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WGSN Futures Review Part 1: The Consumer of Tomorrow

By Jackie Mallon

Nov 6, 2017

The WGSN Futures 2017 Summit New York is over for another year leaving us much to reflect upon. Futures is an annual day-long event held in seven cities worldwide during which experts in global trend analysis take the stage to address the overarching shifts in technology, culture, and the marketplace which they have determined will shape tomorrow. In the audience are designers, brand leaders, and business strategists united on their permanent quest to stay relevant, grow, and anticipate the needs of future consumers. In assessing where we stand currently we can position ourselves for what’s next. So for easy digestion FashionUnited has decided to separate the day’s insights into a three-part review.

At a time when 44 percent of 16-34 year-olds are still more likely to buy offline, the emphasis on the experiential aspect of shopping has become so great it has become cliché, and ‘experience’ a buzzword, says Andrea Bell, WGSN’s Director of Consumer Insights and Executive Editor. By 2020 experience will take precedence over price and product. Yet, conversely, by 2018 studies indicate we will have more connected devices than humans; within 5 years super-augmented reality glasses will replace smartphones according to Facebook; and by 2020 we will have 3 artificial reality experiences per day says Apple’s Tim Cook. Other significant advancements such as chips being inserted under the skin making our epidermis our touchscreen will eliminate the need for devices and passwords, allowing us to perhaps squeeze a freckle to answer our phone. ’Chip in parties’ have arrived in the US from Scandinavia; experiments in a Johannesburg university have connected a human brain to the internet, and Facebook have begun to enable typing directly from our minds, giving new life to the exclamation, ’Look mom, no hands!’

On the down side (if the previous paragraph isn’t terrorizing enough) a recent study by Pew finds Millennials to be the loneliest generation in history; Instagram was recently called out as the worst social media peril to young people’s mental health; and the connection between social media and bad marriages is ongoing with ‘social media ‘pre-nups’ outpacing all other legal documents forbidding the upload of certain photos, or password sharing, among other practices. How does all this reconcile itself? And what will this solitary yet hyper-connected consumer buy?

Dawn of the ‘Mood Market’

The future consumer will be looking for anything to bring them out of their isolation, to engage in human connection. We have already heard of garments that give the wearer the sensation of a hug, knitwear that changes color when the wearer is stressed, seratonin-based lipstick. Currently in Amsterdam, a prototype winter jacket with a payment service enabled within its design allows today's cash-free card-carrying citizen to donate money simply by tapping the pocket. Donations will be managed by a homeless shelter and the homeless wearer can redeem them for a meal, shower, or an interview outfit. Futureproofing against AI, the global UBI (Universal Basic Income) trials which offer every citizen a stipend, then challenges them to think what they would do if they didn’t have to worry about money is set to ripple through our culture if it can gain traction in the US. The modern success story of Aerie which rose to prominence for its #AerieReal ad campaign using real people as models with no filter or photoshop enhancement resulting in both online success and increased footfall in stores is considered a business model to advance further.

The Sharing Economy

Recent headlines blaring that by 2030 Millennials won’t buy anything anymore would seem like a pretty conclusive conversation closer. It has been well-documented that this consumer considers ownership a burden, is more interested in stories than stuff, and purpose than product. Their investment in borrowing over buying is leading to a See-Now, Buy-Now, Sell-Now economy as evidenced every Thursday when new merchandise drops at NYC’s Supreme store and customers are already discussing which purchases will receive the most online resale interest as soon as they exit the store. YEAY!, a ‘social shopping’ app that is a QVC/Snapchat/Tumblr hybrid aimed at teenagers which allows users to upload videos of themselves wearing OOTDs forming a social buying and selling community already has Apple interest. Incidentally Supreme, along with Yeezy, are reported be the site’s most in-demand brands. Depop is a mobile marketplace which allows members to see what their friends and people they are inspired by are liking, buying, and selling making everyone on it an influencer.

Troubleshooting Loss of Individuality

With all this sharing, the question becomes: is the consumer of the future destined to lose their sense of individual identity? Since the emergence of the teenager in the 1950s the notion of capturing one’s inner spirit through one’s clothes has been key to an enjoyable shopping experience, but will future consumers be uninterested in this psychological aspect of dressing, prioritizing instead the communal? Will it result in everyone looking like everyone else in some strange dystopian fashion landscape? Suggesting otherwise are the projections around the industries of tomorrow which indicate that 49 percent of worker activity could be executed by robots, but only 18% of creative work can be automated. If the future is creative, fashion won’t be forgotten, but how that manifests itself remains in the hands of tomorrow’s designers. However collaborative robots, or ‘Cobots’, will likely occupy the neighboring cubicle. Estimates of global sales of these new office fixtures balloons from 120 million dollars in 2015 to 12 billion dollars in 2025.

Post-Millennial and Beyond

Gen Z according to Forbes, make up 25 percent of the U.S. population, making them a larger cohort than the Baby Boomers or Millennials. Phones are still the link between these consumers and brands and a survey conducted by WGSN reveals that they would rather lose their wallets than their phones, consider cash obsolete but Apple Pay second nature, and look forward to owning their own credit card. The first generation wholly born in the new century, they are alert to being marketed to, reject old-school manipulation, choose Youtube as their favorite viewing channel, and put their phones facedown when ads interrupt their content. Gen Zers do not respond to hashtags as a discovery tool but instead as a search tool that allows them to track down their favorite Nike product at the best price to the nearest location so they deliver all that information to a parent who will facilitate the purchase. Gen Z’s viewing tends to focus around everyday heroes and self-made or peer-made content. Age compression makes today’s 9 year old as alert and aware as yesterday’s 12 year-old. Gen Alpha, children of Millenniums, born after 2011, had devices as pacifiers, and according to the New York Times, ‘will be the most formally educated generation ever, the most technology supplied generation ever, and globally the wealthiest generation ever.’ By Alpha’s end point of 2025, they are set to number 2 billion. That’s a significant shopping base by anyone’s reckoning so now is a good time to start that reckoning.

By contributing guest editor Jackie Mallon, who is on the teaching faculty of several NYC fashion programmes and is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of WGSN Futures Review on Tuesday.

All photo’s author’s for FashionUnited.