Principal at EY, Shyam Gidumal

“I’m not a futurist,” said Shyam Gidumal, principal at EY, an industry consulting firm. Perhaps not a futurist, but certainly future-focused. Centered on how digital advancements are informing the evolution of consumer behavior, Gidumal examined how technology will increasingly provide AI-powered services that alleviate mundane tasks and enhance brand experiences, among other features.

“Companies are continuing to try to protect what they were, as opposed to become what they need to become,” Gidumal said. This sparked EY to hold a holistic, global investigation into key consumer changes that will emerge in the next five to 10 years.

The revolution will not be televised — it will digitized. According to Gidumal, hints of the coming retail renaissance can be detected in nuanced shopping behavior — namely the distinction between shopping and buying. Think: shopping at Chanel versus Amazon.

“In some segments, the consumer will be increasingly engaged. Shopping will be experiential, shopping will happen at retail destinations that provide distinct, differentiated, relevant goods and services in distinctive physical — and virtual — spaces,” he said. “Consumers will be more selective about the brands they interact with, supporting those that share their values.”

To take a deeper look into how behavior will transition into larger shifts, Gidumal explained that EY “looked at over 100 factors that will likely drive change in consumer-facing industries, they clustered into eight key forces that we think will be the most powerful in propelling our future.” EY boiled down these segments into “how consumers engage with technology, how they play, work, move, eat, stay healthy, shop and live.”

Following a brief video that demonstrated how an individual might lead an ultra-connected life in the near future, Gidumal discussed how current technology might mature to facilitate enhanced, smart living.

“We see technology so ingrained in day-to-day life that it will become all but invisible,” Gidumal said. “Interactions with brands will be AI-enhanced, augmented reality and virtual reality will further increase connectivity. Data and technology will enable supply chains to be more flexible and agile.”

And while this digitized future might suggest in-person isolation in lieu of online communities, Gidumal argued, “consumers will still crave social interactions.” New technologies will ultimately furnish consumers to engage in a more transparent and purposeful way of living from seeing into the supply chain of products, for example.

Artificial intelligence will also inform “buying” or less emotionally charged purchasing, Gidumal suggested. “The consumer will be completely disengaged. The buying process will be automatically curated and completed through AI technologies that involve personalized, sophisticated and connected algorithms to sort, search, selected and buy items. Removing the consumer from the process all together.”

The removal of time-consuming tasks will also influence the decrease of material good ownership, Gidumal suggested. “We see consumers owning fewer things instead focusing on lifestyles, services and experiences. We see them opting for on-demand subscriptions beyond digital content services to meet real-time needs for clothing, food and other goods. Consumers will focus on experiences as a new status symbol.”

And as consumers continue to shift their priorities, spending habits and digital engagement, merchants will be charged to overhaul strategies. Gidumal concluded, “Today most companies are still viewing the world through old distinctions like online and physical. They’re often trapped in the organizational structures and compensation systems that were built around those systems. This would be a new revolution.”

More from WWD:

Consumers Use Siri, Alexa for Daily Tasks, Not Shopping

New Retail Frontier Requires Omnichannel Strategies Centered on Experiences

Generation Z: Brick-and-Mortar’s Saving Grace?

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