Where next?

10 cross-industry trends that are accelerating by the COVID-crisis.

The prospect of a pandemic has been a well known systemic risk for many years, but no one could have predicted the exact timing or nature of the current coronavirus crisis.

That’s often the way with trends: the big shifts are well known; there are many weak signals; but it’s hard if not impossible to know exactly the timing and shape of the bell curve that most trends follow. Will they stay niche for one year? Three years? Or suddenly see accelerated mass adoption because of some external trigger?

That’s why at times like this, when everything seems to be in flux, it’s useful to be able to look at trends that were already ‘out there’. Which new behaviors have early adopters and pioneer brands already been embracing? Which trends looked years away from the mainstream (and so were easy to ignore), but now feel primed to become totally normal in a matter of months, if not weeks?

On an organizational level, times of crises can be both threatening and liberating. Most of the executives we speak with are painfully aware of the gap between their oil tanker-sized organizations and their new, agile startup competitors. But cultural change is hard, without a big shock that means all the old ‘rules’ can be broken. This is that moment.

Here’s a selection of 10 emerging consumer trends we’ve been tracking for some years, that offer powerful early signals of what people will value and their priorities in a post-coronavirus world.
As you scan these trends ask yourself: are we prepared for these new behaviours? Are we ready to meet these new expectations?


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1. VIRTUAL EXPERIENCE ECONOMY 

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You know all about the Experience Economy. When superstars like Billie Eilish are cancelling tours, sports leagues are called off, the Louvre is shut and the Olympics are looking more precarious by the day, there will be a massive void in people's lives. But immersive new technologies mean that people can increasingly get their experience-based status fixes from virtual experiences, too. Social media and esports are the obvious manifestations of how consumers accrue status in the virtual realm. But now watch out for other, less competitive virtual experiences – 'travel', retail, gatherings and more – to take on new levels of meaning.

2. SHOPSTREAMING

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Back at the end of 2017, when we first wrote about this trend emerging in Asia, we said, “ two of Asia’s biggest digital waves - e-commerce and livestreaming - are merging. This is spelling out the next direction for both online shopping and social connections: interactive, experiential, and in real time.” But the recent crisis has seen the Chinese livestreaming market grow even bigger and faster than it has over the past few years, and this heady mix of entertainment, community and commerce will raise ecommerce expectations going forwards, on a global scale.

3. VIRTUAL COMPANIONS

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This has been one of our most eye-opening and controversial trends since we first spotted it a couple of years ago. Quite simply, as people become accustomed to digital assistants and chatbots their expectations will evolve, and some people (no, not all!) will start to seek out virtual personalities that have the power to entertain, educate, befriend and heal. The crisis will see people turning to these virtual companions, and once the genie is out of the bottle, these behaviors to persist once the crisis subsides.

4. AMBIENT WELLNESS 

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Right now, people are obsessively reaching for their hand sanitizer as they move through their daily lives. But as this moment starts to pass, they’ll revert to less hygienic habits, although their desire to remain safe and well will be stronger than ever. Which will create a huge opportunity: for providers of physical spaces to embed health-boosting measures into the very spaces that their customers pass through, making staying healthy effortless.

5. M2P (Mentor to Protégé)

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Liquid online social connection, meet the very human desire for self-improvement. Yes, people will spend mindless hours online. But many of them will also yearn to use some of that time productively, and so will embrace platforms that connect them with teachers, experts and mentors in their quest to learn new skills.  

6. A-COMMERCE 

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Another trend from a couple of years ago that has just received a powerful shot in the arm. Back in 2017/18, the increasing power and adoption of AI was the main driver of this trend. Now it’s the sudden sharp increase in demand for contact-free interactions converging with advancements in robotics that is enabling a new breed of automated commerce, IRL. 

7. THE BURNOUT

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The coronavirus is hardly the only thing causing people mental anguish. Even before it triggered a global public health crisis and a raised fears of a deep economic slump, people were facing rampant inequality, always-on social competition, the looming existential threat of the climate crisis and much more. It’s hardly surprising therefore that any organization that can help improve people’s mental wellbeing will be welcomed with open arms.

8. OPEN SOURCE SOLUTIONS 

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We termed this a “bold new frontier for sustainability” when we first wrote about OPEN SOURCE SOLUTIONS, the act of sharing and even giving away your innovative solutions to our toughest shared problems. The coronavirus is one of the most urgent transnational, cross-demographic problems in recent history, and as such it’s reminded people that the best organizations are those that collaborate generously with others. 

9. ASSISTED DEVELOPMENT 

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One beneficial outcome of more time spent at home? Many will be prompted, forced even, to learn some often long-neglected traditional life skills, such as <gasp!> cooking for themselves. Trend watchers love branding things as ‘millennial’, but the recent growth of the on-demand economy has seen rising numbers of affluent urbanites outsource basic domestic tasks to gig workers. They’ll gladly hand back some of these when the crisis is over, but others they'll find they actually enjoy doing themselves :)   

10. VIRTUAL STATUS SYMBOLS 

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We’re obsessed with status. If you understand how people identify themselves, how they gain respect from society and their peers, then you’ll have a powerful tool through which to understand their behavior. Physical goods have long had a monopoly on status: they are scarce and expensive. Younger consumers and videogamers have long embraced virtual goods, but now expect new technologies (e.g. AR and blockchain), the growing desire for sustainable consumption and the corona crisis to converge and push the recognition that virtual goods can be genuine status symbols into other industries and demographics.

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