person's hands holding ball of global network icons
From a shift towards digital lifestyles to a boost in technological innovation, these trend forecasts shed some light on what's to be expected following the coronavirus pandemic. — Getty Images/ipopba

As the world experiences an unprecedented global health crisis, businesses in nearly every consumer category have ground to a halt, facing an uncertain future that could look a lot different than anyone expected. Consumer behaviors stand to shift dramatically, influenced by untold weeks of a combination of social isolation, shopping online, working from home, and not working at all.

To understand the scope and scale of these effects, CO— spoke to three top trend forecasters for their insight into the brave new world that awaits us post-COVID19. Here are their top predictions.

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Joe McDonnell, head of WGSN Insight. — WGSN Insight

‘This crisis is forcing anything which can digitize, to digitize’

Joe McDonnell, head of WGSN Insight, predicts a re-evaluation and shift in consumer priorities as a slowing down of spending and activity corresponds to forced acceleration of digital transformation.

People are being forced to work from home, but their whole life is being forced to adapt digitally. These behaviors will not disappear once the quarantine is over, it’s very likely that people who have been forced to adopt digital practices will continue these. Consumer appetite for delivery services is going to continue after the crisis is over and retailers [that] are unable to fulfill are unlikely to succeed, even in a post-COVID world.
The companies which are best placed to benefit from the situations are those which offer comfort, convenience or necessity for consumers. For brands there’s space to think about the digitization of your product, not just the delivery.

Even if things were to rebound 100%, you can’t live through something like this and not remember it.

Devon Powers, Ph.D.

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Devon Powers, author and associate professor at Temple University. — Temple University

‘I don’t see a return to ‘normal’ after this’

Devon Powers, Ph.D., an associate professor at Temple University’s Lew Klein College of Media & Communication and author of “On Trend: the Business of Forecasting the Future,” envisions a future that looks and feels different from the reality we experienced just weeks ago.

Even if things were to rebound 100%, you can’t live through something like this and not remember it. Consumers have every reason to be cautious now and for the foreseeable future.
Big events like this have a way of accelerating nascent trends. For instance, we were already seeing consumers pulling back on buying new clothes in favor of thrifting. I think you will continue to see an embrace of thrift, but across more and more sectors. So not just a turn away from fast fashion but a stronger embrace of craft, of do it yourself, of self-sufficiency.
Brands need to be asking themselves what really matters. That covers everything from workplace practices — Do I need to go to that conference? Do I need to be in an office? — to how they approach consumers. A good question to ask now is, ‘How can brands empower consumers to be more self-sufficient?'
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Piers Fawkes, founder of PSFK. — PSFK

‘At times of crisis like this, we see innovation flourish’

Piers Fawkes, founder of retail innovation and research firm PSFK, believes that just as China’s SARS 2003 outbreak led to the growth of e-commerce in the nation, the impact of COVID-19 in China might help foretell what changes lie ahead for the U.S. consumer, like the potential rise of facial recognition technology that helps curb the spread of disease, or an uptick in grocery delivery over restaurant takeout, he said.

What ideas and technologies that have been manifesting at the edges will evolve rapidly as a result of mass confinement, safety worries and inventory shortages? In particular, we see the popularization of obscure technologies and the mainstreaming of niche consumer behaviors.

In China, these programs have been designed to both overcome the wearing of surgical masks and identify people whose foreheads have high temperatures. Unsure about the safety of the food prepared in restaurant kitchens, people order the delivery of the raw ingredients instead, to cook at home. For some restaurants in China, delivery has declined 50% while grocery stores have seen a 70% increase.

Fawkes also foresees a new embrace of community at the local level, enabled by new digital tools, such as communal bulk buying online.

They communicate over chat platforms and then one of them buys the products. In China, people are doing this to buy their apartment block’s weekly shopping: Residents scan a QR code, join a WeChat group and post a list of what they have run out of.
Contactless solutions may increasingly replace what used to be high-touch activities, such as concerts or fitness, as well as in-demand human tasks like shipping and delivery.
A lot of these ideas have been circulating for a while now, but PSFK researchers think that this crisis is going to bring them into the mainstream. Sometimes the way we always did things needs to change, so we move on to different tools, means and formats—and then once again, we will meet up with each other and still laugh and play, eat and dance.

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Published April 07, 2020