UK consumers in 2020: A look into the future

The UK is finally recovering from the recession which has been deeply felt as the worldwide downturn hit the UK, very dependent on the financial sector, hard. However, there is still much caution among consumers. One area which is growing seemingly unstoppably is communications – smartphones and social networking are becoming increasingly sophisticated as well as popular. It is likely that 2020 will see the demand for instant information and communication as strong as ever.


Recession hangover

The British recession was extremely damaging to consumer confidence. The economy in the UK had previously contracted for six consecutive quarters, which was the longest period since quarterly figures were first recorded in 1955. Consumers are still cautious as well as dissatisfied. Recent figures by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) indicate just how dissatisfied the British are. The study (of 2,000 workers) published in January 2010 revealed that only one in ten believes their standard of living has improved in recent months. Claire McCartney of the CIPD said: “Even though the economy is no longer flat on its back, the real economy as experienced in the day-to-day lives of workers is crippled.”

The recession saw consumers having to alter their spending habits as well as – in part – their consumer values. Thus, frugality was embraced by consumers, which was reflected in a plethora of websites, books and other information on how to spend wisely. Bloggers such as UK mum on claimed: “Now we are learning to live a more frugal life and spending more time together as a family.”

The uncertainty about spending is likely to remain as there are UK general elections coming up in the spring/summer of 2010. Among the election campaigns, it is not clear how much government spending cuts may affect consumers. It seems that consumers will continue to be cautious about luxury goods, but will slowly start to spend more on necessities such as food. According to forecasts from Euromonitor International, real consumer expenditure will rise again to £861,722 million in 2010 (based on value at constant 2009 prices) from a sharp drop to £857,706 million in 2009.

Home is where the purse is

It is just as well the Brits say “my home is my castle” since they are spending an awful lot of time at home. Gone are the days when people went to restaurants and bars and on weekend getaways to Europe. Cheap airlines are no longer very cheap and the pound is weak, so UK consumers are opting to stay in the UK. predicted in December 2009 that 2010 would be the year of the so-called “staycation”. According to their data, 18% of Brits will be staying in the UK in 2010, double the figure of 10% in 2009. ”The ‘staycation’ is likely to continue but Brits hoping for a value getaway will look to destinations outside the eurozone,” said Bob Atkinson, from the website. Turkey, Egypt and Morocco are predicted to be the most popular destinations in 2010.

Staying in is the (not very) new going out. Brits are still staying in when it comes to eating, but they appear to be getting more creative. Since the economic climate forced people to go out less, people have been feeling less sociable. According to the Daily Mail in February 2010, “Dinner parties have replaced going out to restaurants as the latest foodie trend”. Some are turning these into organised events, referred to as “supperclubs”. For a supperclub, people book to go round the host’s house and pay for their meals. As one supperclub host commented in the Daily Mail newspaper: they have “become somewhat trendy of late”. The question remains whether this is a passing trend, brought on by the necessity to be creative, or whether it is a new way of going out that will persist?

Despite all this austerity, Brits clearly still like to go out to the cinema. Euromonitor International data shows that in 2009, UK box office revenues totalled £886 million, a rise of 3.6% on the previous year. The new 3D films such as Avatar are causing the biggest stir. At the end of February, Alice in Wonderland premiered in London, another 3D film that promises to be a huge hit.


Green with enthusiasm

Being environmentally conscious is no longer for marginal political groups; it has become commonplace in the UK. Consumers are demanding more information as regards the carbon footprint of their purchases and whether or not their food was ethically sourced. Eco bags are hugely fashionable in the UK right now – the new “it bag” is the biannual Fashion Week goodie bag which is an eco bag. The likely design of the new bag for the February London Fashion Week was the talk of all fashion blogs.

Green energy has been on the agenda for a while, mostly in terms of a green alternative. Today, it is on the agenda as a necessity rather than an alternative for tree-huggers. As resources deplete, traditional energy will become more expensive and consumers will demand new products. David MacKay, the government’s energy advisor, commented to BBC News in September 2009 that the lack of energy capacity in the UK could mean blackouts by 2016. If reports such as these increase, there will be added pressure for alternative energy projects from the public.

Concern for the environment seems to be part of a growing trend for consumers to demand greater responsibility from brands. This includes social awareness, for example. “Sustainability” is a buzzword that will continue to figure prominently. That is, so long as there is not another bitter cold winter. After the cold winter of 2009/2010, many headlines resembled the one on “So much for Global Warming – the UK experiences the coldest temperatures and heaviest snowfalls for almost 30 years.”

