The Biggest Consumer Trends of 2012

What Next Year Holds for Shoppers

The shopping experience as we know it may undergo some significant changes next year, at least if one global consumer trends firm turns out to be right. How we pay for products, the way businesses market those products to us and the relationship we have with the big brands in our lives may gradually change in 2012, according to Trendwatching’s annual list of 12 trend predictions that will shape the strategies used by businesses and consumers alike in the year ahead. Many of these changes are already under way – though some are more apparent in businesses abroad – while others may not actually take full effect for months, if even then. Yet each of these trends represents the general direction that consumer culture is likely to head in the future. As 2011 draws to a close, MainStreet picked out six of the firm’s predictions that may have the biggest impact on the way consumers live and shop in 2012 and beyond. Photo Credit: bark


Plastic Is So Last Year

Say goodbye to your wallet. This coming year may mark the time when mobile payments truly take off. “While 2012 is not going to be the year that consumers en masse will forego (sic) coins and notes and just swipe their smartphones, it is going to be the year that major players like Google and MasterCard will actively roll out their cashless initiatives around the world,” Trendwatching writes in its report. Google (Stock Quote: GOOG) has already begun building up partnerships with the major credit card issuers to help turn select phones equipped with a special near field communication chip into virtual credit cards. Likewise, as Trendwatching points out, other businesses like Square and PayPal have launched apps that bring their peer-to-peer payment systems to smartphones. Even some retailers like Starbucks (Stock Quote: SBUX) now have apps that let customers pay with their phones. Photo Credit: 401K


More Businesses Embrace Deals

If Trendwatching is right, the daily deal market hasn’t peeked yet. If anything, bargain hunting is about to become an even bigger sport. The group predicts that shoppers in the U.S. and abroad will increasingly seek out promotions from businesses and deal sites not just to save money, but for “the thrill, the pursuit, the control, and the perceived smartness, and thus a sense of status too.” It’s this last point which may be the most striking. Being frugal and relying on deals is becoming a new kind of status symbol rather than something to be embarrassed about. As consumers begin to take more pleasure in deal hunting, they will also look for deals in more areas of their life, which will likely force more brands to be aggressive in their promotions. There will be “An even bigger 'deal ecosystem,’ more personalization, more loyalty schemes, more pressure on brands to deliver deal-immune brilliance as an integral part of everything they sell and promote,” says Trendwatching. To illustrate this, Trendwatching points to the example of one university in Chicago that took the previously unheard of step of offering a 60%-off deal on one class. Photo Credit: Groupon.com


Brands Admit Their Mistakes

Businesses make mistakes all the time, but they often seem to focus more on concealing or denying these mistakes than confessing them. Going forward though, Trendwatching predicts that brands will be rewarded for admitting their flaws rather than ignoring them. “In 2012, consumers won’t expect brands to be flawless; they will even embrace brands that are flawsome,” Trendwatching writes in its report. As an example, the group highlights Domino’s, which earlier this year rented out a billboard in Times Square and live-streamed tweets from its customers that offered feedback on the company – both positive and negative. By acknowledging and even broadcasting the bad reviews, Domino’s gave a voice to its customers and may have made them feel more engaged with the brand. Photo Credit: emrank


Buy More Products Secondhand

Secondhand shopping experienced a resurgence in the aftermath of the recession as many cash-strapped consumers were forced to find ways to cut costs, but according to Trendwatching, we will increasingly see consumers embrace trade-ins and resale options for a wider range of products. In fact, more companies may try to incorporate secondhand culture into their business model. As Trendwatching notes, Amazon (Stock Quote: AMZN) now makes it easier for students to trade in their books, the Gap (Stock Quote: GPS) has offered discounts on new jeans for those who recycle an old pair and a new wave of websites even sell secondhand deal vouchers. Photo Credit: Dealsgoround.com


Be Your Own Doctor

Self-diagnosis is nothing new (you can blame WebMD and the Internet at large for that), but a new wave of apps may take this one step further by gradually turning average consumers into their own personal doctors. According to Trendwatching, there are countless smartphone apps that let users monitor their heart rate and blood pressure and test their hearing. Some apps, like Skin Scan, even help users scan their skin for moles, which could be potentially malignant. That’s right, there are actually apps that can help you prevent cancer. None of this means that consumers will forego doctors, just that they will have an increasing number of tools to allow them to play doctor in their day-to-day lives. Photo Credit: Apple.com


The Rise of Augmented Reality and QR Codes

For those who haven’t heard of it, augmented reality is the technology that allows you to scan the world around you with a phone and pull up information about it on the screen – whether it’s the price of a product in front of you or a map of restaurants around the corner. Similarly, QR codes are essentially bar codes that might appear on a product or store window, which direct the customer to a Web page when scanned. If you haven’t used either of these features yet, chances are you will in the not-too-distant future. As Trendwatching explains, consumers now have a desire to use their phones to find out more about the world around them instantly, and more and more businesses and apps are beginning to cater to this urge. Google and Amazon both incorporate augmented reality technology into apps that customers can use to scan products for more information about the price and selection, and brands like Ralph Lauren and Starbucks now use QR codes to boost engagement between the store and its customers. Photo Credit: Apple.com


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