Watts Wacker, the renowned futurist, recently spent some time with me in a telephone interview. I asked him specifically about trends that will impact small business during the coming year.
Here is what Watts says we should expect to see heat up in 2005 and beyond. Enterprising small businesses — and those that sell to small businesses — may just find new opportunities from these trends.
Watts says we can expect to see four macro-level trends that affect society in general and businesses of all sizes:
1. Rise of the Gray Hairs: One of the greatest demographic shifts in the United States ever will happen in 2005. Every single Baby Boomer will be 40 or over. He is one himself and as he points out, Baby Boomers tend to think they are the arbiters of taste and style. While that’s not necessarily true, the aging Baby Boom generation is a significant force.
2. Premium is In: There is a continued move toward premium-ness. People are trading up from standard level. Think of Honda cars with heated seats. Or premium cookies.
3. Trend of “Anti-trending”: Companies will leverage their greatest strengths, even in contrarian ways. Hardee’s new 1400 calorie hamburger is an example. Just as Wendy’s, McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants are seeing that fat could be the next tobacco in litigation, at same time they are offering 1400 calorie hamburgers.
4. Lock it Up: We will see more emphasis on safety and security. Keeping things safe will be at the top of people’s minds. This applies to online security as well as security in the physical world, and it applies to everything from services to goods.
As to trends specific to the small business market, Watts predicts we will see:
- Accelerated Online Sales: We are going to see an increase in the increase of buying online. Online shopping and technology has moved beyond the early adopters and the mainstream. It is now so well established it is drawing in the laggards. Watts drew an analogy from hearing a cell phone ringing during a church service. He said don’t assume it is just a rude person. It is probably someone in his 70′s who just purchased a cell phone for the first time who doesn’t yet realize what the rest of us have known for some time about cell phone etiquette.
- Homeopathic Medicine: The recent decision by Merck withdrawing the drug Vioxx has people concerned over whether traditional medicine has been tested properly. People are taking more preventative medicines. Using natural remedies and alternative remedies will gain ground.
- Low-impact Makes an Impact: Aging Baby Boomers are looking for exercise that is easier on them. A perfect example is low-impact exercise such as Tai Chi and yoga. But not all low impact exercise is Eastern. Low impact includes swimming, spinning, and other exercise not as hard on aging bodies.
- Image Enhancement: No, not our personal images. Watts sees the cult trend of photoshopping (manipulating images using Photoshop software) going mainstream. He sees a rise in the use of technology to have images appear exactly the way we want them to create a new “reality.” For instance, a blended family might eliminate a divorced spouse from a photo — even add in the new spouse.
- Technology Convergence: He sees bundling between broadband, wireless and other communications technologies. Voice, wireless, Tivo, messaging — they all will converge. You’ll retrieve cell phone messages through your computer, and computer messages through your cell phone.
- Return of Loyalty: After years of saying “loyalty is dead” and “consumers are fickle,” there are signs that when people find something that works, they stay with it. Expect to see the real power not only of service (i.e., how you provide something) but experience (i.e., how I feel about the result). This bodes well for the small business market — and Watts suggests small businesses think about customer loyalty strategies. He points to the example of the high-end Dorothy Lane grocery stores, and how they stopped advertising. They took their ad money and developed a loyalty award program: the top 10 shoppers get an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii.
And so what are the most telling trends among these? Watts suggests that the trend of anti-trending is one of the most interesting trends for small retailers and other small businesses to explore.
Adapted from a post that first appeared on the Small Business Trends blog.