Welcome to the #NeverNormal

October 9, 2017


A preview of our world that’s #NeverNormal, where we summarise the context faced by consumers and brands in the years to come, with 2018 The Year of Disruption.  This theme will open Foresight Factory’s Global Annual Conference held in London on Thursday 19th October 2017. The full agenda for the event is live and can be found here.  


The birth of the New Normal


The months ahead will see a number of unhappy ten-year anniversaries marked across the globe; the fall of many major retail and investment banks (from Northern Rock to Lehman Brothers), unprecedented state and central bank intervention (from bank bailouts to the roll-out of quantitative easing to record-low interest rates) and in many places, the first recessions experienced in a generation…  

Rolling back the clock, Foresight Factory (then Future Foundation) recognised that the then rapidly-unfolding drama of the Global Financial Crisis would have long-lasting aftershocks.  As Northern Rock and Lehman Brothers tumbled  –  and as credit crunch, subprime and crash dominated the zeitgeist  –  the nature of the consumer response suggested that things would never be quite the same again. In our close tracking of their attitudes and behaviours, we were quickly struck by how many consumers, from market to market, simply refused to be victimised by the status quo.

Key to the resistance was the fact that this was the first Broadband Recession  –  the first downturn to coincide with the democratising digital revolution that gave consumers new tools to manage personal finances in ever smarter ways and to ruthlessly pursue value in all sectors.  

Counterintuitively, even in financially-constrained times the late 00s saw big gains in consumer empowerment  –  and a commercial landscape eager to creatively innovate (via price, via CX, via new new business models) to retain consumer affection.


We published The New Normal in 2009, a trends manifesto for the decade ahead summarising how we expected to see the consumer context evolve in the 10s decade, energised by the downturn experience. Many of the trends we spotted then  –  from Professionalised Budgeting to Maximising Behaviour to Mobile First  –  still pack a punch today, and have been perfected and honed by shoppers the world over.

Reaching into the data bank, we learn that in 2007-2008, 40% of UK shoppers were comparing prices online; by 2017, 80%+ claim the behaviour is part of their repertoires, a central feature of Maximising Behaviour, the ruthless pursuit of value online and off.

And our mobile devices too have become standard and constant companions on our commercial quests. In 2007, the iPhone was only just rolling off the production line; by late 2016 (as we see in the analysis chart below), the Mobile First shopper was reaching maturity. Significant and growing numbers across the world now use their mobile devices to buy online  –  approaching the majority of urban-dwellers we target in developing China  –  with further gains to come.


Never Normal analysis
Analysis chart: % who have bought a product/service online via mobile phone or smartphone in the last 6 months

Welcome to the #NeverNormal


Ten years on, how can we characterise the likely context for the next decade of the consumer experience? Certainly, many of the consumer trends we monitor will retain a presence in consumers’ lives. And the core needs we carry  –  for social recognition, for wellbeing and security, for cost-effective commercial success  –  will remain just that, core.


But we are witnessing a sustained attack  –  and on several fronts  –  on the established status quo; a near-constant pressing of the reset button on established norms and expectations. Expect a decade of disruption  –  to the trends we monitor, to the business models you have nurtured, to the established truths we cling to.


In #NeverNormal we describe a world in which so many of the things once considered fixed, immutable, certain… face serious disruption from fresh trend forces stalking consumer lives and markets.  

These include:


  • Next-gen tech and automation of the Fourth Industrial Revolution that promise to simultaneously empower consumers yet also upend traditional business models and auger rapid labour market destabilisation.
  • A dismantling of traditional stores of authority and trust: authority becomes localised, truth becomes subjective, fixed facts are challenged and muddled.
  • A febrile political zeitgeist in which long-standing norms  –  from the depth of the social contract (what the citizen can expect of the state) to the embrace of globalisation  –  are questioned and reset.  
  • Serious flux inside inside lifestage progression: economic and social factors newly combine to delay, extend and cancel traditional lifestages. New tribes emerge, old stereotpyes wither and lose any commercial relevance they once may have had.


 Watch our Director of Consultancy, Josh McBain introduce Never Normal for Trending 2018

What shape will the consumer response take? As during the New Normal, we fully anticipate that many will refuse to be victimised by the end of certainty in so many of life’s arenas. Many will piggyback new commercial partners that promise to protect their interests in novel ways.  Consider the interest in smart auto-replenishment of household supplies, an untested concept a decade ago yet now holding appeal for 48% of global consumers (across 24 established and growth markets) with convenience and budget-sensitivity front of mind. By 2025 we expect that almost one in ten will be using auto-replenishment services on a regular basis, with new existential threats posed to offers at risk of Branding Bypass (a key trend for #NeverNormal times).


Will there be commercial winners and losers? Inevitably. Just as the New Normal forced established brands either to flex or fold (from Blockbusters to Borders, Woolworths to Zavvi), the decade ahead will demand regular commercial pivots. The most successful and sustainable? Those that action against a robust understanding of the fleeting and fixed in the consumer landscape.



The replay of our Trending 2018 conference is now available here. Watch for Foresight Factory’s newest data and game-changing insights into your consumers.


Written by Dominic Harrison

Director of Global Trends at Foresight Factory. Wish for the future? A world where new generations of smart tech adopt a less interruptive and visible presence in our lives. No more phones at dinner!

You may also like to read...

15th June 2017

The 4 Insurtech Blockchain Disruptors To Know

Utilising blockchain technology to disrupt the insurance industry. InsurTech startups are using blockchain technology to disrupt the insurance industry. The […]

Read article
27th September 2017

Predictive Consumer Trends: Knowing What People Want

There are two common denominators when it comes to consumer trends: firstly, consumer behaviour is unpredictable, and secondly, the trends […]

Read article