Selling Your Future by 2020
By 2020, the world could develop into a myriad of different scenarios, but there is no one scenario that can accurately represent what the US, let alone the world, will become—even in four short years. The four scenarios in “Consumer’s Futures 2020” has options that could unfold, but it is unlikely in such a short timeframe. Nevertheless, the most likely of the four-presented scenarios to me is ‘sell it to me.’ This is because the scenario allows people to keep spending and minimizes the work individuals have to put into becoming more sustainable. It also marks a more prosperous, flourishing economy that enables the option to buy more selectively the brands and products that intrigue them. Lastly, this scenario utilizes the technology that we are already hyper reliant on to generate more personalized business. Many of these aspects are already occurring to some degree, but I can see them becoming more prominent over time.
The market is currently well on the mend, with unemployment rates decreasing and overall incomes increasing; awareness of income inequality is more mainstream and being combated, contrary to this scenario’s forecast (one aspect of scenario 3 I disagree with). With this increasing upward mobility, consumers want to buy more and more, as many US citizens mark their prosperity on how much you can buy. Already emerging is the demand for organic foods to be sold in conventional grocery stores. People also spend a little extra to buy brands that give them the perception of wealth—like that must have North Face jacket, the new iPhone or Beats headphones—not because having these brands are necessities but because they give the illusion of higher status. These choices by the consumer lead to brands and businesses becoming dominant forces in society that overpower local options that aren’t deem as trendy to have. As large companies become increasingly dominant, national governments absorb more power to regulate them on a larger scale than what local officials can control. Creating national guidelines to protect the consumer’s well being—as people spend blindly, trusting their favorite brands to meet their needs.
As people continue to buy brands for their reputations, and not necessarily for the quality or the product they sell, individuals trust that the promises made by companies to have more ‘ecofriendly’ products so that consumers can continue to spend and feel less guilt as what they are buying or using is less bad than it used to be. Examples of this are notebooks made from recycled paper, to go containers that are now recyclable or biodegradable, or low-flow toilets, all of which are perceived in having a lower environmental impact because it says so on the label, whether the practices used by the companies to generate these products are truly more sustainable is not questioned by the average consumer, which is already true. Individuals blindly trust corporations like Wal-Mart to sell them “Certified Organic” food or Chipotle to serve them pasture-raised beef without investigating whether those corporations’ methods are truly sustainable. Additionally, many consumers don’t care to understand why using those methods is better for the environment or themselves. They trust the commercials and ads they see to help them make choices about where and what to buy. Consumers desire to over consume, because buying the next new things fills them with pride and pleasure—all because large companies know how to pander to their customers’ desired experience within their stores.
The incomprehensible improvements to technology in the past five to ten years alone have enabled companies to generate more personalized products. Tech companies such as Google and Apple have created ‘Hello Google’ and ‘Siri’, respectively, to allow people to verbally interact with their phones. By allowing people to use this hands free technology to complete the same tasks they can do via typing, people are given extra options that empower them, giving them a sense of personalization, accessibility, and power. Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., also enables this sense of personalization, accessibility, and power. Keeping up with friends from across all times of your life are easily accessible without having to make an effort. Social media also makes life easier by not only allowing you to connect with your friends, but also by selectively targeting the type of news you tend to read, liberal or conservative, and post news stories related to your interests. Beyond these built in capabilities in technology and social media, companies already invest in strategic advertising to provide the most relevant ads to people. Web browsers and search engines are designed to retain your history on websites such as Amazon and then specifically show advertisements on your Facebook news stream that relates to your recent searches. This type of strategic advertisement is already occurring so it is not difficult to believe that in 2020 more businesses will use it to gather a larger quantity of personal data. Social media also plays a large role in increasing brand recognition. People show off the name brand shoes, clothes, technology, etc. that they own on social media to show pride in the products they bought, creating word of mouth advertisement that reaches other consumers on a more personal level. Many people also tweet at or tag the brand, giving them another level of access to people’s spending habits. This ability for companies to monitor your online presence is an unavoidable side effect of using many websites. Primarily companies force you to release this information by making you agree to their terms and conditions when you sign up, alternatively, websites will discontinue their services if you have certain ad or information blockers enabled. This relinquishing of control to corporations will only continue to increase as people’s dependency on technology increases as we reach 2020 and beyond.
The inevitable trade off that occurs when we allow large companies to meet our needs is the loss of privacy, especially through technology. The focus of consumers in 2020 hasn’t changed much from now. Their mindset is being less bad, as opposed to more good, by purchasing products that are advertised as ecofriendly or sustainable. They still don’t feel the personal need or obligation to alter their way of life because they don’t realize their overconsumption as an issue. Many don’t even realize they are over consuming. Through internal reflection consumers believe that any of their individual acts can have an impact on any major environmental concerns. The belief that companies produce the products, thus it is companies’ responsibility to moderate and make adjustments to their products and production to ensure a safer, healthier environment for future generations.
Consumers now and consumers in 2020 won’t be all that different. The most prominent change will be with the continued rise in incomes and employment more people will have the ability to be over consumers. Increasing affluence will make a greater need for large companies to meet the personalized needs people desire, which will prompt the use technology to gather this information. Consumers will be focused on what is best for them, slowing increasing the demand for more sustainable products to be made available for them to purchase so they can feel like they are taking part in sustainability, while creating a minimal change in individual lifestyles.