How technology is shifting the power base for consumers as they shop online, use smart devices, buy super foods

From superfoods and wearable technology to rising consumer power, the world ahead will prove more challenging to companies seeking to grab a share of the shifting market.

Technology has been the real game changer, giving consumers not only a louder voice but the ability for innovative companies to disrupt existing market places.

Marketing intelligence company Mintel’s senior trends and innovation consultant Jane Barnett writes in the company’s latest report that technology has given consumers a bigger voice that can dictate corporate behaviour.

The ability to exercise ones rights have been on display from protests in Brazil during the World Cup surrounding fury at perceived government squandering of resources, to the US boycotts of supposed Russian vodka brand ‘Stolichnaya’ and the viral #BringBackOurGirls campaign against notorious Nigerian group Boko Haram. 

“The decline of deference is set to escalate in the consumer space as customers are variously empowered and presented with provocative facts on corporate practice,” says Barnett. 

Clicktivism and consumer voice

Technology has been the real game changers as it has transformed protests from organised marches to a bare-minimum of ‘clicktivism’ or the traditional ability to express ones opinion, support or dislike through to engaging in online petitions, sharing videos and posts, the Mintel Australasian report says. Mintel works with over 5000 businesses worldwide.

Viral posts and social media have enabled consumers to come together on issues of importance from food and global health issues to demanding more from governments and big businesses. 

As information is exchanged and shared it brings about awareness, accountability and demand. 

In Australia, for example, organisation GetUp! Australia is the largest campaigning organisation in the continent with more than 600,000 members willing to take action on issues of importance. 

A GetUp! video on carbon pricing

Other online-based societies are also providing a voice for consumers; Change.org is one of those with more than 70 million users in over 196 countries. 

Barnett says clicktivism provides people with the feeling that they have the power to help things get done with minimal effort, or bring about change on a large scale.

“For those companies that are seen as insincere, we expect to see a continuation of protests against these real and perceived transgressions. 

“In 2015, companies globally with increasingly be forced to apologise, admit their mistakes and show a human face,” says Barnett. 

Consumers and intimacy

Although the Internet has become the leader for social change, it has disrupted traditional consumer approaches to shopping by setting up an expectation not just of convenience, but also of intimacy, according to Mintel.

“We’re seeing brick and mortar retailers meld with the digital as more locations offer in store pick-ups for online orders,” such as that of The Warehouse Group’s, ‘click and collect’ service," says Barnett. 

Convenience and better service experiences are the aim of the game. A Sydney-based suit maker, for instance, does just that. M.J. Bale has integrated Visa PayWave chips, sewn into the sleeves of “Power Suits”, making on-the-go payments easy.

Video: The M.J.Bale 'power' suit explained

Yet, the limitations on cybershopping are also obvious in some sectors.

Around half (53%) of UK consumers, and specifically 60% of women, feel it’s difficult to find clothing that fits well without trying it on.

In Brazil, more than one in 10 (12%) consumers use the internet for information on their grocery shopping, yet just 2% do their weekly grocery shopping online. But nearly two in 10 Brazilians say they would buy more groceries on the internet if it were cheaper than buying in-store.

Meanwhile, in China nearly seven in 10 Chinese adults say it is necessary to visit brick-and-mortar stores before buying products online.

One in 20 (5%) Brazilians would purchase a car entirely online and have it delivered to their home, if it was possible. In Canada, some 40% of Canadians are interested in using online budgeting and advice tools.

In China, as many as 85% of Chinese adults would like to see more online services that help to facilitate daily tasks, such as paying bills online or booking taxis via mobile apps.

And in Canada, there remains room for improvement, as 38% of Canadians are unsatisfied with electronic access to healthcare from government-provided insurance.

Smart devices

In the space of smart technology, the race is on to offer smart devices to control homes, to monitor health, among others.

“The world of synced devices will become mainstream as trusted companies move into the market and join the convenience-driven, data collection revolution,” says Barnett. 

Apple and Goggle are jostling for space with traditional smart device companies. Apple’s Homekit software/app creates a framework that will enable consumers to use Siri voice commands to control smart lighting, doors, thermostats and other home appliances, operating on Bluetooth low energy and managed through any modern Apple device.

Google and Samsung have competing products for the smart home eco-system.

New software is also coming onto the market to make it easier for consumers to sync their mobile devices with their health-monitoring tools and home appliances.

Instant gratification, way of the future

The fact is our on-demand, instant gratification culture is spreading.  For the future Mintel believes there will be more delivery apps and high quality vending options across a variety of product categories. 

In 2015 and beyond, Mintel says smart devices will advance into new annexes.  “Wearable technology will have to transcend the convenience of connectivity and offer wearable devices that are both secure and fashionable," Barnett says.

Over one in five (21%) UK adults already use either a wearable device or a health-related mobile app, but as many as 40% of Brits are interested in a device that tracks heart rate, blood pressure and movement.

Meanwhile, over one in 10 (13%) Chinese consumers say that they have a wearable digital product in their household. Interestingly, this figure is higher among older consumers, at 11% of 20-somethings, 14% of 30-somethings, and 16% of 40-somethings.

In Australia, a 2013 study found that 35% of those surveyed had already used some form of wearable technology – as opposed to just 18% of US and UK respondents.

Super food, good food

Mintel’s other key trend surrounds the food industry and how people are increasingly seeking out super foods free from chemicals and additives, as well as locally and seasonally sourced products. 

Australia and New Zealand saw the importance of healthy foods increase in 2014, with the trend set to be more important in 2015.

Barnett says in 2015, people are more likely to seek out natural options and local, seasonal produce will only become more popular. 

Consumers are less trusting of big companies and need assurance they are not misled about sourcing or processes.

“Consumers will be buying lower quantities of packaged foods, will demand more organic produce for a reasonable price, and will move beyond the supermarkets and towards farmers’ markets and similar enterprises if they can’t get what they want,” says Barnett. 

Environmental ethics are also on the rise. Environmentally friendly packaging has risen from 15% in 2009 to 32% in the year prior to September 2014, and environmentally friendly product claims have increased from 2% to 7% in the same period.

Mintel says there will continue to be huge interest in superfoods and more ‘alternative’ diets and lifestyles in 2015, but the key issue will be sourcing.

The full Mintel report can be found here