Tokyo crowd and Wanyi

If you could meet tomorrow’s consumers today, what would you ask?

Imagining future consumer needs is critical to stay relevant, but tough to do. Bringing the future to life using AI gets you a step closer.


In brief

  • Reacting only to the consumer needs of today risks being left behind tomorrow.
  • Imagining future scenarios requires a leap of faith by considering plausible, possible  or probable market implications.
  • Tools like generative AI (GenAI) can help you create and interrogate future personas and scenarios, to shape a preferable future for your business.

Factors driving change today will ultimately deliver a different tomorrow, one that accommodates the technological, demographic, social and environmental forces that we see now. For example, the evolution and adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) will transform productivity and ways of working, but will also have a deep and sustained impact on the lifestyles and choices made by consumers. However, consumer companies grappling with current market disruption often focus efforts on their immediate needs rather than what’s five or 10 years ahead — in not planning for tomorrow, they risk being left behind.

When the speed of change reaches a tipping point, it can transform consumer habits. We’ve seen this before, with smartphones, the internet and more recently the COVID-19 pandemic shifting the way that consumers shop and what they buy. These behaviors quickly become the accepted norm. Companies that anticipate change or adapt quickly thrive.

But how do you build a business for a future consumer when you don’t know what the future might hold? How do you choose the consumer future you want to design for?

Companies often follow consumer trends to consider their future implications; they also track consumer behaviors to understand how they are changing. But understanding the direction of travel will not be enough to build for the future. Instead, companies must also harness the power of storytelling and even science fiction to fire their imagination and create future world scenarios.   

Building future scenarios

At EY, using a future-back approach has become an established tool in helping to understand the implications that tomorrow might have. The EY Future Consumer program identified different future world scenarios and sought to build a picture of the types of consumers that might live in them: how they would shop, what they would buy, how they would be influenced by technology, what a day in their life might look like.

This may sound like science fiction. It is... and there is nothing wrong with that. Many innovations of today, and tomorrow, have long been anticipated in the genre. AI, virtual reality and connected devices were all imagined long before they became a reality. Science fiction is one of the first resources that futurists use in their predictions and a growing number of consumer-facing companies use science fiction writers to help anticipate future trends.

Through imagining future scenarios, we can ascertain common threads and disruptive outliers that help enable better business planning and more robust strategies. Our scenarios identified themes around sustainability, ownership, working practices, data and AI to consider, as well as distinct insights from individual scenarios, such as the breakup of dominant market platforms or the integration of AI into consumer lifestyles. One scenario eerily predicted that in 2020 a global pandemic would radically alter consumer perceptions around wellness and civil liberties.
 

Take the quiz and find out what future world scenario best fits the way you live


Reimagining future consumers with AI

Creating a future consumer persona is one thing but being able to interact with them to gain a greater understanding of their views and of the world they live in is quite another. This might feel like an impossible challenge. However, by training large language models (LLMs) to reflect the hopes, aspirations, behaviors and expectations of our future consumers, we’re bringing our personas to life, using 3D animations and natural language processing to give them a face and a voice.

Meet the future consumers

Meet Sam and Wanyi, Gen-AI-powered personas who talk to the lived experience of the future world scenarios they inhabit.

A day in the life of our future consumer, Sam

Meet Sam, who is from a future world scenario called “Home anywhere”. In this world, consumers limit what they own and subscribe to services that help them live a fluid, on-demand lifestyle.


A day in the life of our future consumer, Wanyi

Meet Wanyi, who is from a future world scenario called “Experience everything” — where immersive shopping is the ultimate social activity for consumers.


Talking to the future consumer

It’s clear Sam and Wanyi are different people with different perspectives based on the future world scenarios they live in. Getting a view on their lived experience can help companies shape their business toward future scenarios and consumer behaviors.

Here are their responses to some of the conversations we’ve had with them:


Sam face
Sam talks about the technology she can't live without

“I could not live without my AI assistant as it helps me stay organized and efficiently manage my life in my flexible subscription services that make sure my needs are taken care of wherever I go.

I enjoy taking a break from technology when I travel, but it’s hard to just unplug completely. A lot of the things I do depend on technology and even when I want to take a break, I’m usually reminded why it’s so useful!”




Wanyi face
Wanyi talks about her love of shopping and keeping up with trends

“I follow trends and do a lot of research to stay informed, so I know where to find the best deals as well as items that fit my style. I also like to explore different brands and occasionally get custom-made fashion pieces.

Grocery shopping has become much more efficient with the help of personalization. I customize orders based on dietary preferences and have my groceries delivered to my door. I discover new products through social media, AI recommendations and browsing online and in physical stores.”


