by Sasha-Lee de Bod

As we enter the second decade of the twentieth century, we have identified twenty trends that all businesses should keep an eye on. Many of these trends have been predicted for some time, however, 2020 will be the year to champion changes and challenges through innovation and commitment. Businesses that want to be successful need to be mindful and pro-active to manage what lies ahead. 

1. This is the time to be green and go the extra mile

  • Adopting a green/eco-conscious lifestyle has moved beyond offering green product and services, lowering your business’s footprint has become a necessity to reduce electricity usage, businesses are using renewable energy or LED alternatives, going paperless and utilising cloud software and must be conscious of the anti-plastic movement.
  • Looking into the future, it won’t be enough to just be green anymore, it will be important to educate customers on the implications their eco-friendly decisions have, not only on themselves but on the environment and the business they are purchasing from.

2. Capturing all demographics

  • The workforce structure is surely changing, Baby Boomers are reaching retirement stage, Millennials are moving into higher positions of power, and they will have decision making abilities, whereas Generation Z is at the verge of entering the workforce. 
  • Businesses will need to understand the next generation and how to manage them accordingly as well as their consumers.
  • The youth demographic/new generation will be an essential part of how communication strategies are formulated. Millennials are tech savvy and mobile driven, therefore marketing and information should be accessible on online platforms and applications to communicate directly and immediately, strengthen productivity and enhance engagements and interactions, by keeping them focused and engaged.
  • Marketers also should not disregard the generation that was born B.C (before computers), the older target groups have lots of buying power and their physical shopping experience should be enhanced and made convenient e.g. wider aisles, clear signage, proper lighting, pleasant staff interactions, etc

3. It is all about the customer experience

  • Customers want to be seen as individuals; therefore they will demand personalisation and customisation to suit their exact needs.  It is important that businesses recognise customer intent and build offerings and interactions to target them directly. For example, businesses are tracking customer behaviour and selection on websites and applications to offer them customised pop-ups on online and social media sites that would be relevant to them.
  • On-demand products and services are in high demand especially with the “now generation” being used to getting products and services as and when they want them, for example Netflix, Uber Eats and Uber. Convenience and immediacy are critical aspects of a service offering and businesses falling behind this curve may lose customers to their faster competitors.
  • Customer experience is extended to the staff experience they are receiving.  Friendly, trained, efficient staff members will increase the non-monetary benefits customers are receiving if they frequent a business.

4. AI is transforming customer service

  • Artificial Intelligence is continuously growing and will have an impact on customer experience and our economy in the coming years. This technological advancement should not be seen as a human replacement, but rather an assistant to make customer service more efficient and help us create a better understanding of customers by mapping their journey.
  • Businesses are embracing artificial intelligence to enrich customer interactions that are repetitive and redundant as well as processing big data. For example, using real-time customer data from mobile phones such as location and online search history.
  • Chatbots, virtual assistants and live chat functions allow 24/7 access to customers when they have enquiries and concerns.  By utilising this technology, it enables businesses to better respond to customer requests and have more efficient interactions. 
  • Frequently Ask Question readymade lists can be used to direct customers to answers immediately. 

5. Customers don’t speak in keywords, they speak in full sentences

  • Smart Speakers like Google, Siri and Alexa have gained popularity and businesses need to adapt to voice activated technology. 
  • In the near future, website browsing will be voice activated, therefore online content needs to be developed that is voice optimized and not just key word focused.

6. It is all about user reviews

  • Today’s consumers are very informed, knowledgeable and source information on products, options and prices through trusted online social networks.
  • Consumers conduct more research and due diligence online before purchasing items.
  • Consumers take comfort in bought, tried and tested product and service offerings before even making a purchase.  Price alone doesn’t drive product or service sales, the comments on online user reviews will influence a customer’s purchase decision.
  • Good reviews make an offering look more appealing.  This is a good marketing tactic for companies with a smaller budget.

7. Live interaction and streaming over social media platforms

  • Businesses are realising that building online communities through continuous live and personal interactions/engagement with consumers are the key to brand loyalty. 
  • For example, Facebook live videos encourage real-time interaction with an audience. Video has become a very important part of a successful business marketing strategy as consumers have a need for real connections with real people.

8. Stories are taking over social media news feeds

  • Social media stories alongside live steaming has become a valuable marketing asset to companies. They enable companies to drive sales, bring attention to the brand and increase their followers. 
  • The challenge arises to create short, informative and creative content to get the customers attention immediately as time is limited and access to content disappears after 24-hours. 
  • Companies can use this interaction to showcase products, demonstrate or explain how-to sections and to initiate an action from a customer by stating swipe up or for more see our page, etc.

