It is clear that both the US and the world of business has been in a state of great upheaval during 2018. Populist movements are rising up around the world demanding change. Customers are tired of being taken for granted, their data being stolen and other forms of mistreatment and lack of care. AI is taking a larger role in business, including automation and chatbots.
All of these point to the following trends that will have a large impact on business in the coming and future years.
Demands for corporate accountability
According to Forbes Magazine, companies today are being called to task for not being good citizens of the planet and for not treating their customers with care, diligence and respect. Many people are spurning companies such as Facebook, Wells Fargo and Nike because they have shown a callous disregard for consumer rights, the environment, their workers or the workers of their suppliers.
In response to this sense of consumer frustration, there has emerged a non-profit organization, B Lab, that evaluates companies who apply for a "B-corporation" certification. If certified, the business has proven that it operates in a manner that is ethical and sustainable, balancing the needs of all shareholders and stakeholders in the company. Such stakeholders can be customers, members of the local community, workers, suppliers, and the environment.
B Lab has certified 2,655 companies in 160 countries around the world. These companies who are certified have all proven that they are socially and environmentally accountable. Certified B corporations include Ben and Jerry's, Patagonia, Stonyfield Farms and Kleen Kanteen. Many small and medium-sized companies are certified by B Lab and the latter encourages customers to vote with their dollars. This makes B certification a wise investment.
One can only hope that so many bad actor companies getting caught has set up a creative destruction that can set the stage for a united group of companies to emerge that offer social and environmental accountability.
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Safety of customer data
Entrepreneur Magazine suggested that, in light of growing customer anger over the lack of concern by too many companies for the privacy of their data, that companies gather their own customer data in-house through interactive means and simply keep it there. Entrepreneur also stated that studies have shown most purchased customer data is not reliable.
Personalization of services
Zuu Online, an Asian financial education website, suggested that businesses look for every opportunity to customize their outreach to customers, such as with personalized emails and content that truly is valuable for the customer. Entrepreneur Magazine suggested that businesses offer recommendations and coupons based on past buying behavior or past services purchased.
Renting instead of owning
Many industries have found that their customers either no longer need or cannot afford to own everything they purchase. In these cases, renting of items has been on the rise. Spotify, Zipcar and Netflix are all examples where a rental will satisfy the customer's needs. According to The Digital Reader, textbook rentals and used textbook purchases account for the majority of textbook sales, eclipsing new paper or ebook versions. Forbes Magazine suggests that all companies consider how they might work in rentals into their offerings for customers.
In a very similar vein, Entrepreneur Magazine spoke of the rise of subscription services. If you are in the food, beauty or apparel industry, they recommend you offer a subscription box because such subscriptions lead to three times the sales volume of one-time purchases.
Cutting costs and localization due to instability in global economy
With trade wars occurring as well as anger over outsourced jobs and substandard working conditions in some countries, Forbes Magazine suggested that companies follow the example of Nike who brought some of their production back to the East Coast. Also, since the global economy appears to be teetering on the edge of financial upheaval, Forbes also suggested that companies cut costs in advance and find ways to weather recessions and economic downturns.
Businesses in the coming year will need to be lean enough to survive recessions or worse. The most successful companies will be ethical and environmentally responsible. They will keep customer data in-house and protected. They will offer rentals and subscriptions, where these make sense. They will personalize their marketing and shopping experience for their customers.
In these ways, companies will walk hand-in-hand with satisfied customers. These customers will more likely see them as a partner and a part of their community.