WGSN’s Andrea Bell, head of Mindset, strategic insights, gives her views on what will be the drivers of change from a consumer point of view in 2019.

WGSN casts a long lens into the near future to identify the key drivers and sentiments that’ll shape consumer behaviours. How will they shop differently and what will they expect from brands? And how should brands adjust their offerings and messaging to engage with them?

Global glance

As the last year of the decade, it's only fitting that 2019 is projected to see the end of things as we know it. Let's take a look at three major changes that are set to have a global impact and are likely to usher in a new era for 2019 and beyond.

1. The zettabyte (ZB) era

How big is the internet? According to a 2016 study published by the Scientometrics journal, there were 4.66 billion web pages as of mid-March 2016. But how much information the internet holds is typically measured in how much information it can transfer. By 2019, global traffic is projected to hit 2 ZB per year – which is ridiculously fast. An exaflop processes a quintillion calculations per second and there are 1000 exaflops in a zettabyte. Why does this matter? The internet and everything connected to it will move at a speed the world has never seen.

2. Post-literate world

By 2019, we will contend with a post-literate society: an era where images and characters will replace words as the communication of choice for the majority of consumers. Factor in the growing rise of the voice technology market (projected to hit $128 billion by 2024) and the mainstream adoption of conversational commerce, and by 2019 visuals and voice will likely trump text.

3. The Activism Age

The Anxious Age will morph into the Activism Age as people feel compelled to fight for their beliefs and values. Gen-Z leads the charge, but don't discount Millennials, who are defying the reputation of entitlement by donating time and money: 84% made a charitable donation in 2014, and 70% volunteered for a favourite cause or charity.

So, who are the five key emerging consumer groups for 2019?

The New Sceptics

Enter the dichotomous consumer – those who in a post-literate landscape will research everything with a fine toothcomb. Why? Globally, trust in big business and corporations is waning and simply put, the New Sceptics don't believe you. However, the New Sceptics value people knowledge just as much as product knowledge. The fashion industry is familiar with the "celebritisation" of staff, but this trend will soon put other industry executives (food and beverage, automotive, technology) in the spotlight.


In 2019, the demand for less distractions will be a key priority for two main reasons: we've reached critical mass with anxiety and the majority want to dedicate more time to things that matter. So how do we get there?

The emerging IoT concept of calm design – technology that blends seamlessly into our daily lives without us having to focus on a device or feature while using it – is the gateway. Calm design already exists: Amazon Echo and Google Home are iterations of calm design, as are autonomous cars.

Yes, in theory everyone needs to unplug, but in reality our daily lives are technologically intertwined. While we're busy detoxing, our emails and messages are piling up, creating more stress upon our return.

Reclaiming and repurposing technology for different goals and values is the way forward.

The Autonomists

With an estimated 50 billion connected devices by 2020, the hyper-connected world will result in attention spans that will be shorter than ever. Feeling overwhelmed? You're not alone. But chances are you feel that way.

Millennials and Gen-Xers are the key demographics that make up the Autonomists tribe, a cohort that is busy, successful and showing increasing rates of loneliness. In short, our internal processors (the way the brain deals with emotions) can't compete with technological ones.

Rising levels of loneliness may be the next big public health issue. Research by Holt-Lundstad shows that lacking social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and Valtorta found a direct link between high loneliness levels and an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke. Fortunately, it's not all doom and gloom – creative solutions to the loneliness epidemic are emerging.


"Boundaryless", a business buzzword, is taking root outside corporate walls. In business terms, a boundaryless organisation is based on fluid and adaptive behaviours rather than rigid corporate practices. There are no silos. Change is welcome. People and common needs matter. Sound familiar? Arguably, the internet is the first boundaryless system with mass adoption and it continues to permeate our lives.

We have more capability at our fingertips than ever, but as a by-product we're more impatient and in a lot of ways, less easily fulfilled.

The results? The ever-growing Experience Economy, the rise of hyphenate creatives (an accountant by day/yoga teacher at the weekend) and the growth of teleworkers.

The Stream Team

Welcome to the Stream Team consumers, a cohort who are social media multi-linguists, “glocal” citizens and knowledge brokers. They're trialling the latest Snapchat filter and organising a protest at the same time. Why? Because seeing the world through a smartphone has empowered them to change it for the better.

The multi-local mindset is influenced by the global travel boom, but the real driver is the rise of visual language. “People wonder why their daughter is taking 10,000 photos a day,” says Evan Spiegel, Snapchat CEO, “What they don’t realise is that she isn’t preserving images. She’s talking.”

Images and characters are replacing words and therefore languages. People speak emojis. They read in memes. They text in symbols. There's even an Emojipedia for people who want to strengthen their emoji language skills. As we enter the post-literate era, our messages may be shorter, but for the Stream Team, they're just as powerful.

This article appears in this month’s Admap which focuses on Drivers of Change in 2019 and explores five key trends – data privacy, smart cities, digital youth, health and wellness and the evolution of banking – and how they will impact marketing over the next 12 months.

WGSN forecasts consumer trends two years ahead every January. To get ahead, read a copy of this year’s report on the Future Consumer 2020: click here.