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Eight scenarios for the changing consumer world

Sensemaking / Eight scenarios for the changing consumer world

What can we do today to help British consumers navigate future choices and challenges?

By Futures Centre / 20 Oct 2017

Is this Britain in 2030? A divided nation with rising inequality. An ageing population with diminishing pensions. A subscription economy with most things connected online...

How will people navigate the challenges and choices these scenarios could create?

The Which? policy team and Forum for the Future have worked together on a consumer futures analysis to help policy makers, regulators, businesses and consumer advocacy groups think things through creatively and test strategies for a desirable future. At the heart of the project, are eight future scenarios designed to stimulate constructive discussion and generate empathic insight. Here are the headlines, with the signals of change we are already seeing today. Which do you think are most important in shaping the future for British consumers?

For the full report, check out: The Changing Consumer World.  



1 //

Being an older person in the UK in 2030 is getting harder as personal wealth decreases. Much-needed innovation in how we care for adults later in life is starting to come about.

Signal of change: By 2035 the number of dementia sufferers in the UK is expected to surpass one million. Treating those with dementia currently costs the UK economy £25 billion each year.

Signal of change: The number of disabled old people receiving informal care in the UK will double over the next 20 years if supply is to meet demand. Carers UK estimates 3.5 million more carers will be needed by 2037

Signal of change: New models of care are emerging. Many cities are experimenting with nursing homes which allow college students to live rent-free. These programmes combat social isolation and loneliness among the elderly, and allow the students to save money on rent. The Humanitas House in Deventer, Netherlands, ESDES Inter-générations in Lyon, France, and Judson Manor in Cleveland, US, are among several locations to adopt such programmes.


2 //

Data is highly valuable in 2030. Most people’s lives are mediated through a handful of digital ‘mega-platforms’ and they enjoy convenience and personalised services, but worry about how their lives are being shaped through algorithms.

Signal of change: Web applications are one of the key vectors targeted by hackers and over 40% of data breaches happen at this level. Hackers can then access large databases of customer information.

Signal of change: Facebook hit the news in 2016 when its free internet service was temporarily shuttered in India and then Egypt for violating the countries’ net neutrality laws by offering free access only to a small number of websites determined by Facebook itself.


3 //

As traditional institutions struggle to act, individuals in society increasingly have the motivation and means to tackle the challenges they experience in their lives. The ‘consumer’ label no longer captures this new attitude, scope and agency.

Signal of change: In 2015, 886 Dutch citizens came together to successfully sue their government for its failure to meet climate commitments. // Signal spotted by Laura Picot

Signal of change: For the first time, the Greater London Authority is offering match-funding for community initiatives via a dedicated crowd-funding programme that aims to create special local spaces that bring Londoners together.

Signal of change: Through an intergenerational conversation on Twitter, the Birmingham Impact Hub is reimagining childcare, testing radical new services that are more affordable.


4 //

Two major fault-lines run through Britain in 2030, determining how well off you are likely to be: how old you are, and where you live. This is causing hardship and resentment among many people.

Signal of change: By 2021 The Resolution Foundation predicts that we will see the biggest rise in inequality since the late 1980s, with falling living standards for almost the entire bottom half of the working-age income distribution. Within a decade it estimates that 9 out of 10 Britons under 35 with modest incomes will be frozen out of home ownership.

Signal of change: The Centre for Cities found that the gap between economies in northern and southern English cities dramatically widened in 10 years. For every 12 jobs created since 2004 in southern cities, only one was created in cities elsewhere.

Signal of change: The Hunziker Project, Germany, is a building cooperative that’s experimenting with how to transition to a ‘200 Watt Society’. It contains 13 buildings, 400 residential units and a mix of non-residential buildings.  It offers new forms of living for different lifestyles and age groups e.g. cluster flats that share cooking and living areas, and diverse ground floor areas for private or commercial use.


5 //

Individuals, households and communities have a widening range of options for turning under used assets into income-earners and for sharing, swapping and subscribing to gain access to others. With it, we feel both liberated and more vulnerable. 

Signal of change: LogMeOnce is one of a series of companies that have sprung up to help people manage their passwords online for greater security – predicated around the fact that users should have a different secure password for each site they use

Signal of change: Brooklyn Microgrid is a network of energy relationships that supports locally generated renewable energy. As a start-up, it’s disrupting the energy market by introducing community microgrids that enable households to buy and sell renewable energy from rooftop solar installations using blockchain technology. // Signal spotted by Callum Watts, written by Ivana Gazibara

Signal of change: In 2016, Stanford University’s ‘Designing your Life’ course was its most popular by far.


6 //

In 2030 we know much more about the factors that affect our health and make us more likely to become ill. People must take responsibility for their health, as strained public health services only focus on the essentials.

Signal of change: The microbiome – the body’s vast army of microbes – may be linked to mental health. Exploration of the microbiome by scientists is uncovering links between the gut and brain with specific strains of bacteria connected with anxiety and depression.

Signal of change: Various apps have been developed to help people seeking mental health services. One of these in the US, Joyable, treats patients with debilitating social anxiety by using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). In the UK, Beating the Blues is a similar app that is only available via prescription.

Signal of change: Air pollution from traffic and industry is leading to the premature deaths and poor health of millions of people annually. In London alone, more than 400 schools are located in areas that exceed limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution. Exposure to air pollution is linked to suppressed lung growth in children, asthma, heart disease and diabetes


7 //

Under-investment in roads and railways makes commuting an ordeal for many in 2030. While new driverless vehicle technology and flexible working could help, there’s still a long way to go.

Signal of change: A graduate of the Art Centre of Design, Pasadena, California, has designed a membership-based shared transit system for driverless car technology. Customers use an app to request a car to take them to a destination, much like a taxi. As many people will share similar routes, it can pick up and drop off multiple people at once. // Signal spotted by Louis Hadley

Signal of change: The UK government’s Modern Transport Bill introduced a set of updated road-use policies in relation to driverless cars in 2017. It is also providing £19m to launch driverless car schemes in four UK locations.


8 //

Total retail is now a reality. Connected devices, seamless payments and ubiquitous marketing make it effortless to purchase, saving time but fuelling consumer spending and rising levels of debt.

Signal of change: Amazon has opened its first Amazon Go store in early 2017. Shoppers simply scan their smartphones upon entering and ‘just walk out’ technology will detect when products are taken off of the shelves. Customers can exit the store without queuing and their Amazon account is automatically charged. // Signal spotted by Dorothy Ng, written by George Armour

Signal of change: UK retailer Shop Direct was one of the fastest growing retailers in 2016 after moving its catalogue business entirely into digital sales. Mobile accounted for 54% of Shop Direct sales in 2015. Last year, pre-tax profit increased by 75%, driven mainly by investment in big data and personalisation.   

Signal of change: British tech company, Smarter, has unveiled a device called FridgeCam. A small camera snaps a photo of what is inside and integrates with an app that adds products to a shopping list automatically. If the camera integrates with a grocery ordering site, items can be automatically ordered and replaced.



Check out The Changing Consumer World for the full report:

  • Eight ‘future scenarios’ for 2030
  • Two ‘future families’ cards, depicting two imagined households in 2030
  • A template for a structured workshop discussion process

What might the implications of this be? What related articles have you seen?

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