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AND so, 2020 is dawning upon us. It’s usually at this time of the year that people make new year resolutions. It’s also around this time that pundits make their predictions or forecasts for the year to come.

There are many topics that we could look at: entertainment, lifestyle, technology, politics, or culture. But the one that really affects us all — because everyone is a consumer — are consumer trends.

Trends affect retailers and vendors because they have to give customers what they want. And in order to do that, they need to recognise the trends. It also affects consumers because what the majority want will have an effect on the marketplace. Suppliers will naturally provide more of what the broader market wants.

Here are the Top 5 consumer trends that are expected to continue to grow in 2020:

HEALTHY OPTIONS

In our grandparents’ generation, the concern about food would naturally be about cost. Malaysia was a poorer nation back then. Meanwhile, during our parents’ generation, consumers began to be more concerned about the taste and quality of the food. Cost was still a concern of course but not the only or main one. People wanted to enjoy their food.

Today, not only do people want their meals to be tasty, they want it to be healthy too. This doesn’t spell the demise of junk food. People will always eat unhealthy food from time to time. But increasingly, people of this generation care more about their health. They read labels, they avoid certain kinds of unhealthy fats and oils and they ask for less sugar or no sugar at all in their drinks.

Notice how many Bubble Tea outlets offer consumers less sugar and no sugar options these days? And notice how Coke and Pepsi have not only light versions of their drinks but zero sugar options as well. They’re just catering to the demands of the marketplace. Any food brand or outlet that offers a healthier option will have a leg up over the ones that don’t.

PLANT-BASED MEAT

It used to be that only vegetarians would eat plant-based, mock meat — that is, food made from plants that are designed to look and taste (at least somewhat) like meat. Today, especially with the introduction of super realistic fake meat by the likes of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, this is starting to go mainstream. Neither Impossible Foods nor Beyond Meat has made their products available in Malaysia yet — but it’s just a matter of time.

Plant-based, fake meat appeals to consumers on two levels. Firstly, there’s the perception that fake meat is healthier than real meat. Whether that is actually true is currently a hot topic of debate. The reality is that there has not been much study done on that yet so it’s hard to say either way. Secondly, the production of plant-based meat is much friendlier to the environment than rearing livestock. That aspect is undeniable. Less land, water and other resources are needed for growing plants than rearing animals. And there are less carbon emissions too.

SUSTAINABILITY

Malaysians are generally considered quite a consumerist society. Just look at the number of shopping malls there are in any city. And many of these malls are packed, sometimes even during office hours. Given the consumerist nature of our society, it’s actually quite surprising to see that many consumers — especially the younger generation — care a lot about sustainability and eco-friendliness. But this is happening.

They decline the use of straws; they reject plastic bags, and they like companies that embrace the sustainability ethos. And companies are reacting accordingly. Many popular food outlets now either don’t offer straws or offer paper straws.

These are considerably more expensive than plastic straws but they do it because that’s what consumers want. It’s a reality that many of today’s consumers want to know that the brands they’re buying from actually care about the Earth.

E-COMMERCE

Online shopping has been around for quite a while now. It’s easy to forget that there was a time, not too long ago, when people were afraid to use their credit cards online in order to buy things. Today people buy everything from electronics to books to groceries online.

Increasingly, when it comes to e-commerce, consumers are showing a preference for services over products. Take for example, music. The older generation would prefer to download their favourite music and put it in their iPod. The younger generation, however, is not bothered to “own” any songs. They just stream whatever they like through services like Spotify.

This trend can be seen in many other sectors. Many young people today prefer to rent a house rather than drop a mini-fortune to buy one; take a Grab car rather than buy their own car; go to the 24-hour neighbourhood laundromat rather than having their own washing machines, and stream a show on Netflix rather than buy DVDs.

CASHLESS

Cashless transactions have been around for the long time, in the form of credit cards, debit cards and bank transfers. But this barely created a dent on the use of cash, which is understandable.

People have been using some form of cash for thousands of years. Old habits die hard but one old habit that’s fast eroding is the use of cash. The emergence of e-wallets (it seems every company want to have some kind of e-wallet facility these days) have changed things dramatically.

Many of these companies, in their bid to get a critical mass of users, are offering fantastic deals to consumers, for example, from rebates to discounts. Great deals and special offers are great ways to encourage adoption of this new cashless concept that has taken the country by storm. You can be sure in 2020 that even more people will be adopting this trendy, new approach to paying for goods and services.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. Reach him at [email protected].

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