As the world went into COVID-19 lockdowns in early 2020 we all started living a new normal. One year on, the coronavirus pandemic has created new norms driven by profound changes to consumer values and behavior. Most of these trends center around safety, convenience, the desire to make the most of the great outdoors, and to build back better after a year of uncertainty.
The strategic market research provider Euromonitor International has analyzed data on thousands of products and services around the world and identified ten key consumer trends that we are likely to see in 2021. These are: Build Back Better; Craving Convenience; Outdoor Oasis; Phygital Reality; Playing with Time; Restless and Rebellious; Safety Obsessed; Shaken and Stirred; Thoughtful Thrifters; Workplaces in New Spaces1.
Build back better
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic consumers are looking to governments and businesses to go that bit further to help reshape the world in a more equitable and sustainable way. The Euromonitor report equates this to moving beyond a single focus on revenue to a more value-driven economy that also addresses the health, environmental, and social issues that have come to the forefront due to COVID-19.
This has also been referred to as ‘extra-mile sustainability’ or the need to take and unconventional route to building sustainable and ethical business operations and products, as well as sharing that journey with customers and bringing them along for the ride2.
This approach was embraced by Milliken many years ago and will continue in 2021 and beyond. As a company we are proud of our industry partnerships and R&D efforts towards an upscale in recycling and a plastics circular economy, for example, through our 2025 Planet Goals to shrink our footprint, Product Goals to promote circular economies, and People Goals to care for our employees and communities.
Wellness has been a consumer trend for some time but in 2021 this has been taken one step further. As the Euromonitor report outlines, the continuing fear of COVID-19 infection before the widespread roll out of vaccines means that consumers will drive the demand for hygiene products, packaging that they know is safe, and contactless solutions that help to avoid virus exposure.
Already this is being seen in the growth of products that contain no artificial ingredients or chemical additives in consumer health, and a blurring of the line between the beauty, personal care and consumer health segments. Consumers also increasingly care about issues such as food safety where, for example, limits have been developed to protect consumers to ensure that materials are as safe as possible for use in food packaging.
Milliken is proud to assist efforts to contribute to innovation in packaging that has further safety assurances, processes, and designs. It is engaged in this industry wide challenge to develop next-generation packaging, with a focus on producing plastics additives for performance and sustainability, keeping in view ever changing regulatory requirements.
In 2020 COVID-19 impacted the way that customers purchased everything from meals to clothing and pet food. With stores and restaurants closed around the world many of the activities that people once did spontaneously, and in person, ground to a halt.
Digital alternatives have boomed, with the pandemic accelerating the uptake of new, or improved, purchasing technologies and processes. Whilst this rapid transition to an online/digital economy is expected to continue in 2021 and beyond, for some demographics, like older customers, there is still nothing quite like the face to face, personalized experience. Brands will need to cater for this going forward.
Milliken’s Asia customer service team was the first Milliken team to work within a COVID related lockdown, when warehouse activities in China stopped, having to come up with creative ways to ensure critically needed deliveries. It came down to teamwork, and enhanced coordination between regions and with logistics partners. Milliken’s teams in other regions also faced a similar situation and the company quickly implemented different technology solutions to meet customers’ needs. This will continue in 2021 but with a focus on also maintaining personal service and working relationships remotely.
Workplaces in New Spaces
Many of us have also made the transition from office to home and as the Euromonitor report calls them, our ‘Workplaces in New Spaces’ have had a trickle-down impact on how and where we shop. We are looking for new ways to divide our days, delineating work and life. In 2021 the way we work has clearly changed and businesses need to be aware of supporting employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
At Milliken our teams all over the globe have experienced the challenges of lockdowns and working from home and, as a company, we have found new ways to maintain productivity at the same time as supporting our associates. We believe in an approach that emphasizes patience, understanding and kindness. We also recognize that we can all learn from each other in unprecedented times, and that this sympathetic and shared way forward can help to secure a positive future.
A decade of consumer change
The 2020s will be digital, businesses need to reimagine their physical spaces and how they interact with customers, and bring safety and a sense of security back to in person purchasing experiences. In 2021 it is also more important than ever for brands to offer value-added products and services with a particular emphasis on social, environmental and safety needs to build increased customer loyalty.
The uncertainty and change of 2020 is set to shape the digital and sustainable 20s where flexibility, agility and transparency will be key to engaging with customers and building a brighter, post-pandemic future.