Friday, January 17, 2020

The Gig Economy Isn't Just For Millennials and 5 Other Trends for 2020

Moving beyond tech trends in our prior article, this installment looks at trends that are tech-driven but whose impact goes beyond a specific technology or gadget. While the recently concluded CES highlighted cool and offbeat gadgets we may (or may not) want or need, the following trends takes a bigger perspective at how tech will impact society.

1.     The Gig Economy isn’t just for millennials. Older Americans are entering the gig economy driving for Uber or Lyft, working in food service and retail as well as personal care/health aides. Americans in their 50s or older are gigging either to augment their retirement or because they can’t find steadier work after getting laid off from a corporate job. Since older Americans tend to vote more, we think there could be more attention paid to the gig economy, specially its low wages and no benefits. 

2.     Consumer spending patterns are shifting. It’s usually referred to as the sharing economy for such things as AirBnB to stay in someone’s place instead of a hotel; Citi Bikes or electric scooters to get around, or any number of sites that rent the latest fashion trends. But it’s really a non-ownership economy or a convenience economy. People are forgoing ownership for flexibility, choice and convenience – just as businesses have been opting for cloud computing and Software as a Service (SaaS) to provide similar benefits. This part of the economy is expected to grow to $335 billion in 2025, up from $15 billion in 2014, according to Forbes. That doesn’t include convenience services that are poised to deliver more items (not just take-out orders), faster via drones or other automated technology. Even how consumers manage their spending via fintech services instead of banks is changing, and companies need to figure out how to rethink their offerings.  

3.     Streaming but not owning — content increasingly means you might be able to access the version you want. Streaming content has its benefits but consumers will become increasingly aware of the risks, which include ongoing monthly costs that will increase; content that disappears when a streaming service loses its rights even if you were in the middle of the program); and services that might disappear or abruptly shut down. Also, streaming services are Internet dependent so if you lose Internet access, you lose access to content and services. And, if there are multiple versions of a movie or a song, you may find that you can watch or listen to the one version the service offers  such as Greedo shooting first in the newest version of “Star Wars: A New Hope,” available on Disney+, rather than earlier versions in which Han shot first. The other risk is that the service may change dramatically, depending on profitability, market conditions, and changes in senior management.) We think these issues may get written about more in 2020. 

4.     Too many podcasts eventually overwhelm listeners. There are already too many podcasts that it's difficult to listen to everything and still get your work done (whatever that may be). Or: there are not enough errands in a day when you can listen and catch up to all the podcasts you've been told you must listen to. We think that, probably by 2021, we will have reached podcast saturation and there will be a backlash, both from advertisers and from listeners so that the number of new podcasts will slow down, if not actually decrease. We're not saying we want that to happen. We just don't have enough time to listen to anything more. 

5.     Some sharing economy will either raise fees or shut down. Making a profit will be more important for some sectors in 2020 than massive debt-fueled growth. WeWork, Uber, Slack and other once high-flying companies with billion-dollar valuations hit a hard patch that may affect other startups this year. Expect more attention to gross margins (a measure of profitability), detailed financial models for startups looking to raise money, and a focus on discipline. High-flyers will need to adjust, and that will have an impact on their growth as they raise prices. For example, Consumers who rely on food delivery services like GrubHub and DoorDash may pay more since restaurants are complaining those services cut into their profit margins. Or some of those services will shut down because they’re not profitable.  

6.     Going cashless will also affect consumer spending. The push to a cashless economy is increasing, and will have at least two effects: Tipping will increase because many of the payment windows offer an easy selection of different percentages for tipping the person delivering the service or good. They tilt the screen and you have to make a choice even if the vendor is handing you a can of soda. (This isn’t the case if you pay in cash.) An increasingly cashless society will make it much more difficult for the poor, who may be unbanked (as the banking industry calls it) and can’t get a credit or debit cards.  

Our final set of trends, to be published next week, will identify ongoing trends that will impact 2020.

As always, let us know if you have any questions or suggestions or if you think we're on or off target.

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