What will it take to win in their worlds?

Sam and Wanyi live in different future scenarios and provide different perspectives on their world. But in both cases, there are strong similarities in the issues they face and the technologies they use. Both rely heavily on AI to help curate large parts of their lives, hinting that most perspectives on the future will arrive at a scenario where AI and automation are heavily integrated to shape consumer lifestyles and drive better business practices. But there are differences too and exploring what it takes to win in their worlds will help identify the products, services and business models required to thrive in the future.

 

Winning in Sam’s world

Sam lives in a world where people consciously limit what they own and instead subscribe to services that help them live an on-demand lifestyle. Asset-light consumers are no longer possessed by their possessions and take advantage of their freedom to live and work how and where they choose. Their lived experience is international, and they engage virtually to keep in touch with a global social network. Geographic communities have less relevance, but new places and cultures provide fantastic new experiences. People expect to feel “at home” wherever they happen to be and are always keen to learn new skills and try new experiences. Travel time between locations becomes highly productive. They have multiple professions and relationships, which their AI helps them to manage. Companies will need to engage not only with them but also with their AI to break into their circle of trust. Those brands that they do trust must use a demand-led supply chain and distribution ecosystem to “follow” their consumers wherever they go and provide relevant, contextual products and services that match their immediate needs.

Winning in Wanyi’s world

Wanyi lives in a world where people are so keen to experience enjoyable, novel and convenient experiences that the retail landscape has transformed to blend shopping with leisure. Immersive shopping is one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences in everyday life, while mundane buying transactions are taken care of by AI — swiftly, silently and conveniently. Consumers are quick to embrace retail innovations that remove friction or give them compelling brand experiences. Shopping is a social activity and shops are multifunctional spaces that help consumers enjoy more than just buying products. Consumers have confidence in AI to manage large parts of their lives, especially in guiding their wellness through tailored dietary recommendations and exercise. Concepts of convenience and experience are redefined to push companies to innovate relentlessly. “Good enough” products are not good enough and consumers use co-creation to help brands innovate and take a share of the value created. Social scoring influences the choices consumers make and the brands that they engage with and high brand scores provide a license for companies to operate.

 

Brands that prosper can anticipate constantly evolving consumer demands and find new ways to delight and entertain. Emerging technologies embed the brand experience into every aspect of the consumer’s life. From VR to local events, the experience is consistent, connected and compelling across every imaginable touchpoint. Everything is social, with consumers receiving a seamless flow of choices, recommendations, and feedback from across their networks that AI curates by taking care of mundane purchasing, so consumers can use the scarce time they have to live the lives they want.

 

To win in Wanyi’s world, companies must consider how they:

  • Align digital and physical assets to ensure a seamless and consistent transition between channels. Stores will become temples to the brands they sell.
  • Shift operating models to provide baseline designs that consumers can play with and create themselves (not simply deliver physical brands and the end product through retail).
  • Create competitive advantage by focusing on enhanced services, advice and curation that make brand experiences both fun and informative.
  • Align purpose with regulators to satisfy brand citizenship needs, delivering high service levels at the same time to prevent damaging scores from consumers.
  • Let consumers define the brand, not brands define the consumer.

Which future consumer are you designing for?

As companies build their capabilities for tomorrow, the need to understand what that future might look like has never been more acute. Seeking to understand the implications of today’s trends in the longer term will help to shape strategies. Looking at how the consumer of today is evolving will help to establish a sense of where the consumer is going. But it is only by imagining what tomorrow might look like, who might inhabit it, and what their habits, behaviors and needs will be that companies can bring the future to life, as a tangible place for companies to thrive in.

By using future scenarios to explore possible implications of long-term trends, companies can design for different futures by identifying how their value propositions will need to evolve, what their operating landscape might look like and, most crucially, the capabilities they will need to future-proof their business against multiple scenarios. This process can allow companies to:

  • Identify what they need to become
  • Test and challenge their current offerings
  • Explore what they need to build to succeed
  • Create a roadmap for change

Explore future world scenarios


Summary

Tracking today’s trends and behaviors will not be sufficient as companies seek to future proof their business. The EY Future Consumer program has developed distinct future world scenarios. Using technologies, including GenAI, we can bring to life these imagined futures by talking to the consumers living in these future worlds. Using the power of immersive storytelling, we can help companies picture what future consumers will need. Companies may not be able to predict the future, but they can use today’s technology to explore what it might mean for them and how they should transform to meet it.


Talk to the future consumer

Have questions for our future consumers? We’ll connect you with your local EY team to organize a future-back strategy session.


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