5 big consumer trends for 2017

It’s that time of year again. Time to get the crystal ball out…

Henry Mason
Nov 21, 2016 · 19 min read

Before we begin, here’s the deal. Below, you’ll find a collection of innovations which are (re)defining customer expectations. These innovations — and the 5 big consumer trends they represent — show you glimpses of what your customers will want next.

Understanding these trends will help you stay ahead of accelerating expectations, and lead you to actionable innovation opportunities.

Readers who are serious about understanding the direction of consumerism across multiple dimensions will have already spotted that these trends don’t sit in splendid isolation. They are a handful of near-future fragments of the Bigger Picture — more on that below. But each one is also a killer opportunity to take to your team right now.

So: read, think, debate. Then get going with building brands that matter, products that delight and campaigns people can’t stop talking about!


2017’s newest status symbol: digital experiences.

In 2017, the Experience Economy will gain a new dimension: that of the VIRTUAL EXPERIENCE ECONOMY.

Iconic technologist Kevin Kelly has observed that the maturing of VR, AR and MR* technologies heralds a fundamental shift: from an internet in which information is the basic unit of currency, to one in which experiences are.

We won’t argue. But we’ll add that those digital experiences will quickly come to carry a status-weight equal to ‘real’ experiences, if not become more sought-after and prized. And yes, we know that’s a bold statement given most executives still consider digital experiences as more diverting than truly status-worthy.

Why? Well, status has always been by defined by scarcity and abundance. In a consumer world of material abundance, the experiences people chose formed an increasingly important part of their identities. While limited and hard-to-access physical experiences carried even more elevated currency.

Next the VIRTUAL EXPERIENCE ECONOMY will shatter much of this logic: in a truly infinite and boundless virtual world the usual physical limitations of cost, accessibility and personal capability no longer apply to experiences, making consumers’ time the only scarcity.

As a result, the experiences an individual chooses will make an even stronger statement about ‘who they are’ as an individual than in the physical Experience Economy of the past decades. And that’s a status offer few consumers will refuse to embrace.


* Confused? explains the differences between augmented, virtual and mixed realities!

Innovation examples

ABBA: Band announce 2018 ‘virtual experience’ tour date

If the Experience Economy can be captured in a single statistic, it’s this: from 1981 to 2012, the price of the average concert ticket .

Which makes the recent announcement by ABBA so intriguing (who, unlike many bands, have famously refused to head back out on tour, playing together once in the last 30 years). October 2016 saw the Swedish band that they were entering into a partnership with music mogul Simon Fuller and Universal Music to launch “a groundbreaking venture that will utilize the very latest in digital and virtual-reality technology…which will enable a new generation of fans to see, hear, and feel ABBA in a way previously unimagined”. The event is planned for 2018.

Alibaba: Shopping platform launches VR & AR shopping experiences

Alibaba’s Singles’ Day (11.11) is the world’s biggest online retail event: in 2016, the platform reported facilitating USD 17.8 billion of transactions in a single day (by contrast, the entire US retail market’s 2015 Black Friday takings were estimated at USD 10 billion, online and offline!).

2016’s Singles’ Day saw Alibaba launch , a virtual reality shopping experience. The demo video shows how Chinese shoppers could be transported to — and shop in — Macy’s in New York. The platform also launched an augmented reality shopping game ‘‘ for its Tmall platform, similar to Pokémon Go. Indeed, anyone interested in the VIRTUAL EXPERIENCE ECONOMY should keep watching China, given its position as a VR early adopter. Just one signal: HTC to roll out 10,000 VR ‘experience centers’ throughout China in the near future.

Google: Tilt Brush app lets users create animated VR environments

The next step beyond providing people with a memorable virtual experience? Let them craft a virtual experience (and share it with others, obviously ;) And while the Minecraft generation has been proudly building virtual worlds for a few years now, expect to see digital creativity take on more conventionally artistic and more immersive forms in 2017.

Google launched , an app for the HTC Vive VR headset in May 2016. The app allows the user to ‘paint’ in three dimensions, using a simple handheld controller as the ‘brush’. Brushes — including ink, snow and smoke effects — and colors are selected from a virtual palette. Users can share their creations as animated GIFs.

Your response

Of course, this is a tech-fueled trend. But success in the VIRTUAL EXPERIENCE ECONOMY will still require tapping into deep human behaviors. If ABBA’s virtual tour dates are to become as prized as their physical concerts, it will be because they offer participants a sense of wonder, excitement and create lasting memories — just delivered in a different medium.

