13 minute read 3 May 2020
EY - Woman working at home

How will rapidly evolving societies change the way consumers and brands engage?

By EY Canada

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

13 minute read 3 May 2020

Responding to the Future Consumer now, preparing for next and thinking beyond.

The COVID-19 pandemic is redefining consumer behaviour as people around the world adapt to new lifestyles and priorities as a result of societies’ responses to mitigate the propagation of the virus. As organizations assess the impacts of the pandemic, they are also responding to challenges across numerous fronts simultaneously, including redefining supply chains, reallocating the workforce and adjusting forecasts to address risks now. EY is presenting a three-part series, with the first centering around the future consumer that thought leaders envisioned before COVID-19.

By Carlos Leal, Warren Anthony and Jennifer Greenhorn, EY Canada Consumer Sector

As societies become more fluid, brands must genuinely embrace social, cultural and economic diversity. Those who intentionally design products and services that align with their purpose will thrive. Discover the insights from our Vancouver FutureConsumer.Now Hackathon.

How can organizations innovate to transform their business models and become more inclusive and sustainable while still delivering on their customers’ expectations? How can Canada take its place in the global community as a leader in innovation, inclusiveness and sustainability?

These were some of the pressing questions facing the 20 business leaders who participated in the FutureConsumer.Now hackathon EY hosted in Vancouver in the summer of 2019. Through a collaborative session with these futurists from across the public and private sectors, we envisioned a future world shaped by three themes:

  • Adoption of a global mindset – Connectivity enabled by technology is challenging existing geographical and cultural boundaries, and as a result societies become more diverse and inclusive.
  • Design of purpose-driven strategies – Brand loyalty is being redefined based on the alignment of values and beliefs with customers’ desires.
  • Demand for transparent value chains – Consumers expect the ability to trace the ethical and environmental ramifications of the products and services they buy.
  • Methodology: How are we hacking the future consumer?

    With FutureConsumer.Now, EY is helping business leaders make their organizations fit for a very different future by thinking and imagining differently about the future.

    Research and interviews with global innovators, futurists, business leaders and EY professionals identified 150 drivers that could shape the future consumer.

    We used those drivers to create eight powerful hypotheses: how people will shop, eat, stay healthy, live, use technology, play, work and move.

    We then held a series of innovative hack weeks in Berlin, London, Los Angeles, Shanghai and Mumbai to explore these hypotheses further and to model the kind of future worlds they might create. We also extended these hacks and conducted shorter versions in Vancouver, Toronto, Seattle, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Paris, Dubai, Tokyo, Singapore and Sydney. 

    Participants engaged in a week-long exercise where they used the change drivers and eight hypotheses to model three alternative versions of the future.

    The experience of creating these “future consumer worlds” helped participants anticipate the direction of travel as well as the implications — and opportunities — for business. It challenged all their assumptions about what it takes for a consumer-facing business to succeed — today and in the years ahead.

    By the end of the hack, participants were genuinely excited by the speed of change in the next decade and better prepared to stay relevant as consumers evolve, and to shape that evolution.

EY - Canadian flag
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Chapter 1

Adoption of a global mindset

Canadian consumers will adopt a global mindset that challenges traditional hierarchical systems and favours accessibility and inclusiveness.

Diversity as a competitive advantage

In this future world, Canada will continue to be one of the most desired destinations for immigrants. The rapid development of cities like Toronto and Vancouver, including the need for more skilled labour, will turn immigration into a driver of economic growth. Because of this movement, borderless societies characterized by greater social, ethnic and economic diversity will lead to the creation of new cultural values and influencers.

By embracing new cultures, local communities will benefit from differing ways of thinking that will drive new paths of economic growth and innovation.

During the Vancouver hack, one group of participants highlighted that populations from around the world will likely continue to see Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal as highly desirable places to live. One participant from a large apparel retailer highlighted that this trend may be resulting in more competition from international brands that are choosing Toronto and Vancouver as pilot markets to launch their operations in North America.

As an example, the Greater Vancouver Area is home to more than 900,000 immigrants, accounting for about 40% of the total population, with most coming from Asia.1 With such a multicultural consumer mix, numerous international brands are selecting this region as their first destination to launch their operations in North America. Especially in the case of brands from Asia-Pacific, Vancouver offers an excellent testing ground.2

As these Canadian cities take their place in the world, these cities will become leaders in diversity, inclusiveness and accessibility. At the same time, future consumers will expect that brands participate in shaping a healthy economic equilibrium that sustains the wellbeing of all citizens.

Brands that align with these beliefs and values by reinventing their business models to support inclusiveness will be more likely to gain access to Canadians’ wallets.

