A major shift is underway from fixed to flexible lifestyles, from commute to communicate forms of consumption. The Millennials or Generation Y are at the heart of it, both by choice and necessity; but the impacts will be felt far wider as new technologies enable a more flexible, pick and mix approach to life and work.

What is changing?

We are living with what has been termed the golden triangle of technology as social, mobile and real time communications redefine almost every sector of the economy and create the connected consumer. Connected consumers are more likely, but by no means exclusively, to be in younger age groups. They use multiple screens in parallel, simultaneously and sequentially to shop, chat, watch TV, work, organise their lives, comment, share, decide.

At the same time, we are facing what has been termed a jobless recovery, and again young people are in the firing line: under 34s worldwide are more than three times as likely to be unemployed than the rest of the workforce. While traditional jobs may not be forthcoming in such great numbers, work is changing with greater emphasis on short term opportunities, freelance work and self employment and entrepreneurship – again, especially among the young. For example, Elance, a website providing access to freelance work, has seen significant growth in Greece, Spain and Egypt.

Home-ownership is now more of a burden than and dream…

Meanwhile, usership as we have been discussing since 2007, is coming into its own in what others are calling the rentership economy. Home-ownership is now more of a burden than and dream – with all the fear of debt and foreclosure, or the inability to sell and move. But it is not just house buying that is falling; sales of cars to younger people are also falling as alternatives such as Zipcar, Streetcar and other car clubs provide alternatives on an as-needed, hassle free low-overhead basis.

Why is this important?

The 5 Cs of the connected consumer – Connect, Create, Communicate, Contribute and Consume – are creating a layered approach to life that is interactive and instantaneous. Organisations will need to continue to engage in new ways that are faster and more convenient. Adverts already link to Facebook pages and Twitter instead of websites, for just this reason. Amazon, which has exploited ‘others bought this’ and reviews for many years, is now planning same day delivery in the USA, which in turn could radically affect high street retailers.

…talent has found alternative and preferred ways of working…

In the face of the recession, people are discovering a patchwork of alternatives to conventional jobs. Just as technology enabled the concept of the long tail, it is now enabling small scale, and even much larger scale, personal and personalised businesses based on people’s passions and interests. Traditional organisations, already facing a battle for talent and skill shortages, may find that in the longer term that talent has found alternative and preferred ways of working, that give people the flexibility to live as they wish and be themselves. Government policies will also need to adapt to encourage and support such small scale flexible working, rather than relying on more conventional job creation.

Services to support flexible business will continue to grow. Coffee shops have already become alternative meeting rooms. Some are beginning to give the coffee for free and charge for the time. They may also want to explore other business related services and support by creating alliances with nearby stores.

The connected consumers of the future will bring a very mixed economy: they will communicate rather than commute, look for flexible rather than fixed solutions and consumption, go for DIY (Do It Yourself) mix and match approaches and independence at work rather than conventional corporate careers.

The impact on the wider economy could be very different definitions of labour force engagement and economic performance. If renting replaces house buying, this removes one of the major drivers and multipliers in the economy. Likewise, car production has been a driver of employment and economic growth. the connected consumer could be part of a move to a lower growth world.

By Sheila Moorcroft

About the author

Sheila has over 20 years experience helping clients capitalise on change – identifying changes in their business environment, assessing the implications and responding effectively to them. As Research Director at Shaping Tomorrow she has completed many futures projects on topics as diverse as health care, telecommunications, innovation management, and premium products for clients in the public and private sectors. Sheila also writes a weekly Trend Alert to highlight changes that might affect a wide range of organisations.