But bigger than that, VIRTUAL EXPERIENCE ECONOMY innovations require a mindset shift from digital experiences that provide entertainment to digital experiences that accrue status. So ask yourself: how can you create virtual experiences that consumers will value — and want to share — more than they do their experiences in the real world?


Where next?

Trump. Brexit. Duterte. Le Pen. The attempted coup in Turkey. 2016 saw the economic, social and cultural impacts of globalization thrown into sharp relief. Again. But this time, the narrative is framed by immigration, job automation, depressed wages, a deeply uneven recovery from the Great Recession, generational and racial divides, terrorism fears, the ongoing refugee crisis. Want us to go on? :(

Unpicking the many complex and intertwined currents driving this trend is far beyond this Trend Briefing (although for all our sakes, let’s hope it’s not beyond humanity — which urgently needs to find a way to come together).

However, we can humbly suggest one direction for brands wanting actionable ideas about how to actually respond to this trend in 2017: purposeful brands will find renewed opportunities in helping people understand their changing relationship to home — be that their nation, city or neighborhood.

But those opportunities will come in two contrasting flavors: NEW GLOBAL CITIZENS will remain committed to the idea of an open and interconnected world, while NATION NURTURERS will favor a turn inwards, seeking solace in the familiar.

Innovation examples

Momondo: Video ad highlights racial diversity

In June 2016, Copenhagen-based travel website posted a video that highlighted the hidden racial diversity that exists in all individuals. In The DNA Journey, volunteers were shown talking about pride in their national heritage and even issues with those from other countries, before being shown the results of DNA tests that proved they were a melting pot of genes from many different parts of the world. Momondo’s ad ended with the message, ‘You have more in common with the world than you think’. As of November 2016, the clip had over 12 million views on YouTube.

Tiger beer: Chinatown’s ‘most exclusive discount store’

In June 2016, Tiger Beer set up a pop-up store in New York’s Chinatown. The Singapore-based beer brand sought to redefine Asian stereotypes and chose an area known for its discount stores selling cheap Asian goods. The store showcased products from the worlds of art, fashion, technology and design, representing over 700 artists from Asia. People had to show a Tiger Beer coaster to enter the store and each night, the pop-up sold out approximately an hour after it opened.

SAB Miller: Changes to beer labeling results in protection for local endangered species

A March 2016 campaign by SABMiller was designed to raise awareness of the plight of an endangered species in the Peruvian Amazon. San Juan beer usually features an image of the otorongo jaguar on its label. The company replaced this with pictures of dogs, pigs, cows, and roosters. Only 6,000 bottles (the number of surviving otorongo jaguars) were printed with the regular jaguar image, and sold during the San Juan carnival. The resulting outcry at the ‘defacement’ of the labels led to a petition and brought about a formal commitment from Peru’s government ensuring the animal’s protection.

Starbucks: Coffee chain’s series celebrates individuals in communities across the US

September 2016 saw Starbucks launch : an original series of podcasts, short stories and videos that highlights individuals across the US that work to make a difference in their communities. Topics such as homelessness, autism, food waste and the role of police feature in the series, aiming to unite Americans during election season. Upstanders has been written and produced by Howard Schultz (Starbucks’ CEO and Chairman), but is free from Starbucks branding.

Your response

Two things for brands seeking to navigate the WORLDS APART landscape to consider:

Whichever side of the coin you land on, this trend is about positive action. NEW GLOBAL CITIZENS will embrace brands that help foster understanding. So think about campaigns that build bridges between people and cultures, as Momondo and Tiger did. NATION NURTURERS’ ‘local first’ outlook can be served by products and campaigns that show a real commitment to a particular place — whether that’s celebrating the people that make it great (Starbucks) or solving a particular issue (SABMiller). A word of warning: branded displays of faux-patriotism won’t fool consumers for long. Yes Budweiser, the beverage formerly known as America, we’re looking at !

Which leads to the second thought. Yes, this isn’t an easy trend to tackle by any stretch. It requires deep thinking about who you are as a brand and who your customers are (or want to be). But in a world wracked by fractious and seemingly irreconcilable differences, the optimists among us have to believe that this is one area of thinking — and meaningful action — worth stretching for. After all, how many more signals do you need that ‘business as usual’ isn’t an option?


Anonymity makes a comeback.

We’ve long been urging businesses to embrace the realities and possibilities of . As this mega-trend has developed, two powerful new directions have emerged: brands are increasingly now recognizing non-traditional yet more authentic demographic segments (just last month, 17-year-old makeup artist James Charles became the first male face of Covergirl); at the same time new volumes and sources of data are also taking many businesses closer to the nirvana of catering to a ‘segment of one’ at a mass scale (think Spotify’s Discover Weekly, which sees over 40 million users receive a unique playlist every Monday).

