U.S. Consumer Trends: What Will Change in 2017

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If there is one thing that is constant in business today, it is change. The rate at which trends emerge and expectations evolve is faster than ever before. Consumers are quick to jump at new developments, with early adopters actively on the search for the next big thing. Companies that have the agility to respond to the latest technologies and thinking are those that usually outperform the competition. Every part of an organization – from the marketing to accounting and finance departments – should understand the trends that could impact their company and their role within it.

Here are some of the trends that business and accounting leaders should be keeping an eye on today:

A woman engages with virtual reality technology

Virtual Experiences on the Rise

Over recent years, there has been movement toward investing in “experiences” that have the potential to last a lifetime through memories, photos, and videos. People look for meaning in dream vacations, one-of-a-kind cultural and entertainment events, outdoor adventures, spiritual retreats, and countless other activities that return more than a material purchase.

Today, those experiences are increasingly virtual and thus, more accessible to a greater number of people. We can travel wherever we want with virtual reality (VR), engage in dangerous activities without the worry of harming our physical bodies, and otherwise live vicariously through comparatively affordable technology. The commoditization of VR is an opportunity on which businesses can capitalize, as noted by Forbes.

According to Wired, consumers are gaining access not just to virtual reality but also to augmented reality and mixed (or merged) reality. These technologies were previously reserved for scientific, engineering, and defense industry simulation environments. Augmented reality (AR) is an experience where virtual elements are projected into the real 3-D world. You can see these objects, but you cannot touch or interact with them. Mixed reality (MR) may be the next frontier, where individuals can begin to interact with virtual objects that do not actually exist on the physical plane.

The Evolution of Sustainability

Sustainability, while not a new trend, has become an even bigger motivator for consumers. People expect that the companies they work for and do business with will be able to report on dollars saved through recycling, energy management, water conservation, and other policies that lessen their carbon footprint.

Looking for the recycle symbol is second nature for many demographic groups, as is a proclivity toward soy-based inks, cruelty-free products, natural fibers, and other defensible preferences. The trend toward sustainability in the grocery and food service industry has also exploded, with increasing demand for locally sourced ingredients and farm-to-fork eating. Consumers want to feel good about supporting their communities.

Sustainability is also an important watchword in how today’s consumers access goods and services, traveling by alternative means other than the family car. Transportation networks like Uber and Lyft provide hassle-free ways to get around town. Meanwhile, companies like Zipcar, allow for vehicle rental for just as long as the driver needs to “borrow” the vehicle.

In 2017, we can get anything we want for the duration that we need it. That includes renting office space by the hour, buying and trading used goods, or sharing homes via Airbnb. Businesses that can help consumers spend their money wisely and feel good about it will be the winners where sustainability is concerned.

Personalization through Artificial Intelligence

As much as consumers value their privacy, they also want purchasing experiences that take their unique needs and preferences into consideration. The availability of personal data makes it possible for businesses to proactively meet demands with predicative analytics. According to Ericsson, whether we are shopping for personal items, company equipment, or even a new job, the artificial intelligence (AI) technology on the other side of the transaction has a good chance of anticipating our search parameters.

AI has entered our daily lives almost without notice. Technology has the capacity to respond to our choices by offering other, perhaps better, options. Each consumer action we take online can be met with a reaction targeted to our profile and history. In the future, we can also expect to engage with algorithm-powered chat-bots armed with pre-coded scripts to answer our questions.

Technology personalization is also on the march into our homes and family lives with digital assistants like Google Home and Alexa. A new class of entertainment robots, like Asus’ Zenbo and Roobo’s Domgy, are also here to roam the house and play music, show us recipes, take photos, and entertain the children. All based on AI technology that learns more about us with each interaction.

Implications for Business

Consumer trends in our personal lives inevitably bleed over into the way we do business. Review some of the ways we approach important tasks have changed:

Instead of:

• Expensing a rental car during company travel, we have Zipcar or Uber e-receipts.
• Calling a sales representative, we engage in online chats or have buying suggestions pushed to us via predictive analytics.
• Looking for the best deal, we deliberate about the country of origin of the products we want.
• Choosing a vendor based on price, we consider the sustainability practices of the organization.

These examples just skim the surface. Each has a real impact the way companies do business, grow their profits, and invest in what is most important for future success. Every department needs to be aware of new trends and customer expectations, including accounting. Modern Applications of accounting are particularly impacted by growing trends and will continue to evolve as consumer tastes do.

You can be better prepared for tomorrow, by considering a Master of Accounting degree from UAB Collat School of Business today. It’s never too soon (or too late) to learn about advanced accounting topics, current changes in business law, the latest applications of technology, and more.