New Consumer Realities: 2021 and 2022

Our founder and CEO, Bisser Georgiev, gives insight on consumer trends based on industry-leading research by LiveTrends Design Group.

DECEMBER 1, 2020

None of us will forget 2020. It’s been a year of challenges and contradictions. Life has slowed in some ways, with lockdowns offering for many an appreciation of simpler homebound pleasures, and at the same time, certain trends have accelerated at neck-breaking speed. Amid the disruption and destruction of the pandemic, we’ve seen a unique sense of unity not witnessed in generations. Incredible human resilience has led to a resurgence of community spirit in many places and given rise to nature-inspired products and home-centered solutions. Since May 2020, the U.S. saw spending rise 42% at household goods stores such as hardware, furniture and plants.

2020 created major values shifts in our society and some of them are here to stay. As we look ahead to uncertain times, we need to understand these changes, and focus on creating real and pragmatic solutions for the challenges that lie ahead. So what’s really changing?

Financial Anxiety

Even as governments deploy stimulus packages, reduce interest rates and offer various incentives to jumpstart their communities, financial anxiety remains a key sentiment. It’s clear that a significant economic downturn may be close, affecting world markets and consumers at every level. You don’t need to watch the visual rollercoaster of the stock prices to understand the ups and downs of the global economy. For many, the signs of financial uncertainty are right outside the doorstep: shuttered stores and deserted main streets.

Focus on Value

There’s a value shift around our relationships to products. During the last couple of years, we already witnessed a mainstream shift towards buying products with a sense of purpose as opposed to newness. Financial anxiety is accelerating this, as people assess the monetary value alongside the longevity of their purchases.

Although value has traditionally centered around a product’s cost, now it’s also about its emotional worth. Products that keep people healthy, secure and safe will have a higher value, and will attract more of consumers’ budgets, even in financially impacted households. Value comes in size as well: large, meaningful products will become key for interior decoration vs. the small transient “throwaways” of yesterday.

Mental Wellbeing

Recent research shows that pandemic-induced stress is having a serious impact on consumers’ mental health across the world. According to a March 2020 study by ABC News, 70% of people in the U.S. are experiencing stress as a result of the crisis, and in a poll by the American Psychiatric Association, 36% said the pandemic has had a serious impact on their mental health.

Loneliness is also a rising concern even before the pandemic, driven by factors such as burnout, the rise of digital interactions and the lack of routines that previously created opportunities for connection.

While wellbeing has been a consumer priority for some time, the current intersection of concerns around mental and physical wellbeing is new. People aren’t just coping with the mental toll of the pandemic (stress, anxiety, isolation); they also fear for their physical health.

Need for Sanctuary

We’re seeing a rise in collective trauma that’s making the home sanctuary more important than ever. Whether people are going back to the office or staying behind their computer screens, the home-hub economy will continue to thrive, and so will products that make us feel protected and secure.

The pandemic has opened our eyes to the importance of home as both a shared experience and an individual one. Consumers have realized that a lot of the things they previously did outside the home could now be done inside, from baking bread and exercising to meeting with work colleagues or dancing with friends on Zoom. Home has become a place of both sustenance and entertainment, and the ultimate safe space. Many people focused on creating a cocoon where they could live as comfortably as possible while riding out the pandemic’s waves. They planted tomatoes and painted walls; they organized closets and deep-cleaned bathrooms; and binge-watched TV and ate meals together, every day.

Reaction: Plant Power

Whether it’s an antidote to the new normal of on-screen living, or the general slowing down of daily life, people are demonstrating a desire to reconnect with nature—and they’re looking to plants to bring them through difficult times, now and in the future. Both calming and companionable, plants also offer an opportunity to grow nature at home, reconnect with something real and reduce anxiety.

The pandemic highlighted the importance of plants and gardening to consumer lifestyles, not only as a hobby, but as a means to achieve overall mental health. There’s been a resurgence in gardening and plant care. It’s estimated that time spent gardening has risen by 147% to 39 minutes a day. City dwellers are bringing more plants into their homes, not only as decoration and a hobby, but to provide health benefits during anxious times.