While customers will welcome the greater relevance that comes with both these approaches, true flexibility and fluidity means there will still be moments where everyone wants to break out and explore. Without anyprejudice, constraints or repercussions.

As customers hand over more control to algorithms (or perhaps as they become increasingly aware of just how much their lives are already being shaped by these invisible and unquestionable forces — witness the Facebook news ‘filter bubble’ awakening), the urge to step outside one’s personal data-straightjacket will only grow.

And let’s not pretend that new platforms have transported us to a digital utopia. 2016 saw Airbnb publicly struggle with story after story of discriminatory hosts (captured by ), while October 2016 saw the publication of a showing that Uber and Lyft drivers were more prone to cancel rides requested by users with black-sounding names.

That’s why 2017 will see opportunities for brands, products and services that enable INCOGNITO INDIVIDUALS to be free.

Innovation examples

Interviewing.io: Voice masking software reduces interview bias

, a US-developed platform for engineers to practice technical job interviews, announced a feature that disguises both the interviewer’s and candidate’s voices. Using Twilio’s cloud communications technology and proprietary voice software, the service alters voices to sound androgynous, add synthetic elements or sound like animals to eliminate interview bias. Users can reveal their identities should they want the interview process to continue. As of Q2 2016, the voice masking feature was in private beta.

Candid: Anonymous chat app filters out abusive posts via AI

While anonymous chat apps have been available for a couple of years, US-based , which launched in July 2016, takes a powerful new route towards improving the experience for INCOGNITO INDIVIDUALS. To avoid the abuse and bullying often associated with anonymity, Candid uses machine learning algorithms to flag and filter unwanted content (the service says that around 40% of content posted is removed). Unsubstantiated rumors are also flagged, with posts cross-checking statements with web and Twitter data. Candid’s founder Bindu Reddy said she created the app after feeling unable to share frank opinions on conventional, identity-based social media. July 2016 also saw release an algorithm which can identify abusive online comments.

Antipersona: step into someone’s social media shoes

INCOGNITO INDIVIDUALS doesn’t have to be solely about anonymity, but also about allowing individuals to explore different conceptions of identity.

Available to download from January 2016, simulates the experience of being signed into Twitter as another person. Users can choose to simulate any Twitter account, and see the same timeline and notifications — for follows, mentions and retweets — as that Twitter user for 24 hours. The creators say the app is intended to ‘provide a window onto someone else’s social media point of view.’

Your response

This too, is an epic trend that we could dive deep into. But at its heart, one fueled by a very simple basic human need: the desire for equal — and fair — treatment. And no matter where you end up taking this trend, every business’ discussions about INCOGNITO INDIVIDUALS should start from that premise.

You might also be asking why 2017’s INCOGNITO INDIVIDUALS will fare differently from anonymous social platforms such as Yik Yak and Whisper? These platforms burned brightly in 2014 and 2015, only to struggle to escape the trolling that has been an unwelcome sidekick to online anonymity.

First, improvements in AI mean that a tantalizing future is within reach: anonymity without the assholes! As Candid shows, automated screening means hateful contributions will be able to be eliminated, preventing trolls from ruining it for authentic INCOGNITO INDIVIDUALS.

Second, the desire for anonymity will move beyond just freedom on social platforms. As consumers become hyper-aware of how the prices they pay are influenced by their personal data, the demand for tools and services that ensure fair treatment will be greater than ever. One practical, very consumer-centric idea? Just as Antipersona allows people to see Twitter through the eyes of other users, it’s not a stretch to imagine a browser plugin that alerts online shoppers if other users (in different locations or on different devices) are seeing lower prices. Retailers, get ready!


A new angle on sustainability.

Our trends have one purpose: to help you stay ahead of customer expectations. Regular readers will be familiar with our big idea: trends emerge as innovators raise expectations around an element of the customer experience, these new expectations then form waves that surge into — and then break over — other areas, industries and markets.

Take the sustainability mega-trend. The eco-friendliness of your products is now assumed (and if that’s an issue for you then stop reading NOW and tackle that first!).

Meanwhile the sharing economy, peer-to-peer consumerism and the rise of access-over-ownership business models have radically recalibrated consumer expectations around utilization and waste. When you can pay to use , access , eat your and more, then ‘traditional’ business processes suddenly start to look even more wasteful.

Which is why, in 2017 smart brands will broaden their thinking around sustainability and turn their attention to CAPACITY CAPTURE. This means finding and unlocking exciting new sources of value, or finding creative new ways to eliminate any wasted resource.