9. Thought leadership is key

  • Consumers are putting a premium on engaging with companies that are thought leaders and true visionaries. 
  • They want to do business and build relationships with companies they can trust and that are experts in their field. 
  • This is very important for the business-to-business sector.
  • Companies will need to leverage their expertise and know-how to connect with buyers. 
  • It will be beneficial to publish helpful content showcasing expertise and knowledge; this can be done by blog creation and search engine optimisation for online platforms.

10. It is the era of Big Data and Data Crunch

  • All companies should have a big data strategy that will give them the competitive edge, even more so for small businesses. 
  • Businesses have a vast amount of data available which can be a challenge and opportunity. 
  • The key issue is to know which data is irrelevant to your business so that it won’t be considered or used.
  • Data can be collected to obtain information on customers, competitors and employees, to gain business insights and valuable market research.
  •  It is important to bear in mind that there are restrictions on data collection and usage in South Africa, this can be found in the POPI regulations.

11. All-embracing/All-inclusive digital platforms are on the rise

  • Customers are looking for convenient platforms with API and integrations that provide instant access and high security levels. 
  • This includes diverse payment methods e.g. phone payments and financial platforms that offer a one-stop-shop covering more than one function/goal.
  • Mobile pay options are very popular at this moment and allow consumers to purchase items in a simple and convenient way e.g. Tap and Go, Zapper, Visa, Master Card, PayPal facilities and reward card points.

12. Prioritize employee happiness

  • In tough economic times, businesses will need to innovate and seek opportunities to benefit employees apart from compensation structures which can be achieved by additional benefits, flexibility and autonomy.
  • It is not always about higher salary or wage structure; employees need to know that they matter and that they feel like they are contributing to the success of the business.  It is important for any business to ensure that employees are happy, because happy employees are productive employees. This will impact employee retention levels.

13. Stakeholders want to be educated

  • The availability of real-time management information and dissemination of information is becoming critical.  People thrive on information; they want to be educated and engaged with a brand and business.  When a business educates any stakeholder, the message should be easy to understand and easy to convey.
  • Consumers reward transparency – consumers are seeking businesses with knowledge; they want to know where your products come from and the reasoning for actions.  This needs to filter down to staff members as well, they need to be able to answer consumer questions relating to products, services and processes.

14. The remote worker and freelance economy is growing in certain industries

  • Infrastructure and space constraints as well as the rental expenditure has been motivating some industries to utilise remote or collaborative working strategies, which has resulted in higher employee productivity, a global pool of talent to recruit and location independence.
  • The growing freelance economy enables flexibility to businesses by only contracting experts when needed and not on a full time/permanent basis.  A good example of such a network is Fiverr, where creative workers offer services such as logo design at a fraction of the price of a permanent employee or advertising agency.

15. Social learning

  • More professionals are working remotely and require social learning opportunities to ensure everyone stays connected and developed outside the office. 
  •  Social learning takes place in an informal one-on-one peer interaction and promotes autonomy, self-direction and learner engagement, thus removing isolated experiences and departments.

16. Influencers are the today’s brand ambassadors

  • Influencers are people with a large following on social media that can promote your offering and bring attention to your brand, without excessive marketing spend. 
  • Businesses that embrace influencers have regarded them as a valuable asset and are experiencing a return on investment.
  •  Influencers need to be carefully selected and monitored to ensure that your brand reputation will be maintained or uplifted by being associated with certain influencers.

17. The rise and fall of social media

  • Businesses need to look ahead and determine how they will use social media platforms effectively once the hype is over and more importantly, how they currently break through the clutter.

18. E-commerce will dominate

  • The world is at your fingertips and whatever you want is just a click away, global e-commerce is growing, and businesses are leveraging social media to generate leads to their e-commerce platform.  
  • Warehousing, logistics and order shipment timelines are becoming a major part of any business that have online ordering platforms.
  • Consumers don’t mind paying for convenience, so delivery fees don’t have to be free for online sales to succeed.

19. Perfecting order deliveries

  • Businesses will need to adopt techniques and processes to increase process efficiency to shorten the delivery time to ensure ultimate customer satisfaction.
  • Businesses are exploring delivery options to reduce costs – such as leveraging deliver-to-store options to reduce costs. For example, offering free delivery for customers attracts them to the physical store, and there are no return costs involved if they aren’t satisfied.
  • Improve logistics by outsourcing deliveries to a business whose core function is specialising in that activity for example restaurants outsourcing to Mr D owned by Takealot, who has a huge distribution network that can assist.  In this way, the restaurant adds value to the consumer without compromising on quality and strengths.

20. Clicks vs bricks = Omnichannel

  • It is just as important to have a physical store presence as it is to have it online.
  • If businesses want to keep consumers frequenting their store, they need to provide an experience that they won’t receive online.  Consumers still need a personal face-to-face interaction/relationship with businesses.  
  • A trend has been identified where consumers peruse items in the store but purchase it online elsewhere, businesses need to inform customers that they have their own mobile experience where they can purchase online from their store.