What Consumers Will Demand in 2011

In “Henderson the Rain King,” Saul Bellow’s hero has to go all the way to Africa to answer his inner voice, which keeps demanding, “I want. I want. I want.”  BusinessNewsDaily didn’t have to travel nearly as far to get a fix on some consumer demands for 2011.

We turned it over to experts whose business it is to take the consumer pulse.  One thing is clear — there’s been a power shift, and the consumer is now more in control and more fickle than ever. It’s something all businesses need to heed. Here’s a quick run-down of some of the things consumers will demand from businesses in 2011.

Reputation Is Everything

We’re living in transparent times, thanks to the communications revolution. With apologies to Shakespeare and his mouthpiece Mark Antony, it’s true that the evil businesses do lives after them. Companies need to be mindful of their reputations 24/7, before, during and after conducting business with a customer. Burnishing your reputation — and being genuine about it — is job No. 1 for every business.

“Businesses who want to compete in 2011 need to be much more aware of their online reputation than ever before,” Mandy Boyle, SEO manager for Solid Cactus, an e-commerce and internet marketing company, told BusinessNewsDaily. “Most consumers tend to consider product reviews when making purchasing decisions. Consumers in 2011 want to see trust, integrity and a promise of having a good experience with a business.”

Make It Easy

Those businesses that think they’re doing their customers a favor just by opening their doors should think again. In fact, customers today are doing you the favor by sharing their time, attention and hard-won dollars. They don’t want to wait for you and they don’t want to have to work to do business with you.

“Here’s what I think customers want now, more than ever,” said Nancy Michaels, CEO and founder of GrowYourBusinessNetwork. “Response — and make it speedy. Don’t keep me on hold forever or ask me to make additional calls to get what I want at your store. Make it fast and easy for me. I want to talk to someone in the United States. Additional services like delivery can make or break a decision about whether or not to use one business over another. I love my local Ace Hardware store because I’m not three feet in the door before someone asks me if I need help, and I always do.”

Make it Useful — and Beautiful

Consumers are getting to be a savvy lot when it comes to product design. Just because something is serving utilitarian needs, such as a cane or a walker to help a disabled or elderly person get around, doesn’t mean that it has to be ugly. Functionality and good design are not mutually exclusive. This area is going to be increasingly important as Americans age and need equipment to stay mobile and continue to live in their own homes. They — and their caregivers — are used to things that have both style and performance.

‘One of the biggest trends is the concept of aging in place,” said Susan Towers, vice president of sales and marketing for Omhu, a company that designs aids for daily living. “We’re living longer, but we’re not necessarily living better. We’re really designing for ourselves in the future. People living longer is changing the business of aging. We believe people are willing to pay a premium for well-designed products that they need.”

Information, Please

During the 20th century, businesses had the upper hand with consumers because they controlled the flow and availability of information. If you wanted to learn about a product your choices were limited. You could visit a showroom or send off for a product brochure. Or you could read an ad or watch a commercial that delivered a controlled message. Objective information from independent sources such as “Consumer’s Report” was limited. The Internet changed all that.

“The seller has always been in control because they had all the information,” Robert Bloom, former CEO of the Publicis advertising empire and author of a book on customers, “The New Experts,” told BusinessNewsDaily. “It’s technology in its broadest sense that has empowered the consumer. Now everybody goes online to get the information they want. They have total choice in every category. They like the power they have and they use it. Sellers today live in a glass house. They must understand that customer loyalty has been declining for a long time.  They must retain customers, generate repurchases and advocacy for your firm and improve prospects to customer conversion. Customer churn is the biggest thief of profit in the business world.”

Be Sociable

The big consumer demand that will contribute to market upheaval and marketer insomnia in 2011 is consumer insistence that businesses meet them where they want to be. Increasingly, that means participating in social media such as Facebook, Twitter and online directories or review sites.

“In many cases, social media is your best tactic for engaging customers while building up that buzz that will secure a sale,” said Mandy Boyle at Solid Cactus. “Show that you know your stuff by responding to customer questions and comments online. Provide incentives for customers to interact with you online, like a special coupon or giveaway. Encourage current customers who had a good experience to review you online and offline. Provide incentives for doing so, like offering a special deal or price for those who write a review or recommend your business to ten friends.”

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.