Smart technology

Smart technology is the talk of the town – consumers are buying smartphones like crazy. Expert publications and daily newspapers are awash with comments on the “Smartphone Craze” or the “Smartphone Revolution”. Such smartphones include the Apple iPhone, the Blackberry and the Google Nexus One. The appeal of these gadgets lies in the fact that users can go online at any time, no matter where they are, or where their PC is. The smartphone trend is so big since it assists in feeding consumer addictions to other trends that have emerged in recent years. For example, all smartphones make access to social networking sites such as Facebook even easier. Constant access to social networking sites enables the consumer to hone his or her personal brand. As the recent Euromonitor International article: “Top 10 consumer trends for 2010” pointed out, “Me as a product” will be a key trend this year. Personal profiles on social networking sites are, according to, “the nucleus of one’s personal brand.”

But smartphones are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to smart technology. Smart technology means complete control for the consumer. An emerging trend here is the possibility of tracking anything and anyone. GPS has, for instance, enabled consumers to follow the route of online purchases from the warehouse to their homes. The future of “tracking and alerting” could include, for example, a mechanism enabling your fridge to alert you when you are running out of milk or the possibility of pointing your phone at a house and the device informing you where the nearest shop, restaurant, bank or school is within seconds. One blogger, calling himself a “techie”, sets out what life could be like for all of us in the future: “One gadget I certainly cannot live without is my smartphone … Almost every aspect of my life surrounds it: work & personal emails, Twitter, Facebook, getting from point A to B, and my daily news.”


I want it NOW

Consumers in 2020 are likely to be more impatient. Technology is enabling consumers to read the news headlines literally as the news is made, it will enable consumers to share reviews and information instantly, and it will allow consumers to order something they see immediately. The phone is likely to figure prominently in this instant gratification culture. A glimpse of the future in meeting consumer demands may be visible through a new campaign by nail specialist OPI. OPI used social networking media at the beginning of 2010 to identify what its fans liked most and presents consumers with a virtual nail studio as an iPhone application, enabling consumers to “try out” all nail polish colours on the phone.

The possibility of having news updates live on your phone, downloading films in a few seconds and listening to music on the go will mean that today’s media (newspapers, DVDs, books) will either become superfluous or will need to reinvent themselves. This will provide a challenge to publishers and to the music industry.

Social networking is still hot

Although it has been difficult for companies to generate revenue with social networking (similar to search engines such as Google), social networking is most likely to be as prevalent in 2020 as it is today. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are the current top three social networking sites in the UK at present, according to Experian Hitwise, a global information services company. Facebook is already by far the most visited site for mobile phone web users in the UK, according to a list of the top 10 mobile sites released by GSMA Mobile Media Metrics in February 2010. According to the study, approximately 16 million people in the UK access the internet via mobile phones, and five million of those users used their phones to check out Facebook.

Due to the success of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, more sites are likely to follow. However, new sites will have to bring some innovation to the market since “copycat” sites are not very popular. When Google launched its social networking tool Google Buzz, one user commented “Google Buzz is just another doomed Twitter copycat like Yahoo Meme and Friendfeed”.

It is likely that social networking will broaden to include other types of networking too. For example, in March 2010, a new application was launched on Facebook, which allows friends to transfer money to one another. Currently, the application, called “Buxter”, can only be used for sums below £45 and for Buxter account-holders. It can be expected that the sums will increase and use of the application will become easier in the future.

3D 4me

3D is the future of movie and home entertainment. Box office hit “Avatar” from 2009 was just the beginning of the new 3D entertainment. Avatar was the biggest box office hit of all time in the UK, having taken £2,260,319 by the beginning of March 2010. Global marketing communications firm JWT believes that “3D is the new HD,” with the format set to break into the small screen this year as successfully as it has done the big screen.

In February 2010, the new Samsung’s LED9000 3D TV was unveiled, a TV that converts 2D TV into 3D images “on the fly.” Measuring less than the width of a pencil, the device is scheduled for launch in 2010 and connects to the internet to offer access to services such as social networking, live weather reports and a large array of other internet applications.

Sports and nature channels will be the first to take on 3D. In 2010, sports network ESPN plans to launch a dedicated 3D channel in time for football’s World Cup in June, the Discovery Channel has also partnered with Sony and IMAX to launch a multi-genre channel, and BSkyB has been promoting its upcoming 3D channel in the UK. By 2020, all programmes will probably be in 3D. This may even see the emergence of what we still consider very sci-fi: the hologram. Possibly by 2020, consumers will be able to immerse themselves completely in computer games (think a 3D room in which you “fight” your digital opponent in a martial art, tennis or chess competition), will be able to “star” in their favourite film, or will be able to sing next to a hologram of their favourite pop band in their own living rooms. The 3D trend is likely to spill over into fashion, advertising (think 3D billboards), toys, art work etc.