Innovation examples

Nissan: Vehicle owners sell excess power back to the National Grid

New technologies will give consumers new surpluses, and brands innovative new CAPACITY CAPTURE opportunities.

May 2016 saw launch a scheme allowing UK-based owners of the Nissan LEAF car and e-NV200 electric van models to sell back their vehicle battery’s stored energy to the National Grid. Created in partnership with power company Enel, the Vehicle-2-Grid (V2G) system will be available at 100 charging units across the country, where the transactions can take place. Nissan also announced plans to launch xStorage: a similar battery platform for the home that allows users to power their homes more affordably by charging it at off-peak times and using the stored electricity when costs are higher.

City of Cape Town: Online portal to recycle and trade waste

Think this is just a trend for ‘mature’ market consumers? Think again! Consumers in emerging markets will be especially enthusiastic about innovations that enable them to get more for less. One example:

February 2016 saw the City of Cape Town municipal authority upgrade its (IWEX) service to make it more user-friendly for individuals, institutions and businesses in the city. The government-created online portal allows companies and the public to connect and recycle waste items such furniture, tires, computers and packaging. The new portal enables users to add images and details to their listing, and post ads for waste products they are looking for.

Banco de Alimentos: Food bank launches Reverse Delivery service

From UberEats to GrubHub to Deliveroo, on-demand food delivery services have mushroomed (ouch ;) recently. And new behaviors create new openings for CAPACITY CAPTURE.

São Paulo-based food bank Banco de Alimentos launched , an initiative in May 2016 to harness the power of the thousands of delivery drivers that return empty-handed after dropping off food. Participating restaurants (there are currently more than 35 signed up) ask the customer if they want to donate any food. The driver then collects the items from the customer when they deliver the meal and takes it back to the restaurant, where it is picked up by Banco de Alimentos and distributed to those in need.

Your response

This trend is really very simple to apply. Look at every area of your business and ask yourself if any of the new business models could help you (or your customers) reduce or eliminate it. Bonus points if customers can actually generate positive value from the surplus, as Nissan’s customers can!

And don’t just think in monetary terms: Banco de Alimentos tapped into the powerful desire to be a better person with their creative approach to CAPACITY CAPTURE.


But this time, they’ll be welcomed!

Convenience. Seamlessness. Relevance. Customer expectations around these intertwined basic needs will reach new heights in 2017. And while in George Orwell’s 1984 Big Brother was a dystopian overlord, the relentless desire for (what would have only recently been) magical levels of personalized service will meet new intelligent technologies and lead to a new generation of BIG BROTHER BRANDS. But now we’ll willingly be watched*.

Two new currents propelling this trend forward in 2017:

First, the upcoming displacement of the screen as the primary way of interacting with our digital devices. All major tech players have been vocal (!) in their belief that voice will be the interface of the future. And 2016 was a tipping point in terms of speech recognition: Baidu’s voice technology is now than typing on a smartphone keyboard. And it’s not even close: the input rate was 3.0x faster for English and 2.8x for Mandarin Chinese; while the error rate was 20.4% lower in English and 63.4% lower for Mandarin Chinese! (Stamford, August 2016). Who will coin the voice equivalent of ‘fat finger syndrome’? ;)

Second, these intuitive interactions will converge with the rapidly improving capabilities of — and consumer familiarity with — artificially intelligent assistants. One signal: users of digital virtual assistants are set to rise from 390 million in 2015 to 1.8 billion worldwide by 2021 (Tractica, August 2016).

So, what will the next generation of BIG BROTHER BRANDS look like?

* Thanks to Keith Jensen, whose resurfaced this year as a meme and inspired this trend name.

Innovation examples

Google home: Always-on voice activated speaker

Announced in October 2016, is a voice-activated speaker powered by Google Assistant. Once permission is granted, the USD 129 ‘always-on’ device connects to the user’s Google accounts and scan emails, calendars and files and photos uploaded to Google to check appointments, create lists, add items to a shopping list and more. Via voice commands, users can ask Google Home questions and receive real-time weather, traffic and sport updates. Users can also play music from integrated services including Spotify and Pandora, or connect Google Home with other smart home devices (including Chromecast and Nest).

Samsung: Viv intelligent personal assistant ‘learns’ new skills

It’s getting impossible to call yourself a big tech player without some kind of intelligent assistant: Apple has Siri, Microsoft has Cortana, Baidu has Duer.

