The convergence of economic, demographic, and technological forces will bring about unprecedented changes in consumer behaviour, according to a report by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. This article is copyright 2011 The Best Customer Guide.

The report, entitled 'Consumer 2020: Reading the signs', draws together insights into economic and demographic trends, considerations of finite resources and sustainability, and the ever- more dramatic impact of technology on consumers' daily lives, also including a number of predictions about how consumer attitudes and patterns of consumption are likely to change over the next decade.

Global economic rebalancing
The report argues that over the coming decade we will see a rebalancing in the global economy, as countries that previously saw economic growth that was fueled by heavy borrowing and excessive consumer spending move to an era of export-driven growth.

Conversely, countries whose growth came from exporting to borrowing countries will no longer be able to rely on such markets. Countries such as China will shift away from export-oriented growth toward growth driven by domestic consumer spending.

This fundamental change in the structure of the global economy will shift the manner in which retailers and brands obtain growth. In the US and Western Europe, this means growth will probably come through market share gains rather than by simply latching on to a growing market.

But for countries such as China and India, this adjustment means taking measures to stimulate consumer spending, such as liberalising consumer finance or improving social security in order to discourage saving.

Demographic challenges
At the same time, the world faces significant demographic challenges. While Europe faces losing 60 million people over the next five decades, India is on course to surpass China as the world's most populous country by 2030. Africa's population is forecast to nearly double from 1 billion in 2009 to 1.9 billion in 2050.

Rapidly developing economies will see a huge population increase within their middle classes, presenting an enormous opportunity for retailers and brands. However, such population growth will also place an added pressure on resources and the environment.

Communicating, connecting, and socialising
Methods of engaging consumers in adopting more sustainable behaviors or purchasing more products and services will no longer just be about marketing and communicating. Rather, customer engagement will be about connecting and socialising with them.

Consumers now have the power of information at their fingertips, enabling them to comparison-shop and make purchases anytime, anywhere. This trend is likely to accelerate, as mobile communication is expected to be an ever-larger transformative technology in the future, as it provides independent access to information.

However, trust will remain a key issue with consumers, who will continue to trust peer recommendations over company information. Additionally, the sense of customer loyalty that existed in previous generations will be more short-term and influenced by social networks.