Plants in Small Spaces

According to the UN, 60% of the world’s population is set to live in urban areas by 2030, fueling the trend for getting back to nature with the humble houseplant. As bringing the “outdoors in” becomes even more of a consumer priority, small-space plants will become even more important. Encourage consumers to use any small neglected space for plants, whether under the bathroom sink or next to the toilet. Propose solutions that are both vertical and horizontal with hanging planters, wall gardens or planter caddies.

We need to think vertically with clever planter curation and offer plants that will remain small and likely climb up walls or furniture. Indoor climbing vines are key, such as pothos, ivy and philodendron. Hanging planters are a way to maximize space, as multiple planters can be hung from existing beams, window rods and other structures. Also, hanging planters are simple to take down and put back up, as consumers need to think about easy watering and care. Offer DIY solutions, such as repurposing macramé grocery bags or scrap leather to create hanging planters.

We need to inspire consumers to build their own indoor plant display to add an urban jungle feel to the home and save on floor space. Today’s consumers search for a variety of plants—from the most unique species to the most nostalgic varieties.

The Future Consumer Groups

It’s obvious to think that we need to target all generations: our brands and services should be curated with fresh and youthful styling to appeal to Gen Z and Millennials, and adapt to the new needs with speedy online ordering and delivery. At same time, we need to be mindful of older generations who are also adjusting to new ways of shopping and purchasing. The popularity of plants continues to soar as savvy shoppers of all generations seek interesting varieties and creative display ideas. The question is how will the post-COVID consumer groups look like and how do we adapt to them.

There are three main consumer groups that are morphing into shape for 2021 and 2022:

The Stabilizers: They’re time-pressed, overwhelmed, burnt out, self-improvers, Zen-seekers who prioritize stability. Mainly Millennials and Gen X, they’re prioritizing constancy across all aspects of their lives in reaction to feelings of chronic uncertainty. They’re starting to opt out of the cult of productivity and opt into a mindset of radical acceptance and lifestyle change. Simplicity is the most important factor to this group: reduce SKU offerings and focus on minimalism and decision ease.

The Settlers: They’re balanced, supportive, conscious, career-driven, urban expats, hustlers, community-invested, localists and environmentalists. Desperate to redefine the global “hustle hard” work cycle, The Settlers—typically comprising Millennials and Gen X—are looking to plant roots in their community without sacrificing their careers and they’re driving a new era of localism in the process.

The religion of work—or “workism”—hit critical mass in 2019 and started to decline. Meetings logged, hours worked, sleep lost, cups of coffee consumed—these metrics suddenly became accepted bragging rights. As clearer work-life boundaries emerge, so does a new circular economy, driven by localism. For The Settlers, this new work cycle (fewer work hours + more time at home = better workforce productivity and more consumer spending) will be fundamentally better all around—for people, the planet and profits.

The New Optimists: They’re adventurous, joyous, self-assured, hyper-connected, highly social, on the go, with a pack mentality. This is by far the most varied cohort: The New Optimists range from Gen Z to Boomers, but despite the broad demographic, they have many unifiers—the largest being a vivacious appetite to embrace joy.

This cohort, both young and old, wants accurate representation for all. And despite the uncertainty of the world, The New Optimists are embracing “celebrationism”—a system that exalts celebration as a core focus of society. This is being seen across work and social life, and it’s driving business. The rise of experiential dining, pop-up museums and festival culture are all connected to New Optimists celebrating an achievement, big or small.

In conclusion, consumer values are evolving and our future strategies need to align with these values, whether it be fostering wellness, building community, reconnecting with nature or offering reassurance. Times may be tough, but they’re also lined with opportunities to build bridges that will help us navigate the stormy waters ahead. The good news is that whatever happens, home will always be the center of attention and spending. And this trend is here to stay. BG


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