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Avatars and social commerce: Global consumer trends that will dictate 2023

By Rachel Douglass


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TikTok app. Image: Unsplash

2022 has seen a vast range of new developments in the world of e-commerce, retail and beyond, with the swift growth of a democratised internet and slew of global macroeconomic issues that have undoubtedly had a profound impact on consumers. As 2023 fast approaches, consumer data platform GWI has outlined a number of trends that will come as an evolution of this year’s behavioural shifts in its new ‘Connecting the Dots’ report.

The company suggested that consumers have come to somewhat of a peak in internet saturation, as average online usage figures continue to plateau. However, the grounds that were once deemed to be “typical” internet usage points have noticeably begun to change, as new developments provide fresh utilisations for the online world.

While business-related networking and researching saw the largest behavioural decrease, as stated in the report, general browsing, researching products and watching videos had also experienced a general decrease in importance. This shift has been emphasised by social media platforms like TikTok, which have switched and improved foundational online activities, the growing dedication to Web3 development and a reversal on attitudes towards the internet in regards to mistrust, which has been on a slight decline as companies increasingly address the issue.

All these factors have played into many of GWI’s consumer trends for 2023, which largely centred around incentivising users on a daily basis through regular new experiences and a refresh in engagement and purpose.

Social media defines shopping

GWI noted that recent research by Google found young people to be turning to TikTok or Instagram in search of answers to their questions, over actual search engines, a shift that could potentially impact retailers when they are looking at their online strategy. Finding information has continued to be the most important usage of the internet, however researching products before purchasing has dropped one place in the charts, overtaken by the desire to find new ideas and inspiration.

It points to a growing dependence on open-ended browsing, as popularised through Gen Z- and Millennial-favoured social media apps that offer highly personalised algorithms and eye-catching visuals. Gen Z were also found to be less likely to view purchasing items as a top benefit of the internet, valuing a sense of community more. As these sites are largely driven by trends, they require brands to keep track of what is culturally relevant and what consumers are actively searching for. User-generated content has also improved consumer trust, a factor likely led by younger generations that lean towards real people and their views.

Image: Roblox

Community in the metaverse

As already highly evident in 2022, the coming year will see the continuation of cultural impact accentuated by immersive 3D spaces and online worlds. While there is an underlying trend in increasing interest in coding, GWI said online identity experimentation and self-expression is likely to be a more profound consequence of this shift. Platforms like Roblox and Fortnite have further highlighted the popularity of user-generated content, and have largely been behind consumers’ desires to adopt different personalities online.

Many have turned towards this element for reasons cited as being able to stand out or having more control over others perceptions. The platforms have also driven the development of like-minded communities, like the LGBTQ+ community that often views the platforms as a safe space where they can reflect on their identities. GWI suggested brands need to lean more into these factors in order to create welcoming experiences and inclusive settings that speak to not only Gen Z, but Gen Alpha, the future metaverse audience.

Clothing and beauty come out as top ‘treats’

Declining financial confidence was something that could not be missed when speaking about trends that defined 2022, as the cost-of-living crisis ran rampant throughout multiple markets and prices of everyday items hit an all time high. However, according to GWI, outside of China, two-thirds of consumers said their current financial situation is “secure”, a sentiment that could be backed by pent-up savings from the pandemic or a favourable job market. This was also reflected in what consumers are considering as “treats” on a budget, according to GWI, which found that clothing was the only category to appear in the top three treat choices across all generations and genders.

According to the firm, clothing sales haven’t fluctuated significantly on a global scale, however the industry has largely been led by “luxury for less” retailers, which had seen the fastest growth among its GWI USA study. Beauty also proved to be a lucrative industry in 2022, with its resilience likely down to a number of factors, including affordability and emotional connection, elements that have kept consumers hooked – particularly young women, who were found to be more inclined to prioritise beauty.

Sustainability is still not priority

In what GWI noted could be a contradiction to other studies, its research found that fewer people were now stating helping the environment was important to them compared to pre-pandemic levels. The number of people who say they expect brands to be eco-friendly has also shrunk in the last few years, and on a global level. The report stated that much of this shift could be due to increasingly criticised ESG criterias, failings in the market research industry and the controversial idea that consumer demands set the precedent for sustainability. GWI said that consumer choices should not be framed as one of the most important drivers of change, and neither should a declining economy.

In one of its studies, the firm noted that the number of people saying they would sacrifice other spending to buy a product sooner grew over the past two years, while at the same time, consumers’ willingness to pay more for eco-friendly products fell. This behaviour was prominent in Asian countries, where GWI stated the relationship between wayward spending and sustainability attitudes was more prominent.

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