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The world has transformed in many ways over the last year – socially, culturally and politically. Consumer trends and behaviors have changed in line with the shifts in the wider world.

Here are my notes from the year that was and predictions for the year ahead for FMCG and retail brands.

Some of these trends have arisen directly out of the pandemic, and may fade as it does. Others have been brewing independently and continue to strengthen, and Covid-19 has kickstarted many other nascent behaviors. Here are a few of particular note.

2020 retail trends

Stockpiling

Hopefully this was a temporary blip – as we saw panicked consumers rushing to stock up on essentials like toilet paper and pasta and leaving shelves bare.

Blockchain

A buzzword people often prefer to say than explain in detail – but in the last year we have seen some moves towards the west catching up with economies like China who use Blockchain technology to track the provenance of ingredients.

Mental health and wellbeing

As emotions frayed with lockdowns rolling into lockdowns and sudden remote working setups, gyms closing, and health being on everyone’s mind, the language of mental and physical wellbeing began permeating more and more into daily and work life.

Direct to consumer (DTC) brands

As getting out to the supermarket – often to be met with shortages of essentials – became a risky prospect, and the high street started shutting down, DTC subscription models received a boost.

Internet of Things (IOT)

This has been simmering away for years, but the IOT has developed apace as more people are spending more time in their houses and want to upgrade their comfort levels with connected devices.

Flexitarian diets

The rejection of meat and animal products has continued – particularly as people have had time to sit back and reflect on their lifestyles and impacts on the planet. The Netflix series Seaspiracy has also jolted this trend along.

Hygiene

Things we did before like blow out birthday cake candles or hang onto bus and train parts to steady ourselves have all been thrown into question and these days are often seen with disgust. Are masks and hand sanitizers here to stay?

Artificial intelligence (AI)

2021 has been called ‘The Year of The Chatbot’ – as we retreated from the high street to our homes, screen time went up and e-commerce and social commerce skyrocketed. And what better than AI to help answer the influx of consumer queries?

Work/life balance

After years of reluctance most companies have conceded that remote working has had no negative impact on productivity and looks here to stay. And workers reap the benefits of skipping stressful and expensive commutes and having more time to spend on wellbeing and family activities.

Three top trends for 2021

E-commerce and social commerce

E-commerce has been spurred forward five years from its pre-Covid trajectory according to some estimates and social commerce is booming as well as locked down populations turn from the high street to their mobile screens.

Grocery shopping and FMCG in particular has been boosted in a previously sluggish market – now 9% of EU FMCG products are purchased online.

Social platforms in turn are bolstering the trend by offering more options to shop, try on and buy in store with AR technology and store facilities.

What this means for social:

  • Your social channels must be tapped into where products are sold – promote bundles and drive to online promotions – this is the opportunity to close the awareness to purchase tracking journey which has been lacking for FMCG
  • Ensure you are set up on social commerce and your items are properly tagged to be shoppable
  • Use AR filters to allow customers to try before they buy on social channels

The ‘Tiktokification’ of the social web

Short social video is the most exciting space in social media right now. Vine started the trend, Snapchat introduced ephemeral stories which spread like wildfire and now TikTok has picked up where Vine left off with creative, educational, meme and music-based formats – and Instagram has been quick to copycat there too.

There has been a shift not just in share of attention – diverted from Instagram to TikTok – but also a shift in attitude. TikTokkers (and this is a generalization) revel in authenticity rather than aspiration and focus on social issues rather than material goods, lifestyle and appearance. TikTok has also been at the forefront of social and ecological issues such as the Uighurs and climate change since before BLM took over Instagram feeds.

What this means for social:

  • Short video formats are proliferating – you need a strategy (YouTube shorts is next)

  • It’s not about cutting down your YouTube material but creating bespoke content – vertical, humor, memes, music, authentic influencers and talent

  • Consider how TikTok aesthetics and values can bleed onto other channels – just as TikToks often cross over to viral fame on Twitter and WhatsApp groups

Brands with purpose

The last year and a bit has given people pause to think about how they are living their lives. As everything changed, everything came into question – what is important, valuable, non-negotiable. We are also more connected with nature and with our neighbors and neighbourhoods. As a result many have made positive changes in their lives and that extends to purchase decisions. People took note of brands that did great things, such as Brewdog making hand sanitizer instead of beer, or Ben & Jerry’s bid to tackle white supremacy. And we have a long memory for brands that didn’t do well, such as Wetherspoon’s lack of care for its staff.

What this means for social:

  • Find the authentic good you do for people and planet as a brand and don’t be afraid to authentically weave it into your social comms.

  • We know from working with WWF that although the world faces huge problems – if you give people hope and agency in finding the solution they respond in their millions.

The world will continue changing in ways we cannot perceive from where we are – but if we learn our lessons from the last year we stand in good stead to take advantage of all the future holds.

Emily Knox, head of social and content at Tug