having to pack items they purchase for their return trips. Anything they see in their travels, they simply scan and purchase online and have the items shipped to themselves.

7) Merging of Online and Offline Stores and Shopping - Apple is getting into this as they place kiosks in their stores. Customers know don't need to wait to purchase something. They simply go to the store, browse the variety of items, purchase the item they like, bring the receipt to the counter and pick up their item. A South African company is touting "whispering windows" where customers can using touch sensitive windows to scroll through products and demos without even having to go into the stores. This means that users can interact with a stores products without having to worry about store hours or busy times. This can also increase traffic into stores as it captures the customers from passerby to potential walk-in buyers. Slowly, these technologies are also becoming part of the restaurant culture allowing users to order food, surf and have conversations with friends and families in other places, all at the same time.

8) Group Incentives Evolved - While Groupon and other group incentive programs have become popular, we will begin to see a reversal where the merchants themselves will become involved in combining forces to offer deals to consumers without the middle-man. This will take the power out of third party deal makers and allow the merchants to go right to the masses themselves without having to pay the exorbitant losses in brand power and profit margins.

9) Social Commerce will still elude companies - Companies still do not know how to use social media to bring their products and brand to users without continuing to sound like an terrible ad that follows you like a loudspeaker. "Nearly 80% of consumers said that social media did not influence shopping decisions but over 50% get advice from their friends and family." Companies that understand this will look to web and app services that utilize social connections and peer recommendations to bring their products and services to consumers. Nobody subscribes to a brand to follow it on an ongoing basis because they want to or are interested in listening to the numerous number of tweets and posts about how great that brand is. The only enticement that brings followers is for coupons or other items that bring fleeting responses. Consumers will always take their friends and families advice and recommendations into account over a brand. The trick will be for brands to figure out how to team up with the web apps that connect consumers to their friends and family to share their products.

10) Surprise, Surprise -  Despite all the hard work of companies, brands and retail to connect with consumers, sites like Pinterest will continue to surprise and dismay even as they strive to retain control of messaging and image. As sites becoming far cheaper to create, more people will become involved in bringing their voice and creations to life at times helping brands but most likely helping those products and brands that would be lost to local markets bring their niche products to a more global market. Will we see the demise of the big box stores? Likely not, but consumers are increasingly looking to individualization and ways to not be a walking brand advertisement. Again, the consumer wants to be known as savvy, smart and, above all, at the start of trends. The more able they are at finding neat, small market, niche items that you are not likely to find at Banana Republic or Aldo, the more they will appeal to consumers. The ease of online shopping is what will enable this mass individualization of the individual.

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