The way people buy products and services has been evolving rapidly, and the fast and furious pace is only accelerating — sinking some companies while creating immense opportunity for others, new and old. This drama is playing out in a context where more and more consumers:

  • Care about the values revealed in what sellers do, not just what they say.
  • Eagerly try new brands, products, and services.
  • Expect more from both digital and physical buying experiences.

In examining this transformation, we’ve identified four forces shaping the future of how consumers buy:

  • Marketplaces and brands are colliding. Our survey numbers show that consumers’ interest in marketplaces like Amazon and Alibaba is up a lot from last year. Marketplaces will displace many brands — especially those competing mainly on price. Some brands will thrive outside marketplaces, but to do that, they’ll have to stand out more from their competition. Think of how Disney ditched Netflix and created its own Disney+ instead.
  • Product experiences are becoming the drivers of demand. Selling a product or a service used to require persuading — via ads or reviews, for example. But more and more, consumers get to experience products and services without committing much, in terms of payment or lock-in. Sure, rentals and subscriptions did this before, but the model is spreading across categories — think Spotify, Rent the Runway, Joymode, etc. So retention is displacing acquisition as the main revenue driver, because you need to get consumers to want to continue using the product or service, not just buy it once. That’s motivating companies to focus more on the quality of the experience itself rather than just on persuading.
  • Consumers care most about privacy but also brands’ other values. Twenty-one percent of US online adults always research a company’s values to see whether they align with theirs before making a purchase. And privacy is their top concern in the US and Canada. They’re also demanding transparency about products. Where did it come from? How did it get here? How was it made? Upstart companies that are values-based are succeeding and forcing big firms to change. And there are more and more third-party entities that verify companies are doing what they say they’re doing on the values front.
  • Amid all this, brands are having to seek new business models. Companies are having to significantly adapt. Walmart and others are latching on to alternative revenue streams — shaking up their value chains and even rethinking how they can deploy their assets to generate new streams of revenue. Companies like Amazon and J.P. Morgan are expanding their partnerships, looking at adjacent companies they can work with — creating Haven, for example. Meanwhile, Target and others are finding new ways to sell based on emerging channels, devices, and touchpoints.

What does this mean for your company? It’s not about leaping ahead so you can settle into a new stable state — because there will be no stability. It’s about continually adapting and reinventing based on asking yourself what fundamental changes consumers are experiencing, what offering will meet their expectations and needs, and how best to structure your business so that what you offer (and how) matches those expectations and needs.

To read about what it all means more specifically for business, download our complimentary guide to the future of B2C buying. If you’re a client, take a look at Forrester’s new report, “Vast, Fast, And Relentless: Consumer Buying Enters A New Era.”