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A good future for consumerism

18 March, 2021

This week’s Economist contained a special report on the future of how we shop. If you work in this world, the three trends the article highlights are nothing new. The difference today is that, given the scale of transformation over the last year, we can really believe them. 

The most fundamental of the trends is straight from the Good Business playbook: a new generation of shoppers “increasingly project their ethical and political values onto their decisions about what to buy.” This is no fad, they say, it is a direction of travel. So capitalism is doing with it what it does best: adapting to it. Companies, regulators and law-makers are reacting to consumer preference with meaningful change. Purchase with purpose is here to stay. We won’t say we told you so….! 

The second trend speaks to the wider socio-economic picture: the shift to Asia. While habits and innovations from the USA created 20th century consumerism with its malls and catalogues, 21st century consumerism is being shaped outside America. The final trend is linked to this: the continued rise of digital. We are at a tipping point towards Asian ecommerce domination, and consumers in China and India are driving retail innovation. 

But the digital trend is wider. The Economist dismisses the long-standing fear of the death of the high-street by the hand of Amazon and co, forecasting that the proliferation of data (plus Covid) will actually bring producers and consumers closer together, including in real-life, digitally-enabled stores. These stronger relationships must surely also reinforce the first trend. We care more about what we buy, and we want to go straight to the source. 

“The new generation of shoppers”, the Economist tells us, “have yet to hit their stride.” Bring it on.

By Ben Wood

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