Consumer Trends 2021

COVID-19 impacted every aspect of life in 2020 and will continue to do so in 2021, even with the much-anticipated vaccines rolling out. The start of a new year brings reflection on the past and a look towards the future, making it just the right time to predict what trends will emerge and have longevity into 2021.

Access for all

Access to food, healthcare, housing, education, internet, and safe work environments will continue to be a priority in 2021. Individuals, brands, and local governments will step up and take action to make sure access to essential services are available.

For example, school districts across the country have created Wi-Fi programs where school buses are equipped as Wi-Fi hotspots and driven to different locations throughout the week so students won’t miss school. Telemedicine is more widely used due to the pandemic, so having similar free Wi-Fi hotspots available for such appointments could provide better access to routine health visits.

In 2016, Whirlpool put washing machines and dryers in schools to give families access to laundry with the added success of lowering absenteeism. This type of strategic thinking is needed now as basic needs are growing. Community refrigerators and mobile showers are two services that have become popular during the pandemic to help fill gaps in community needs. They also provide brands opportunities to become involved locally.

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Conscious Consumption

Last year, we predicted that sustainability would impact buying decisions as consumers become more conscious of the amount of waste they create. This year conscious consumption will continue to play a role in consumer buying behaviors, but it will be more focused on following the dollar and supporting local and minority-owned businesses. The Black Lives Matter movement pushed  the need to support BIPOC-owned businesses to the forefront and consumers are paying attention to brand values, where they spend their money, and who that company works with.

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Diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) made headlines in 2020, but without a sense of belonging, progress in the DE&I space could be lost over time. The 4A’s found that the one critical ingredient missing from DE&I interventions is evidence-based approaches that promote a culture of belonging for all employees.

Employee feelings of belonging lead to strong drivers of engagement, productivity, and retention. Harvard Business Review found that high employee increases job performance, drops turnover risk, and reduces the amount of sick days taken. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and now belonging continue to positively impact the bottom line, leaving no more excuses.

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Casualization of fashion will lead to experimentation

Hello, sweatpants and Zoom shirts! Stay-at-home orders shifted the way consumers dress. Athleisure, leisure, and activewear were bright spots in the apparel market last year. Comfort will still rule as consumers start to gather in-person again and some head back into the physical office, but consumers will want to get out of their sweatpants. Athflow, athleisure meets elegance, will be the new buzzword.

We also predict that everyday fashion will become a bit more extravagant and experimental. No longer will the designer handbag or brightly printed top be saved for a special occasion, but brought out for a movie night, maybe at the drive-in.

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The car became an oasis in 2020 and with it a renaissance of the drive-in. Creativity pushed the drive-in model forward to become a platform for brand activations.

Netflix’s Stranger Things brought the Upside Down to life in a drive-thru event for Halloween, while car washes also jumped on the Halloween car experience. An immersive exhibition featuring the art of Vincent van Gogh transitioned to an in-car experience once COVID hit. Drive-in and drive-thru experiences will continue to innovate as they continue to allow people to enjoy entertainment and brand experiences safely.

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Consumers learned a lot of new skills—from home improvement to baking bread to cutting hair—during stay-at-home orders. DIY is serving many functions; it’s how consumers are saving money, it’s a way to decrease stress, and it helps pass the time.

The 66 days it takes for a habit to form is way past in this COVID-world, so consumers will continue to do some services themselves post-pandemic, ultimately impacting purchase behaviors. Think with Google highlights that the new DIY mindset will cause consumers to buy ingredients and supplies versus finished products.

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Virtual and in-game events

The success of Travis Scott’s Fortnite concert showed how impactful a virtual, in-game experience can be. Animal Crossing and Robolox also have proved successful in creating branded experiences. Brands should take advantage of gaming and social platforms to interact with and reach new consumers.

Virtual events and trade shows will continue into 2021. The expense is less, they are safer, and attendance has been up, most likely because virtual events are more accessible and on-demand sessions allow for increased participation. We predict that hybrid events, those that have in-person and virtual components, will be the standard going forward.

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Check out the 4A’s Consumer Trends and Media Trends sections for more trend reports and predictions.