Inclusion of the silver economy

In this future world, as baby boomers begin to retire, the quest for the “silver economy” will lead to new business models and innovations. As life expectancy rises, there will be a growing demand for goods and services that cater to an older demographic.

Enabled by technology, innovations will empower seniors through access to new products and services. As a result, companies will strive to attract this more productive senior workforce by accommodating working standards and practices to their needs.

During the hack, a public sector organization highlighted that the population of retirees and people above the age of 60 is rapidly growing in Vancouver and throughout Canada. As a result, the demand for new products and services, both from the public and private sectors, is rising. The organization is part of a whole new industry dedicated to the wellbeing of this specific segment of the population that is expanding in Canada.

For example, the number of people aged 65 or older comprises 20% of the BC population, and by 2031 that number will rise to 1 in 4.3 This rising trend is consistent with other major cities throughout Canada and raises opportunities to redesign communities that consider and facilitate accessibility and affordability of health care and other services like housing, recreation and transportation to these growing segments of the population.

Driven by this trend, practices such as inclusive design and catering to the needs of the silver economy will be important brand differentiators. Brands that make products and services accessible, targeting the lifestyle and health needs of older consumers, will gain expedited access to new markets.

Better questions:

  • Should innovation be a function or a mindset?
  • Are legacy systems or legacy mindsets your digital transformation nightmare?
EY - Are legacy systems or legacy mindsets your digital nightmare?
Are legacy systems or legacy mindsets your digital nightmare?

Large-scale digital transformation in the insurance industry.

Read more

EY - Consumer shopping
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Chapter 2

Design of purpose-driven strategies

Canadian consumers will adapt their shopping preferences based on their personal beliefs and values.

Purpose will be sold as the commodity of the future

In this future world, consumers will experience buying and shopping as very different activities. As routine tasks become alleviated through automation, consumers will shift how they spend their time. These shifts will see individuals and businesses organizing around purpose, where customers will invest time in shopping for products and services from brands that align with the ways they want to express who they are.

During the hack, a major Canadian retail brand highlighted that their organization had shifted focus from just selling clothing products to creating a lifestyle experience that customers feel associated with beyond just buying the products. The company has launched stores that offer healthy lifestyle experiences, including fitness facilities, fresh meals and personalized training. As a result, the brand attracts a particular demographic that aligns with this lifestyle and is loyal to the brand.

As an example, the retail scene in Vancouver remains a highly competitive battleground, with two contrasting approaches to attract customers. On one side, large international brands like Amazon’s on-line e-commerce platform continue to emphasize access and convenience. On the opposite side, boutique brands remain competitive and relevant by emphasizing values such as made-in-Canada or by catering to customers who seek specific shopping entertainment and social experiences.4 In a recent survey conducted by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), 97% of respondents indicated that they would try to buy local to support the local economy.5

Rather than catering to all consumer segments, brands that want to differentiate their products and services will need to focus on customers for whom their brand matters. By adapting their business models to how these customers want to enjoy their products and services, brands will attract shoppers.

Purpose-driven communities create new customer niches

With technological advancements being delivered at unprecedented speeds, consumers are becoming ever more connected, and in turn more engaged and politically aware, particularly the younger generations.6 These technological advancements are exacerbating the polarization of purpose, and price-driven shopping as brands do not always align with both factors.

During the Vancouver hack, one group of participants explored how new micro-communities have been emerging in Canada, bringing together groups of people who identify with specific causes. One example is the prominence of green- or sustainability-oriented consumers who have started taking action to support the environment by building self-sustaining neighbourhoods and adjusting their consumption patterns.

This growing trend of micro-communities will attract individuals with a shared purpose to exchange knowledge and experiences, and to define new identities and values. They will also create new interfaces for businesses to service a new subset of customers by focusing on the specific needs of these niches.

Brands will have to respond to this changing market by understanding how to deliver on purpose and by transforming their business models and value proposition to fit into the ecosystem of newly formed micro-communities.

Better questions:

  • Where do you start if you want to change the world?
  • Why do uncertain times need certainty of purpose?
The business case for purpose

Executives from companies that treat purpose as a core driver of strategy and decision-making reported greater ability to drive successful innovation and transformational change.

Read more

EY - Escalators
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Chapter 3

Demand for transparent value chains

Canadian consumers will demand more visibility into the supply chain of the products and services they buy.

Loyalty earned though trust and sustainability

In this future world, growing global influencer groups will be empowered to challenge the limitations imposed by the rigidity of established socio-economic structures. The role of institutions will change as they adopt policies and practices that improve trust with consumers.

As governments search for alternative paths to enable economic prosperity, the changing dynamics between institutions, businesses and consumers around the world will create opportunities to collaborate. As a result, new groups and communities united by common causes and goals will have a stronger influence on changes in consumption behaviours.

