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Consumers want it all

In 2022, consumers expect hybrid shopping experiences, sustainability, and purpose-driven brands.

Consumers have been through the wringer—but they’ve been resilient. They’ve found creative ways to adapt to extreme circumstances, using technology to navigate uncertainty in new ways. And they expect brands to do the same.

Consumers no longer see online and offline shopping as distinct experiences—they expect everything to be connected all the time. Shopping must be fast and efficient some of the time, rich and experiential other times, and always easy and intuitive. What’s more, consumers expect companies to cater to their needs and live up to their social and environmental responsibility claims.

Purpose-driven consumers, who choose products and brands based on how well they align to their values, now represent the largest segment (44%) of consumers.

Retailers and brands must align their offerings and capabilities with these new consumer expectations that have emerged from the crucible of COVID. But what changes are mission critical? To get a clearer picture of the demands redefining consumer behavior, the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV), in association with the National Retail Federation (NRF), conducted a global survey of more than 19,000 respondents across 28 countries in September 2021.

We found that, after spending much of the past two years in a virtual-first world, consumers now see digital tools as a necessary part of the shopping experience. They expect stores to be digitally enabled and for brands and retailers to support hybrid shopping journeys, which blend physical and digital channels. This is especially true for Gen Z, which uses hybrid shopping more than any other generation.

Hybrid shopping is the primary buying method for 27% of consumers and 36% of Gen Z—more than any other generation.

The pandemic also shifted consumer views on sustainability. Today, consumers across age groups are looking for brands and retailers to help them shop more sustainably. In fact, purpose-driven consumers—those who prioritize brands that align with their values and lifestyles—now make up the largest consumer segment across all product categories.

Consumers control the shopping experience

In 2022, brands and retailers have the opportunity to build more profitable relationships with customers—but first they must prove their worth. Today’s consumers are digitally confident and purpose-driven. They’re informed and focused on finding brands that align with their values. They’re demanding more across the board, and companies will have to raise the bar to pass muster.

Nearly 3 in 4 (72%) consumers rely on stores as part of their primary buying method.

But that’s a tall order. As supply chain disruption and talent shortages put pressure on the retail and consumer sectors, companies must become even more creative and efficient. In response, more than half of retail (58%) and consumer products (55%) executives are focused on building agility to adapt faster to changes in demand.

In this environment, retailers and brands need to lead with purpose—and use technology as a differentiator—to enable customers to build their own shopping journeys. They must also help consumers live their values through the products they buy, including how they’re sourced, manufactured, and delivered. That starts with understanding what customers really want.

Tech-enabled touchpoints: Digital tools have become an integral part of the in-store experience.

Tech-enabled touchpoints: Digital tools have become an integral part of the in-store experience.

In 2022, retailers and brands must shift their sustainability strategies and cater their shopping experiences to meet evolving consumer demands. Download the report to learn what consumers across age groups really want—and how your company can gain a competitive edge.


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Meet the authors

Karl Haller

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, Partner, IBM Consulting Consumer Center of Excellence


Mary Wallace

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, Retail & Consumer Behavior SME, IBM Consulting and the Global Center of Competence for Digital Strategy and Experience


Jane Cheung

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, Global Consumer Industry Research Leader, IBM Institute for Business Value


Sachin Gupta

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, Sustainability Leader, Consumer Industry, IBM Sustainability Practice

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Originally published 13 January 2022