Editorial Roundtable: The Future Of Consumers

Editorial Roundtable: The Future Of Consumers

adidas, GE, Pinterest, Stitch Fix, American Giant, Allbirds, Helix Sleep, hmbldt and Ready Set Rocket elucidate on consumers' growing power of choice

Bogar Alonso
  • 2 february 2017

PSFK’s Editorial Roundtable series takes its inspiration from the traditional roundtable: bringing together industry insiders to share their insights on emerging and compelling trends in an idea-friendly manner. PSFK guides the discussion and our roundtable helps guide the future.

As a sort of epilogue to a Year 2016 marked by displacement, we predict 2020 will be the year when consumers seize away control. (Yes, from you, brands, corporations and governments). What that means is that the consumer will stop being simply a consumer. They’ll become the consumer cycle itself, wielding control over more than just consumption. As our Forecast 2020 predicts, the supply chains, media channels, and product offerings that were once determined for the consumer will be determined by the consumer.

As the closing act to the twenty-tens (and the opening act to the twenty-twenties), 2020 will serve as a preview to not just the fully empowered consumer but the prospect of ‘people as business platforms.’

But three years separate us from then and now, and we must first learn how to crawl before we can fly civilian missions to Mars. As folks forever-fixated on what lies ahead, PSFK wants to know: what will come to define 2017, 2018, and 2019 in order to facilitate 2020’s retelling? How can brands and other propped-up institutions respond to the shift? If consumers come to replace the organizations that once supplied them with products, services and messages, what will become of consumerism as we now know it?

To answer some of these looming questions, we’ve turned to a handful of experts, who include:

Eric Liedtke | Executive Board Member at adidas – more than simply a household name, the sportswear manufacturer has become a lifestyle for many a mobile consumer.

Brian Monahan | Head of Vertical Strategy at Pinterest – the inspiration-collecting site that has elevated the act of ‘pin-ing’ into an enterprise valued in the billions.

Linda Boff | CMO at GE – serving industries in the medical, automotive and financial spaces, the multinational corporation can be called ‘innovation incarnate’ for all of the novelty it’s brought into the world.

Adam Tishman | Co-Founder of Helix Sleep – a direct-to-consumer company using an algorithm to personalize mattresses to consumers’ sleep styles and body types.

Aaron Harvey | Co-Founder and Executive Creative Director at Ready Set Rocket – a digital agency that specializes in connecting consumers and brands by means of innovative and award-winning multi-channel experiences.

Tim Brown | Co-Founder of Allbirds – makers of the ‘world’s most comfortable shoe.’

Katrina Lake | CEO and Founder of Stitch Fix – the personal style service for women and gents that evolves alongside its users.

Bayard Winthrop | CEO of American Giant – the direct-to-consumer clothing company knows a thing or two about the ever-changing worlds of distribution and marketing.

Derek McCarty | VP of Marketing at hmbldt  a health and wellness brand delivering bliss and calm through cannabis-based solutions.

(Below is the first part of a four-part editorial series).

Forecast 2020 banner

The democratization of technology is certainly a big reason for our predicted disruption. But is technology the sole culprit? What else is contributing to consumers’ growing power of choice?

Adam Tishman | Co-Founder at Helix Sleep

“The growing power of choice is not only evident from a technological standpoint, but also from the standpoint of cultural shifts in consumer psyche. Historically consumerism has been defined by obtaining the best possible product as almost a Platonic ideal. How does one get the best possible toaster for your family? What about the coolest new Jordan kicks? Shopping was defined as obtaining the option.

That’s no longer the case. Our cultural compass has shifted to a point where people feel more individualistic than ever. We all have a Facebook profile, Twitter account, and Instagram account to express our thoughts, dreams, and realities. It’s no different with products, which we are using more than ever to express ourselves. This has caused a massive shift toward the power of choice in the consumer buying decision. It isn’t about getting the singular ideal, but rather choosing your singular ideal.”

Brian Monahan | Head of Vertical Strategy at Pinterest

“Retail subscription programs like Amazon Prime and new shopping interfaces like Amazon Echo are creating a new consumer mindset about what it means to “go shopping.”  Consumers used to research a product or service and then either drive to a brick and mortar location or sit down at the computer to make the transaction. Now, if you can think it, you can buy it. This new style of transacting has a profound impact on how Brands and Retailers intersect the path to purchase.”

GE electric

Linda Boff | CMO at GE

“Technology itself may not be the sole culprit, but I think the global mindset shifts that technology has driven are at the root of much of it. Around the world, technology has led to more decentralization, democratization and disintermediation than ever before. Here are some stats around these trends that stick out to me:

  • Per Gartner, by 2018, 3D printing will result in the loss of at least $100 billion per year in intellectual property globally.
  • PWC contends that peer-to-peer lending will reach $150 billion by 2025 – 30x the rates in 2016.

Technology has heightened the standards of customer experience, ease of access and connectivity for consumers. Minds are more open to the possibility of disruption opening doors to new opportunities. They are also more comfortable with the riskiness of the new because they are connected to other consumers around the globe who are embarking into the same unfamiliar space. We see this with the populism movements around the globe—a dissatisfaction emerges with the established political speed, access and responsiveness and can watch in real time how other civilians are coping with and responding to those feelings in their countries.

Technology is more than just the operationality of our lives. It’s the entire lens through which we view the world.”

Eric Liedtke | Executive Board Member at adidas

“Digital innovation has been the key driver of change for more than a decade and there are no signs that this will slow down. Technology accelerates basic human needs through the democratization of communication, communities and transparency. Brands and consumers can now connect in richer, real-time, and more impactful ways. This new level of connectivity and seamless integration of digital and analogue provides brands the opportunity to be closer to the consumer than ever if they choose to open up and invite them in.

