10 Consumer Trends That Will Spark Innovation In 2020

As we head into a new year and a new decade, the pace of innovation and technology adoption has never been higher. Consumer attitudes and interests are changing just as rapidly. Here are ten areas where consumer preferences are shifting and evolving, based on reviewing more than a thousand business ideas in 2019 and meeting hundreds of early-stage startup founders, mostly focused on launching new technology businesses targeting the consumer market. Each trend will drive big opportunities for innovation in the year and decade to come.
  1. Family and home productivity. There has been a proliferation of productivity tools helping to manage consumers’ lives at work like Slack, Zoom, Asana, and newer emerging startups Superhuman and Notion. But what about their lives at home? Family life is more complex than ever. The number of moms in the workforce is at 71.5% and rising, and in 63% of two-parent households with kids, both parents are employed (up by nearly 24% just since 2002). As these cultural trends fortify, consumers — especially women and parents — need new software tools and services to help manage their lives at home as seamlessly as they manage projects at work.
  2. Next generation meat for meat-eaters. Conscious consumption is on the rise, with Americans showing more awareness about what we put in our bodies and the impact that has on our health and the environment. It’s not just for vegans: 30-50% of people are interested in cutting back on animal protein, and 95% of people who buy plant-based burgers are meat eaters. As evidenced by the growth of companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, when these behaviors go mainstream, traditional meat-lovers want alternative options that actually satisfy like the real thing. Beyond the plant-based options, we’re seeing a new wave of lab-cultivated meats, like Memphis Meats, focused on chicken and mammals, and Wild Type and Shiok Meats, both focused on seafood. These companies leverage cellular technology to create alternatives to existing animal protein that are cellularly the same, but grown in a lab instead of in animals.
  3. Personalized healthcare. Consumer expectations continue to advance around what they expect from their healthcare, which will drive new breakout innovations. We’ve begun to see many changes already, but we still have a long way to go. Some areas for new products to emerge include the ability to text doctors and nurses for triage, access to more medical care through telemedicine (especially mental health), and more options to pay for care. With an increasingly transient population plus the rise of so many direct-to-consumer health brands, especially those that prescribe medications, it’s more important than ever for consumers to have access to care that fits their needs and lifestyle while still directed by a medical professional.
  4. Autonomous vehicles. We’re getting closer to the time when everyday consumers will ride in and gain comfort with autonomous vehicles. Numerous companies are actively pursuing that goal such as Cruise (GM), Waymo (Alphabet), May Mobility, and Aurora. As that happens, what will be the passenger experience inside these robo-taxis? With hours of drive-free travel time, there are opportunities for innovation across the entire consumer experience, including entertainment, productivity, communication, and even services like healthcare, wellness, and more.
  5. Mindfulness culture. In 2019, Calm hit a $1B valuation and the term “meditation” produced hundreds of app store results. Consumers are prioritizing self-care and mental wellness, and younger generations are pursuing careers that fulfill their passions and provide work/life balance. Consumers care about how they spend their minutes and we’ll see continued growth of this category.
  6. Changes in higher education and employment. Many of the most common traditional jobs in our country are changing or declining, driven in large part by improvements in technology and AI. Simultaneously, traditional higher education is just too expensive. In this new reality, consumers have to ask: what qualifies as useful and worthwhile higher education? And how do they pay for it? This makes room for different forms of education — from coding bootcamps, to job retraining, to bite-sized learning — and new models of payment, like the recent innovations around Income Share Agreements and, I expect, many other new ideas we haven’t thought of yet.
  7. Consumer privacy. With the groundswell of privacy breaches in the past few years, are consumers about to have a reckoning about the importance of their data? Skeptical consumers are becoming more conscious of their privacy (or lack of), and corporations are taking action — sometimes on their own, and sometimes based on new regulation like the California Consumer Privacy Act. Consumers do care, but it’s currently not very easy to get a handle on protecting one’s individual data. If consumers lack trust in the government and existing big tech companies to do it for them, new companies can emerge to fill the need. It seems there is a big opportunity for companies that gain consumer trust for ethical treatment of data and privacy.
  8. Sharing digital experiences live. Since the arrival of smartphones, activities we used to do together — like shopping and going to the movies — have shifted online and to the home. Consumers are seeking new ways to engage with one another while using technology. Social media started a wave of sharing asynchronously online, and now consumers will start doing things live, in real-time. This is already happening extensively in gaming — a huge consumer trend on its own — and will expand far beyond. From shared streaming to social shopping, consumers have a desire to share their digital experiences with friends. Fueled by the expansion of 5G, we’ll do even more on our phones, and magical shared experiences will be possible.
  9. Cross-generation techies. Tech-savviness extends well beyond the cliched 20s. As we enter the peak of baby boomer retirement in the coming years, we’ll see more and new opportunities emerge to address the needs and wants of consumers in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. There’s a generation at or nearing retirement that uses much of the same technology as younger consumers, but have unique needs and interests. There will be big opportunities to serve them. Coupled with advances in longevity tech and research, this will become an even more important demographic.
  10. Improving financial literacy and shifting financial habits. Many startups have already launched to disrupt the traditional finance industries, and there will be more. Younger generations think differently about home ownership, saving money, investing, and what they spend money on and how to pay for it. Simultaneously, employment relationships are changing both in the gig economy and the more traditional market, where there are more career-switchers. This means the historical retirement savings paradigm doesn’t apply. There is room for new financial solutions to address these shifts in consumer habits.
A new year brings renewed excitement to meeting hundreds of emerging early stage startups. I expect to see many thought-provoking, creative ideas within these ten big consumer trends. Consumer preferences drive the economy. From new meat alternatives, to software for a thriving home life, to new models for education, there’s no shortage of innovation coming in 2020 and the decade ahead. This article was originally published in Forbes on January 16, 2020.

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