The High Street is changing and this change is not being driven by technology, asserted behavioural futurist, William Higham, when speaking at an Independents Day meeting established by the Independent Practitioners Committee, an AOP committee held in partnership with the AIO and ABDO (4 July).
This change is about the consumer, Mr Higham emphasised.
“People often describe new technologies as being ‘disruptive,’ but technology is an impact of the change that is occurring,” Mr Higham explained. “The most disruptive influence around you right now is your customer’s mind,” Mr Higham revealed, adding: “Their needs will change, as will what they expect from you, and you must respond to this by adapting.”
The customer is king
As co-founder of Next Big Thing, Mr Higham has spent the last 15 years working with clients from Amazon to HSBC to help them gauge a better view of what their customers are likely to want, how they are going to behave and what their needs will be in the future.
“Understanding what changes are likely to occur allows you to better appeal to tomorrow’s customer,” Mr Higham highlighted.
By predicting consumer need and making friends with change, Mr Higham believes business can thrive and grow.
“It is not about finding ways to cope with the changes taking place in your industry, but actively embracing them as a tool for growth,” he said, adding: “The winning businesses of tomorrow will be the ones that can successfully predict changing customer attitudes and needs.”
Mr Higham believes that people are driven by needs and while some of these needs are basic and unchanging, others are much more complex. “When a customer walks into your practice they have complex and changing needs that you must identify and meet,” he said.
Mr Higham highlighted that, ultimately, change is good for a business and leads to growth.
“The first thing you learn in business is that you must identify a need and satisfy it...so if you can pick up on a new need before your competitors and you can find a way to satisfy that need before they can, or you pick up on a need that a competitor has already identified, but you satisfy it better than them, that promotes growth and is a huge opportunity for your business.”
Three C vision
Through his work over the last few years, Mr Higham has identified three key needs – control, comfort and community – that he believes will drive consumer behaviour in the future. If a business can satisfy one or more of these needs over the next five to eight years, he feels it will do well.
For the futurist, control is about the consumer increasingly seeking to take control of certain aspects of their life. People have begun to feel out of control when it comes to bigger issues such as politics and global warming, Mr Higham said. As a result, they want to seize control of other aspects of their life such as health, fitness, education and finance.
Putting the spotlight on business, Mr Higham suggested that consumers may want to take control of the purchase journey, for example. “They will want to be given choice so they do not feel dictated to, but also feel empowered to be able to make that choice,” he said.
What can practitioners do on the High Street to appeal to the consumer who wants options and choice? Mr Higham suggested that interactive platforms and different ways to purchase could be key. “Some people prefer face-to-face, and some people prefer anonymity, so the choice must be there,” he said.
When it comes to comfort, Mr Higham highlighted that people find comfort in other people helping them, but stressed that convenience is also key.
“The reason people like the internet is because it’s 24 hours a day,” he explained.
“Yet convenience is not just about getting from A to B the fastest. For some it’s about slowing down and enjoying the journey. While some find comfort in calmness, others find it in convenience and therefore it is key for businesses to offer the consumer something that fits into their lives,” he added.
Mr Higham believes that community will play a large role for tomorrow’s consumer. “Belonging is really important to people, as is wanting to share things online – more and more it’s about status updates than status symbols,” he said.
Sharing examples of brands that have successfully identified and satisfied their customers’ need for community, Mr Higham referred to how a number of High Street photography businesses have started to offer photography courses.
“So what can you do to make people feel part of your brand and make them want to share things?” he asked.
Mr Higham pointed out that independent businesses have an advantage on the High Street. “For people who want control, independents can offer advice; for people who want comfort, independents can offer tradition and the human face,” he closed.