During the hack, one public sector organization highlighted that Canada has benefited from government policy choices that have created one of the most sustainable regions in the world. This reputation is largely influenced by an active community of environmental advocates and strong collaborations between regional governments and key stakeholders from both the public and private sectors.

Not surprisingly, three Canadian cities — Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver — are among the highest ranked cities for life satisfaction for millennials in 2018.7 Among these consumers, there is a growing trend for considering “green” factors when making purchasing decisions, and increased alignment of buying behaviours to brands’ social or environmental practices.8

Brands that become transparent and genuine about their environmental stewardship among young consumers will grow their market share and attain loyal customers, earned through trust.9

Radical transparency

Today, customers expect to know more about the products they consume — the authenticity, quality, sustainability and the life-after-use, including recyclability and the environmental impacts of disposal. Companies try to engage consumers by making bold statements and promises, and yet the extent to which these promises are delivered can be hard, or impossible, to determine by their customers.

Expectations for transparency into a product’s life cycle continue to rise, and major brands compete to meet consumer demand for ethical, sustainable and socially responsible products. For example, Canada is home to a wealth of lifestyle brands that have a clear purpose at the heart of their business. They know their customers align closely with their brand’s purpose, and this focus is evident through marketing, product design, service experiences and relevant community engagement.

During the Vancouver hack, one adventure apparel retailer shared their experiences with pilot programs to recondition used products, standing behind the quality and effectiveness of their gear beyond use by a single customer and reducing the environmental impact of potential disposal.

This effort echoes a broad trend, including global giants like Adidas, Lego and others, in stating ambitious targets for reducing their environmental impacts. Brands are competing on environmental credentials, creating new products, services and marketing to showcase their efforts and to meet rising customer demand for better corporate environmental stewardship.

As environmental concerns continue to make headlines, brands will increasingly feel the pressure to back up their environmental ambitions with credible evidence to retain customer trust, advocacy and wallet share. Introducing radical transparency will require a radical shift throughout the product lifecycle from raw materials to use, re-use, recycling or sustainable disposal.

Tracing a product’s life cycle will require greater collaboration from design and manufacture to distribution and sale, a shift to include customer participation beyond the sale, all enabled through new forms of data collection, sharing and usage. This change requires innovative data-sharing agreements, more interoperable supply-chain technologies and social contracts.

Better questions:

  • What could a smarter supply chain deliver?
  • In a circular economy, what role does your customer play in the supply chain?


EY - People walking on street
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Chapter 4

Five business implications

EY has identified five business implications for businesses.

  1. Don’t think in isolation, think in systems.

    Recognize that we operate in a dynamic and integrated network with lots of interdependent parts. Shifting the focus from an internal-only view to incorporate external factors will enable organizations to understand the interconnectedness and influence of different forces impacting their organizations. A systems view will also help develop strategies that can positively affect unexpected factors that the organization can influence.

  2. Leverage a human-centred approach to design products, services and experiences for people.

    At the core of problem-solving or improving an aspect of customers’ lives, understanding who the customers are is essential. With consumers’ ever-changing expectations, incorporating end-users throughout the process to design and build solutions will improve the likelihood of adoption. A human-centred approach to innovation offers organizations a method to recognize the problems they should solve first.

  3. Treat data as an asset and harness its power to unlock new value.

    Data should be a primary enabler that drives decision-making around investments within the business. Design a robust data strategy that does right by customers. Maintaining resources to use data, share data and move data quickly and efficiently will be fundamental to success in the digital era. An effective data strategy should incorporate appropriate boundaries that enforce privacy and security.

  4. Embrace emerging technology but centre it around business problems.

    Emerging technology can disrupt existing business models by transforming how customers engage with organizations and products and services. Managing the deployment of digital strategies that incorporate these technologies should align with the business strategy.

  5. Augment your capabilities by growing your ecosystem of partners.

    Innovating to meet customers’ expectations can no longer be done alone. Establishing a partner ecosystem strategy should be part of the organization’s growth plan. An ecosystem of trusted partners will provide organizations with new growth opportunities, including scaling-up solutions, gaining new capabilities, embracing emerging technologies and reaching new markets.


As societies continue to evolve, we will all need to challenge our assumptions about what consumers might want and how people might live in the future.

  • Participants at the Vancouver hack developed three hypotheses that may shape this future: adoption of a global mindset, design of purpose-driven strategies and demand for transparent value chains. With rising consumer expectations, companies that want to remain relevant will need to redefine value and design innovative and sustainable models to deliver it.

About this article

By EY Canada

Multidisciplinary professional services organization