October 2016 saw Samsung purchase , an artificial intelligence conversational platform from the team who developed Siri. Viv allows third-party developers to build conversational assistants and natural language-based interfaces into apps, products and services, and according to its (‘her’?!) developers, can write its own code on-the-fly, as a user requests new tasks. Samsung announced in November 2016 that Viv would be a key feature in its Galaxy S8.

ROOBO: Domgy AI ‘pet robot’ recognizes family members and plays their preferred entertainment

And of course, we couldn’t look at this trend without looking at some of the new wave of intelligent robots (yes, finally ;) taking their first steps into people’s homes. Just one example:

Beijing-based tech firm unveiled Domgy in June 2016: a canine-like home robot that uses proprietary AI and facial recognition to recognize family members, play their preferred entertainment, alert the family to intruders, and more. Domgy rolls around and can navigate normal obstacles in a home and shallow steps, and automatically goes back to its charging station when the battery is getting low. The device is controlled via its round touchscreen ‘face’ or via smartphone.

Your response

Science fiction? Or science fact? This trend might feel far off right now. But it is coming around faster than you might think.

Take Amazon’s Alexa platform’s exponential expansion: in January 2016, there were 135 ‘skills’ (third party capabilities) in the Alexa voice app store. By June 2016 there were 1,000, and by September this had expanded to 3,000, when Amazon announced a $2.5m prize for anyone who could build a socialbot that can “that can converse coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes.”

The good news? All BIG BROTHER BRANDS are taking a platform approach by enabling third parties to add capabilities to their ecosystems. Which means that you don’t need the resources of a tech giant to reach consumers. Hurrah!

So, time for a conversation about you’ll embrace BIG BROTHER BRANDS in 2017?

Part II: The Bigger Picture

1. Trend-Driven Innovation

Spotting trends? It all starts with innovations…

The not-so-secret secret to spotting trends (including the ones in this Trend Briefing)?

Stop watching customers, and start watching the innovations — products, services, campaigns — flooding into the market now. Draw lines between similar innovations, and interrogate them for the new customer expectations they’re helping to create. If that sounds like your thing, you’ll find the end-to-end guide to our complete methodology in our book, .

But your next question might be ‘how do we process the thousands of innovations out there?’ Well, it helps to have a Trend Framework…

2. Trend Framework

16 mega-trends which provide structure and context when tracking innovation.

Too often, professional trend watchers imply they have an inherent gift that enables them to divine the future. Now, we don’t want to be the ones to spoil the party, but the five trends you’ve just read didn’t just emerge from a top-secret, caffeine-fueled brainstorming session.

We map all the expectation-changing innovations we spot against our Trend Framework: the 16 mega-trends — the big, slow-moving currents — that taken together form our complete picture of consumerism today and where it’s heading.

Having a robust and comprehensive Trend Framework allows us to assess the implications of the hundreds, if not thousands, of innovations we see on a daily basis and that we receive from our Spotter network.

You’ll now understand how, while tracking sustainability-focused initiatives as part of our better business mega-trend, identifying a cluster of innovations which disrupt customer expectations around utilization and waste led us to the CAPACITY CAPTURE trend.

Indeed, the trends and innovations featured here are just a tiny fraction of what’s happening in the world. Clients of our service get full access to the 16 mega-trends, 120+ trends and 15,000+ innovations in our online platform.

Get going!

As always, we wrap up these annual Trend Briefings with a call to action…

While it‘s our job just to watch trends, ambitious business professionals should read these trends with only one thing in mind: how to apply these trends and create compelling new innovations that will delight your customers (and win new ones!).

We can help with that too!

Yes, customers have never been more demanding. Yes, there‘s never been more competition. Blah blah blah. None of this is going away in 2017 (or 2018, or 2019…). However, trends are the secret weapon that help you turn this overwhelm to your advantage. But you already knew that ;)

So, take our , a free one-page guide to analyzing and applying trends. Dive into its simple, practical, step-by-step process to creating innovations that are deeply grounded in what customers want, desire and expect. Then win.


Cheers! Proost! 干杯! Salud! Skål! 건배! Santé! Prost! Şerefe! Mabuhay! Saúde! Chok dee!

TrendWatching’s content and tools give business professionals in 180+ countries the actionable foresight and inspiration to create successful trend-driven innovations.

Join the 250,000+ people who receive our free monthly Trend Briefings at, learn more about our , or get your hands on our end-to-end methodology in our new book, .

TrendWatching Pulse

Turn overwhelm into opportunity.

Henry Mason

Written by

Managing Director @ TrendWatching

TrendWatching Pulse

Turn overwhelm into opportunity. Our content and tools give business professionals in 180+ countries the actionable foresight and inspiration to create successful trend-driven innovations.

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