The Consumer Trends that will define 2021

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How’s the new year treating you? Feel any different yet? Well, according to some reports, consumer habits have changed quite a bit in the last year and you could arguably speculate that a global pandemic may have helped with that. With people staying more at home and connecting with each other primarily online, the very perception of society has been affected, and consumers with it.

Of course we are all consumers, even before being creatives. If you have developed a new habit or way of thinking this year, chances are your target audience will have as well. But just in case you missed some of that, here’s the top consumer trends that will define marketing in 2021.

Top Consumer Trends for 2021

In 2021, consumers will be even more socially conscious, caring for each other, diversity, inclusivity and equality above all. In practical terms, lifestyle habits have changed quite a lot too, as well as shopping habits and general mental health.

What should brands do to leverage these shifting consumer habits?


The Chile20 project by Adidas & Footlocker.

Digital Experiences

With most of the population stuck at home, you may have heard about this enormous shift to online shopping and the desertion of high street shops. Consumer insight platform Attest reports that 68.9% of Brits say they’re now more likely to shop online. If you’re familiar with London, try to picture a completely empty Oxford Street with closed shops and nearly no traffic. Crazy, isn’t it? And yet, consumers have been almost forced to move their shopping habits to the online environment, and this has led several brands to reconsider the way they were doing business online.

You may remember that Cath Kidston has announced the permanent closure of all of its stores and a total, exclusive shift to e-commerce last year. And if you are to emulate or at least follow in Cath Kidston’s footsteps, you should know that it won’t be a walk in the park. If you haven’t before, this will be the year to invest in your User Experience and make sure the process is as smooth as it can be. Consumers will care enormously about the user-friendliness of your platform and you’ll want to focus on ease of navigation, quick checkouts and possibly offer free delivery to attract and retain more customers.

This will be the year to invest in your User Experience and make sure it is as smooth as it can be.

There is also the rising trend of livestreaming e-commerce, which has exploded in China last year. Through influencer marketing, brands are now starting to use livestreams to promote their products live, occasionally converting consumers in that very moment. Definitely something worth looking into, and that will bring some much needed entertainment into the online shopping experience.

On the topic, Patrick Tame, CEO of digital talent acquisition agency Beringer Tame, says that “we will see a rush in to invest in e-commerce related businesses. This naturally means we will see both over valuations and bad investments this year, as well as profitable ones as a result.”


Image credit: ENGINE.

Social Causes

Surely we’ve had a lot of time to think while we were stuck at home. We also had a lot of time to navigate the Internet, look at trends on social media, and gauge how well or badly brands were handling the situation. Not to mention that 2020 was not only the year of the pandemic – it was the year of the Black Lives Matter movements explosion, a year that brought social causes and the need for authenticity back to the fore. Consumers now care about social causes more than ever, and brands showing commitment to these will certainly have the upper hand.

EMEA Director of Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, Elizabeth Cherian, says: “if there is one positive to take from this year, it is the paradigm shift amongst brands as they’ve pivoted product strategies to focus on something beyond their own terms, and that is being a source of inspiration. More and more we’re seeing brands striving to evoke an emotional or behavioural change in the consumer to become more than just a product, but an ignition to achieve goals.”

2021 will be the year of authenticity, honesty, transparency and community.

If the past few years have been the ones of purpose, 2021 will be the year of authenticity, honesty, transparency and community. Brands showing interest in supporting society in such a difficult time will emerge victorious. Proof be it the GWI report on consumer trends, which found that 56% of consumers would want brands to put more focus on supporting people, while 41% would want to see them supporting social causes.

About authenticity, Flo Lau, Creative Director at Shutterstock, says: "We are living in a world that is increasingly consumer-driven, and it demands authenticity. Brands that are seen as inauthentic or out of touch are losing out on engagement, whilst those that do tap into emerging trends and insights are reaping the rewards. Now more than ever, tapping into consumer behaviours and attitudes will be key to developing compelling creative content in 2021."

Flo too predicts that consumers will request relatable and positive, inspiring content throughout the year, as hope "increases for the restoration of normalcy to our day-to-day lives." Shutterstock's colour trends for this year were included in our 2021 Colour Trends piece, and they reflect this optimism and hope for a brighter tomorrow.


Image credit: David Riley


Being eco-friendly of course fits within this picture. 2020 was a year of positive gains on the environment and it showed us how quickly our planet could start feeling better if we just stopped moving this much all around the world. It’s been a good year. And brands are expected to recognise that – even more challenging, to keep fighting for that.

As we go back to normal, there are growing concerns that our new normality will have us make a step back in sustainability and restore the awful situation that were before the pandemic. Cynicism is on the rise and, according to GWI, consumers are starting to feel more pessimistic rather than positive. Sustainability will still be a hot topic throughout 2021, and brands showing commitment to the cause are certain to have the upper hand.


Image credit: Stuart Holmes

Expanded market opportunities

With the growth of online shopping in 2020, brands have more opportunities than ever to attract the right consumers and retain them for the long run. However, marketers believing that this trend was exclusively prominent in young people would be enormously mistaken.

Everyone was expected to remain home in 2020, and this led some older age groups to approach online shopping as well. According to the Global Web Index, more consumers from Generation X and the Baby Boomers group have now entered the online market, and they are most likely there to stay. “Online grocery shopping among Gen X and baby boomers in the USA has grown +57% since Q3 2019,” states the GWI website – and as generations grow older, their decisions become more and more important by the year. Brands are expected to seize these new opportunities as part of their yearly marketing plans.


Image credit: Erin De Swardt

Community & Humanity

The idea that office work is going to disappear completely is obviously a bit of an overstatement on behalf of remote working advocates, but even if we were to keep being flexible and hybrid in some ways, there’s no denying that this realignment of our public life has led to a shift in perception for most of us.

Alongside the obvious shifts in viewing habits that advertisers should be aware of2020 led us to focus more on our intimate and personal life, as we welcomed our bosses and colleagues and team-mates in our living rooms. A focus on mental health will be key this year, and brands and marketers should keep their consumers’ concerns at heart when coming up with new strategies and campaigns. On the side, the Wetherspoons/Neverspoons case reminds us what happens when employers don’t care too much about their employees. After 2020, it’s unlikely that greed and overt expressions of employer selfishness will ever be forgiven again.


Image credit: Rebecca Hayter

Covid Sentiment

We’ve had a full year to talk about Covid and, believe it or not, people have noticed. According to Attest, 18% of consumers are currently bored of hearing about coronavirus and are trying to steer clear from any kind of brand messaging focused around that. On the other hand, positive messaging is a strong favourite: 45.9% would like to hear more good news and inspiration from brands, and another 45% would want to know how businesses are helping during this time.

Advice on adapting to the new normal is also quite prominent, with 31.2% registering their interest in that kind of messaging. Demonstrations of support and good news are definitely the way to go, then, showing that, alongside that pessimistic sentiment about the environment that was mentioned above, consumers are presently looking ahead and wish to keep hopeful about the up and coming months.

At the same time, we shouldn’t forget all the bad choices and ugly moves some brands and governments made during 2020. It is likely that this year will also be one of gritty realism, especially in the second half, as we seek ways to build on our lockdown failures to recover from this crisis as quickly as possible. And the best brands during this time will be the ones that will stick for being supportive, caring and considerate in yet another year of drastic changes.

Header image: Marcus Moody


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