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2023 is just around the corner, so what can we expect?

By crunching the numbers across several of our data sets, including our monthly Zeitgeist research, we’ve identified five global trends we believe will shape the 2023 consumer landscape.

You can check them out in full in our Connecting the dots report, but if you’re looking for a short and sweet summary, we’ve got you covered.

The way we use the internet is changing

Between 2013 and 2017, average daily time spent online grew rapidly. Then something happened; it started slipping between 2018 and 2019 and, although it picked up again throughout the pandemic, this proved to be short-lived – the daily average is now almost on par with pre-pandemic figures.

Covid, obviously, has a part to play in this; people have less free time now, and fewer are using the internet day-to-day than they did in lockdown. Some activities, like online gaming, have thrived post-Covid, but it’s the kind of bread-and-butter activity we associate with “going online” that has plateaued.

For example, the number who use the internet to find information has fallen 14% since Q3 2018. Elsewhere, there are fewer consumers saying they go online to share opinions, keep up with news, and generally browse online.

These actions are all still popular, but they’re gradually becoming less important to internet users as a whole. It’s partly because something like finding information doesn’t quite mean the same thing it used to, especially when social media algorithms can surface it before we even know what we’re looking for. 

It’s one of the reasons why Gen Z, outside of China, use Instagram almost as often as they do Google.

There’s other factors at play here too, however. The number of consumers who say social media causes them anxiety has grown 11% since Q2 2020. Likewise, there’s a trust issue to be aware of. Between 2017 and 2021, we observed a stark decline in the number who trusted major news publishers. 

The ramifications of this trend are incredibly broad and addressing it will be a challenge for brands everywhere. The internet isn’t going away any time soon but as heads turn to the opportunities associated with Web3, there’ll be familiar hurdles to overcome.

Expression and identity are a must in the metaverse

Speaking of Web3, 2023 will reveal the kinds of cultural ripple effects that come from immersive 3D spaces – particularly as users get more freedom to experiment with self-expression and identity play.

When it comes to early metaverse adopters, minority groups don’t have equal representation so far. Brands can help further the opportunities that social media first pioneered to unite communities online; it’s why it’s so important to welcome aboard those who might not be engaged yet in virtual spaces.

For those interested in using the metaverse, the physical appearance (e.g. hair color), and the identity of the character (e.g. age, gender), are the most important customization options.

It shows just how important identity play is. Users want to change their appearance more than their wardrobe, underlining the need to allow users to be themselves in a different way online.

Virtual worlds have long given users anonymity and independence from their everyday lives, allowing them to adopt new personas without fear of disapproval from their real-life social circles. 

Now the focus is on the metaverse to create new experiences and environments where users feel welcome and those who build within it have the opportunity to weave this into the very fabric with which it’s developed. 

The question for brands is if they feel they can make a difference in this space. By stepping up their efforts to build inclusive settings and products, enabling users to be creative, and helping them to discover their unique style – all while having fun.

Expect consumers to find products in different ways than before

Coming back to how our relationship with the internet is changing, commerce is just one of the many sectors where this trend is in full swing. 

According to recent data shared by Google, nearly half of young people look to TikTok or Instagram instead of Google Maps or Search for answers. Social media platforms, not search engines, are fast becoming the preferred way for younger consumers to start their purchase journey.

Just as finding information doesn’t call the shots like it used to when it comes to why people use the internet, there’s also less emphasis on researching products; the number of consumers who say they do this before buying an item has fallen 8% since 2020.

There were a couple of winners during this reshuffle. Finding inspiration has jumped from 9th to 6th place since 2018, overtaking product research in the process. We can see this story being played out in Google search trends too, with more of us typing in terms like “ideas” and “inspo” over time. 

This open-ended way of browsing is both a product of TikTok and the reason it’s so popular.

With the number of people doing their shopping-related research on social media continuing to climb, and platforms testing new features to meet this growing need, brands need to keep track of what’s culturally relevant to their audience if they want to cut through the noise.

A cost of living crisis doesn’t mean consumers won’t treat themselves

Globally, economic confidence is starting to waver and it’s likely to fluctuate further. But many consumers still feel secure about their current financial situation and aren’t zipping up their wallets just yet.

We know from previous recessions that products and services can quickly shift from essentials to treats in consumers’ minds. So, which categories are set to make it onto this list in 2023?

During the 2001 recession, the “lipstick index” was born when Estée Lauder noticed an uptick in its lipstick sales, and we’re seeing this play out today. Ulta Beauty smashed its Q2 earnings expectations and Coty’s beauty sales are up, with its “prestige” purchases rising by 20%

Similarly, when it comes to treating ourselves on a budget, clothing appears in the top 3 choices across all generations and genders.

Beauty and clothing’s resilience is down to a mixture of factors: more socializing, affordability, and the ‘feel-good’ factor. The last one is super important. When money is tight, we generally make space for small indulgences that put us in a good mood. 

Coty’s jump in “prestige” sales also reminds us that, despite being seen as budget-friendly luxuries, some are willing to spend a little extra on clothing/beauty items than usual to make up for spending cuts in other areas. 

We’re all familiar with the argument that cheap isn’t always best, and it’s an idea that many are clinging to.

Our research shows that quality is the top purchase driver overall, so brands should hone their messaging around the durability of their items as consumers look to make their money count. 

While the road ahead looks bumpy, it’s important for companies to remember that there’s still so much pent-up demand, and many consumers will be carving out space for affordable, high-quality must-have treats. 

Consumers are brushing aside sustainability

In the vast majority of countries we track, fewer people now tell us helping the environment is important to them compared to pre-pandemic. In every country we track, the number of people who say they expect brands to be eco-friendly has also shrunk in the last few years.

A quick Google search can dig up countless recent studies or news headlines which might contradict that. But the data you’re looking at tells the same story in many completely different countries, at different points in time, and the gradual trend lines are unmistakable. 

This is one of many declining sustainability-related trend lines all pointing in the same direction; including interest in environmental issues, self-reported recycling, willingness to spend more on eco-friendly products, and environmental optimism. All have diminished in at least 20 or more countries.

On many fronts, we’re calling into question a lot of what we “know” about the fight against climate change. The market research industry has often failed to represent the problem in the cold light of day, the much-hyped ESG criteria has come under intense fire from many directions for its supposed contradictions, and the idea that consumer demands and choices set the agenda for sustainability is increasingly controversial. 

People aren’t suddenly less outraged by the degradation of our planet. It’s more a case of prioritization and mental bandwidth. 

Consumer choices are often framed as one of the most important drivers of change, but they have many constraints bearing down on them. There’s a cost of living crisis to keep in mind, after all, meaning many are forced to make a choice between saving their earnings or saving the planet. 

People are struggling to find the means and headspace to live and demand a more sustainable lifestyle. This has never been more apparent, with 2023 shaping up to be a year of recessions, food security risks, and further geo-political tensions. The lesson is simple: consumer sentiment can no longer be the north star for industry action.

Report Discover the trends that'll dominate 2023 Get ahead

Written by

Jason is Chief Research Officer at GWI. He's the main man who leads our global team of analysts, delivering world-renowned research. He's an in-demand data junkie who you might see popping up on your telly screens every so often to show you what's actually happening in the lives of consumers.

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