Exclusivity has never been a concept adidas has identified with. We’ve always been an inclusive brand and digital has empowered us to deliver on such an important cornerstone for our brand. This approach influences our creative direction, which we refer to as Futurecraft.

Futurecraft is our philosophy and thrives at the intersection of art, design, science and humanity. It is our journey across the paths of tradition and technology—crafting the look, feel and function of tomorrow. What’s different about Futurecraft is that we expose our exploration as it happens, rather than waiting years to make it commercial, having most recently unveiled the world’s first performance shoe with a 100% biodegradable upper made from Biosteel®. We believe that sharing our discoveries and inventions fuels and inspires all of us to move forward and furthermore creates a healthy landscape for positive change and product innovation.

One great example of how we’re using the growing power of the consumers through a connected digital world at adidas is GLITCH, an interchangeable football cleat concept, speaking directly to the creative footballer who craves a boot which lets them change their style and performance needs on the fly. Initially GLITCH is only available through an app for a connected consumer subset who gets access by receiving the invite code from one of adidas’ GLITCH ambassadors or pro players who were seeded the boots in late summer. They become part of a community, shaping the future of the concept connected with other co-creators by adidas.”

Katrina Lake | CEO and Founder at Stitch Fix

“The rapid speed of information proliferation plays a key role in expanding consumer choice. People can discover trends and products much easier and faster today than they ever have before and have a stronger perspective on what they want and why.”


Derek McCarty | VP of Marketing at hmbldt

“Technology’s fundamental role has been allowing consumers to ‘connect’ to the things they care about faster and with higher visibility. The scale and pace at which ‘news’ travels, because of technology, accelerates and catalyzes behaviors that may have otherwise lay dormant, solely because we see that others share our point of view—that in turn encourages and mobilizes us. So, I see technology as a critical platform but not the root cause—if you removed technology, I think you’d still see similar trends—however they’d be catalyzed by more traditional tools: community organizing, media and the like.

The institutions we’ve trusted, and that have played a critical role in making our lives easier—e.g. health, food etc—have aged and haven’t evolved at the pace that I believe consumers would expect. This combined with the fact that we quite simply have more time to think and care about the choices we’re making, leads us to demand more and look for more innovative solutions. We have the ‘cognitive bandwidth’ to question these systems—whether it’s the healthcare system, government, food or clothes—our relationship with these systems have evolved to a point where we’re no longer in ‘awe’ of them or trusting them blindly. We want them to be better. I also think that technology serves as a role model—the pace and scale at which technology evolves and moves (and that’s primarily because of its democratized nature) makes us frustrated with slower systems.”

Tim Brown | Co-Founder of Allbirds

“The economy, and its lasting effects on the consumer mindset. With the recession still fresh, brands now have to cater to a consumer who’s more frugal than ever before. Americans are far more frugal than they used to be, and they’re willing to do their research on whether or not a purchase will pay off. And thanks to technology, they’ve got access to all of this information. For brands, that means the competition is steeper than ever. We have to be both competitive and fair with our pricing, responsible in our practices, and honest in our communication to give consumers everything they need to feel one-hundred- percent confident in the purchase that they make.

For Allbirds, that means constantly exploring new avenues of design, production and distribution to deliver a shoe that doesn’t compromise anywhere. Is a shopper looking for something that’s well-made? Well-priced? Well-branded? We must deliver on all three—and more—for people to want our shoes. That’s we hustle to deliver a great product that doesn’t come with any post-purchase surprises…except maybe ‘man, these things are even more comfortable then I thought!’”

Aaron Harvey | Co-Founder and Executive Creative Director at Ready Set Rocket

“Tech commoditization powers the American maker movement. Startup brands are able to create digital experiences on par with major retailers. Instead of investing in infrastructure, they are focused on creating high-quality products that influence the fashion conversation. And this plays beautifully into consumers’ desire for social validation. It’s how design entrepreneurs like Slightly Alabama are able to compete with heritage brands like Ghurka.

The new entrepreneur is not looking for wholesale deals to power their future; they are looking for market share. This shift is forcing organizations to change the way they are structured. They must fundamentally reorganize in order to meet consumer demand, benefit from advancements in technology, and compete with this new class of retail entrepreneurs.”

Bayard Winthrop | CEO and Founder of American Giant

“Brands are more important to Millennials and Gen Y-ers than ever before. This crop of consumers is more aware and intentional about the brands they put their dollars behind. As a result, they are able to choose to support brands that best reflect their shared values—whether those values are impeccable quality, great customer service, or a charitable model.

The rise of technology has democratized the marketplace and enabled both consumers and brands to interact and communicate on an entirely new level. That pushes brands that tout transparency to actually back it up in their business actions. That’s a difficult environment to survive in for brands who can’t meet the high standards expected of them.”

PSFK FOrecast 2020 banner

The PSFK 2020 Forecast strategizes how brands and organizations can remain relevant as the power of choice grows in the hands of the individual. By analyzing important shifts over the past year, PSFK’s research team has studied how consumers are increasingly tailoring information and products to their own needs. The full report is designed as a roadmap for brands, retailers and organizations to reestablish themselves as platforms for guidance and encouragement. Download the full report here, and learn more about PSFK’s Intelligence Platform.

PSFK’s Editorial Roundtable series takes its inspiration from the traditional roundtable: bringing together industry insiders to share their insights on emerging and compelling trends in an idea-friendly manner. PSFK guides the discussion and our roundtable helps guide the future.

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+fitness / sport
+Forecast 2020

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