Consumers are the cornerstone of any organization’s existence. As an organization, you must work on devising solutions for issues that the consumers of tomorrow may run into in order to improve the lives of these future consumers. But what are these issues? I set off on a journey into the magical land of trend analysis and came across five trends in consumer behaviour that have a shadowy side. That shadowy side is something that we should shed a little light on. And when there is a shadowy side to something, then there’s something that needs to be polished up. As in, something can actually be done to make sure that tomorrow is good.

The addicted consumer

Whoa, we humans are slaves to addiction. Although some people are more susceptible to addiction than others, almost every person is sensitive to some form of addiction. For instance, we are sensitive to an addiction to media. Media outlets like Netflix are so quick in delivering the next episode, that it’s much more difficult for the average consumer to stop their media consumption than it is to maintain their media usage. You become addicted as a result.

Our social media consumption has often been associated with addiction in recent years. It has already been scientifically mapped out which personal characteristics fuel social media addiction. How social media addiction affects your satisfaction with your life. Or what the negative impact of social media addiction is on (school) performance. I could go on and on. Consequently, there are calls for us to regulate media consumption and to protect consumers from excessive media consumption.

The lonely consumer

Although our online world is characterized by words like ‘connection’ and ‘connectedness’, in reality we are gradually becoming more and more lonely. Instead of heading into town with your girlfriends to find a new dress, you simply browse through webshops on your own. You no longer venture out on a pub crawl anymore to find an exciting new love interest. You simply swipe through Tinder profiles. Loneliness caused by the impact of social media and the digital world is starting to surface to such an extent, that it is being referred to as a loneliness epidemic. There is an increasing need to ‘reconnect’ by seeking out actual physical and offline contact with each other again.

The minimalist consumer

Then there is one more trend that goes against our evolutionary roots as hunters and gatherers. While hunting and gathering may act as an impetus for more consumerism, we are now seeing more and more signs directed towards downsizing and minimalism. We build tiny houses, we reuse furniture and we hardly own any books, music albums or films. Minimalism has become a way of life for many.

Some minimalists not only filter their own consumer pattern in excessive ways, but also do that on behalf of others. And that’s where the shadowy side comes in. We are not talking about the minimalists who simply consider minimalism more aesthetically pleasing (e.g. fans of Scandinavian design). Nor the minimalists who for practical reasons aspire to a minimalist existence (e.g. which makes it easier for them to travel). But rather about the minimalists who aspire to nonconsumerism based on moral conviction with a focus on sustainability. Although, of course, there is nothing wrong with that moral conviction.

Many people share that conviction in principle. However, one may have some reservations about those minimalists who act as activists in their approach to others where flight shame, plastic shame or meat shame are concerned. There appears to be a razor-thin line between raising awareness or instilling feelings of shame on others. We should honestly ask ourselves whether we are making our society more appealing when we step over that line. Guilt and shame can certainly change behaviors. Nevertheless, the question remains whether there are not more charming roads to the Rome in question.

The nonmaterialistic consumer

A trend associated with that of minimalism is that of nonmaterialism. Nonmaterialistic consumers consume without any tangible consequence of that consumerism. On the one hand, nonmaterialism is the result of a changing pattern of consumerism. We prefer to spend our money on experiences and adventures rather than on products. On the other hand, we are replacing some products with subscriptions. We no longer buy a CD, but a subscription to Spotify instead.

Especially this second development is beginning to take on such significant proportions that we now speak of a ‘subscription economy’. Subscription models are penetrating markets, meaning that the relationship between provider and consumer is undergoing considerable change. Not only does this relationship become more long-term and stable, but is also characterized by a higher level of dependence. The more subscriptions, the less diversification in the consumer pattern and the greater the dependence on a number of behemoth corporations. From research carried out by McKinsey, it appears that consumers are indeed buying subscriptions en masse, yet only about 11% of them are fans of the subscription model.

The consumer robot

When it comes to consumers, we mean people. It’s almost time to change that mindset. As the consumer robot is gaining ground. For example, a study by Ericsson shows that 70% of consumers think that within three years virtual assistants will be making purchasing decisions for them. Some researchers have even gone a step further and claim that in a few years’ time, 85% of shopping behaviour will take place without human interaction. It is impossible to pin an exact number on this in the future, but the trend is very clear.

Personally I find this the one of most cool trends. I am a huge fan of a society where artificial intelligence provides human intelligence with support wherever possible. Of course, there is also a shadowy side to this trend. How do we integrate ethics into the purchasing decisions of a consumer robot? And how do we ensure that consumers are happy to entrust their wallets to a robot? Together with my research group, I’m working hard on designing solutions to these questions.

Tomorrow is good for our customers if we work on the shadowy side of these developments. When we brighten up something that is shadowy, turn negatives into positives and turn anything that’s a grey area into something that shines!