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Consumer 2020: Reading the Signs

AMAC Peer ReviewedLawrence Hutter, Ira Kalish, Alison Paul
January 2011

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We live in times characterized by change and volatility, yet as businesses we need to make investment decisions that will equip us to serve markets and consumers as they will be in 10 years time and beyond.  This report is ambitious.  By drawing together insights into economic and demographic trends, considerations of finite resources and sustainability, and the ever more dramatic impact of technology on our daily lives, it sets out to make some predictions about how our attitudes and patterns of consumption will change over the next decade.

Of one thing we can be certain, consumer values, needs and behaviors will continue to evolve.  The effects of the global recession of 2008-2009 that rattled consumer confidence around the world will continue to be felt in years to come.  Significant as it is, however, the recession is but one of several developments that will have long-lasting impact on consumers.  A new middle class is being born in emerging economies with huge implications for demands on a range of essential and finite resources.

The resulting shift in food consumption, to cite but one consequence of this, will fuel a growing sense of crisis around the security of our global food supply.  Climate change and sustainability, once the concern of only a few, will increasingly become issues for consumers everywhere, made very real for people by increasingly obvious changes in our physical environment.  And developments in media and technology will accelerate the proliferation of information and further empower consumers – redefining how they interact with one another as well as the companies from which they buy products and services.

Each of these forces on its own would have a large impact on consumers.  It is their convergence, however, that will make the next 10 years turbulent, uncertain and complex, dramatically changing what consumers talk about, how they communicate with one another and with businesses, and, of course, how businesses talk to them.

This report examines how these trends will most likely shape consumer spending patterns and the world of consumers more broadly.  What will consumers in different geographic and demographic segments value?  What will they need and want?  Given what they have faced in recent years, how will their attitudes and behaviors continue to change in the coming decade?  To set the stage for this discussion, the report begins with a broad look at how changes in the global economy are likely to affect consumer spending as we slowly emerge from recession.  In so far as one can ever predict the future, it then looks at longer-term economic, demographic, and technological trends and some of the resulting changes in consumer attitudes and behaviors that are likely to take place over the next 10 years.