8 business trends for 2020

The last few years have seen a growth in consumer anxiety, political division and economic uncertainty. But with a new decade may come a new approach. 

  • Cheer up!
  • Just like January is the time of year to try a new diet or fitness regime – hence the pick-up in gym memberships – so the first year of a new decade is a chance for a fresh start. Look out for more positivity this year. We might not be able to make the world better, but we can make ourselves feel better. Expect more glamorous clothing, and brightly coloured packaging and retail interiors. More brands offering small indulgences or self-care. And more footfall at fun, Kidult-friendly venues like UrbanCrazy crazy golf or ping pong bar Bounce.

  • Grey sky thinking
  • But such escapism can seem head-in-the-sand to those whose business is at stake. For them the new year will be about lowering their expectations, hunkering down and realising, as Jamie Oliver said recently, that the early 2020s will be more about surviving than thriving. Expect companies shifting to a new, ‘realistic’ mindset: creativity on a budget, fewer full time employees, less office space and a more practical approach to planning.

  • Modular companies 
  • Something else businesses are having to accept is constant change. 2020 will see companies becoming more adaptive. Restructuring and employing more freelancers, to make them able to more swiftly downsize or scale up to cope with fluctuating demand. Appreciation of their mutual economic difficulties will see increasing co-opetition between companies in the same sector, or just the same postcode, sharing costs and infrastructure, to ensure they have the right departments and services ready when needed. 

  • N’ownership
  • This Christmas saw more of us than ever pride themselves on either making gifts or buying ‘pre-loved’ second hand finds. It’s part of a movement to free ourselves from unnecessary ownership. Having made the shift from, say, buying CDs to streaming music through Spotify, many consumers are increasingly comfortable with not buying or owning ‘new stuff’. Especially the rent-your-phone Generation Z. This year the number of second hand shops and rental and subscriptions services will soar. Already H&M are launching a clothes rental service from their flagship store in the Netherlands. And Nike has introduced a subscription model for children’s tennis shoes. 

  • Human touch
  • Stat after stat show that trust in business is declining. Phrases like ‘we value your call’ have become empty to the point of being parodied. So it’s no surprise that companies are increasingly judged on service and a ‘human’ approach to their customers. This year will see more companies putting service front and centre, ensuring that any brand touchpoints – from sales assistant to call centre employee to delivery person – give a good representation of the company. Empathy and a personal approach will be key.

  • ‘Family’ business
  • As organisations become a complex jigsaw of old and young, freelancers and old hands, it’ll be increasingly important to find ways to bond them together. This year we’ll see more companies trying to create a genuine family atmosphere, to boost engagement and morale. At payments app Mollie, standard HR policy now includes: a welcome package for your family including T-shirts for kids, a get well basket if you’re sick, even an automatic day off on your birthday. Another trend will be sharing something that’s brought people together since the dawn of time: food. Companies that want to feel like a family will discourage solo Al Desko and encourage more sharing platters.

  • Talking Tech
  • It’s not just companies and HR departments that are taking a more human approach. So too are machines. And we’re responding in kind. According to Google, nearly half of people who own a voice activated assistant say it feels like chatting with a friend or another person. As a result, the likes of Alexa and Siri – our very own DFF (Digital Friend Forever) – are taking off in a huge way. 2020 will be the year voice search becomes the norm. Researchers comScore predict that this year half of all searches will be voice-driven. And voice commerce is predicted to have increased twenty times from 2017-2022. Meanwhile ‘human’ machines are becoming celebrities, like Instagram influencer bot Lil Miquela, and China’s state news agency’s two virtual news anchors. 

  • Bring your own
  • Two years ago, David Attenborough turned the world on to the crisis of ‘single use’ plastic. Now almost one in ten of us is regularly ‘re-using’. 2020 will see the trend go truly mainstream. Re-usable water bottles, tupperware for takeaways and bamboo picnic cutlery won’t be limited to the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow: they’ll be the norm. Late last year Waitrose experimented with asking customers to bring their own food containers, and made their beer available on tap to those who brought bottles. The result: 10 weeks’ worth of beer sold out in four days! How long before consumers start rejecting retail packaging altogether?