19.–23.01.2022 #immcologne

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Interview with trend expert Barbara Busse

Generation Z and its furniture

It does things differently to everybody coming before it: Generation Z has been digital since childhood, makes spontaneous purchases and wants to live as individually as possible. That’s why young consumers from the years 1997 to 2012 are causing quite a stir in the economy.

Due to the wish to be individual, a lot is designed according to customer wishes and products are getting compartmentalised. Brands have a shorter lifespan and unknown start-ups quickly rise to stardom. For traditional companies that don’t adapt to the changing brand conditions, it can mean a bleak future. Trend expert Barbara Busse from Future+You reveals what that future could look like and what companies can do to attract Generation Z’s interest.

Trend researcher Barbara Busse in conversation

Trend researcher Barbara Busse. Photo: Future+You

In the course of your research, you closely studied Generation Z and young millennials. What is it about this generation?

Generation Z is a generation with a very high birth rate and that will make up 40% of consumers worldwide in two years. Together with young millennials, they are the first digital natives. They have grown up with the internet around the clock and feel at home in a world filled with music and video on demand. As a result, they have different expectations of things and products.

Will these expectations affect the way this generation lives?

Yes, for sure. This generation is about to purchase its first furnishings. That’s what makes it especially interesting. The generation is growing out of the rooms it had back home and is moving towards living on its own two feet. And this is very different to what we know today. The generation places great importance on individuality, ease of ordering and very, very short delivery times. Nobody wants to wait six weeks for a sofa. And the generation is very sensitive when it comes to specific topics.

‘A brand only has to work for the moment.’

Barbara Busse

With regard to things like sustainability?

Yes, it’s a very sustainability-oriented generation because they are directly confronted with the effects of climate change. At the same time, they don’t want to forgo anything. Instead, they expect manufacturers to take on this responsibility. Just like specific health and safety regulations are adhered to, sustainability is a standard expectation, too. Whoever doesn’t want to take this path isn’t accepted.

The level of brand loyalty is low in the younger generation. Many have trouble taking out a mobile phone contract for two years.

In the past, the classic consumer expectation of brands was trust, ease of living and sustainability. Today, they are innovation, coolness and sustainability. Whoever offers a consumer innovation and coolness is then the brand of the moment. Loyalty and attachment are a thing of the past. Experience is going to be more important than a ‘heritage footprint’, which some brands build up. They only have to work for the moment.

Do brands from other sectors have a higher level of credibility than traditional furniture brands?

There used to be 80% loyalty towards governmental institutions and companies. Now, it’s nosedived to 20%, meaning that the circumstances have been reversed. Especially with respect to large firms. Young people support people like themselves. It’s evolved into a sort of peer economy. According to the motto ‘Helden wie ich’ (heroes like me) or just like on Pop Idol, start-up can quickly gain superhero status. Young entrepreneurs are much faster at becoming advertising icons. It’s regarded as being cool to have a start-up. Underdogs get promoted – it’s already almost uncool to purchase from a large company.

With the trend of selling home-made goods and selling products on – for example using PayPal – a network with its very own value chain is being developed. In some cases, a currency is even created. Would it be right if we spoke of a parallel universe there?

Yes, absolutely. It is a parallel universe, and that is no longer a problem in digital production. The production lines are becoming more flexible, too. In LA, there’s a fabric manufacturer that can weave a new pattern every 30 cm because everything is computerised. The business model is based on them no longer having to weave 2 km of red and then 3 km of blue. Production on demand and a batch size of one – that’s the future.

But established manufacturers such as Sophisticated Living, for example, are also already walking this path with completely individually manufactured furniture.

But you’re still reliant on these companies because you have to order from them. It’s just not that network-based thing where you think of something yourself, design something yourself and then display it on platforms like Instagram – and whoever likes it can order it with just one click. Here, a complete picture- and follower-driven economy is currently opening up.

‘It’s going to be easier for small labels to adapt.’

Barbara Busse

So, it’s according to the principle: I do something for myself, and whoever likes it can order it from me.

Exactly. An important trend here is premiumisation. Here, someone does something very specific, and they do it especially well so it is also attractive for others. Another trend is ‘limited access’, which is a limited edition that is sold out very quickly and the community knows that it’s only available for a very short time. The trend expression for this is also ‘fear of missing out’, or FOMO for short. If you know that there are only seven examples of a certain thing and you only have the opportunity to buy it now, then some people go crazy. That thing gets bought. To have missed the opportunity to buy something is then the worst thing imaginable for these people.

So, the time when we owned our favourite sofa for 20 years is over?

Some people will probably also keep their favourite sofa for a long time. Those who are buying new furniture now are open for new things. For example, we will help design our furniture in the future. An example is Tylko, which, as a manufacturer of shelves, has enabled customers to adapt their shelves to their own room via an app with the swipe of a finger. The topic of co-creation makes people happy and proud to to be involved in the process. This is also very important for Generation Z. The older millennials also include very creative people but accepting co-creation as a matter of course is a necessity for Generation Z and the young millennials.

Some people will probably also keep their favourite sofa for a long time. Those who are buying new furniture now are open for new things. For example, we will help design our furniture in the future. An example is Tylko, which, as a manufacturer of shelves, has enabled customers to adapt their shelves to their own room via an app with the swipe of a finger. The topic of co-creation makes people happy and proud to to be involved in the process. This is also very important for Generation Z. The older millennials also include very creative people but accepting co-creation as a matter of course is a necessity for Generation Z and the young millennials.

Some people will probably also keep their favourite sofa for a long time. Those who are buying new furniture now are open for new things. For example, we will help design our furniture in the future. An example is Tylko, which, as a manufacturer of shelves, has enabled customers to adapt their shelves to their own room via an app with the swipe of a finger. The topic of co-creation makes people happy and proud to to be involved in the process. This is also very important for Generation Z. The older millennials also include very creative people but accepting co-creation as a matter of course is a necessity for Generation Z and the young millennials.

Some people will probably also keep their favourite sofa for a long time. Those who are buying new furniture now are open for new things. For example, we will help design our furniture in the future. An example is Tylko, which, as a manufacturer of shelves, has enabled customers to adapt their shelves to their own room via an app with the swipe of a finger. The topic of co-creation makes people happy and proud to to be involved in the process. This is also very important for Generation Z. The older millennials also include very creative people but accepting co-creation as a matter of course is a necessity for Generation Z and the young millennials.

These terms refers to social groups that have experienced a different level of socialisation in connection with the explosive digitisation of our environment due to their age. This is why the first generation of so-called digital natives is referred to as Generation Z – following Generation X that was born up to around 1980 and alluding to its tendency to question things. Another term for this generation is also ‘millennials’, although there is a difference between ‘old millennials’ and ‘young millennials’ (born after 1989). The difference here is especially made in the USA and refers to whether the time when they became an adult was before or after the financial crisis and the rise of the smartphone.

Generation Z, on the other hand, refers to the second generation of digital natives (born between 1995 and 2010 or between 2000 and 2015, depending on the source) whose members often came into contact with smartphones and touchscreens in their infancy. As a result, Generation Z has experienced omnipresent digital media and tools as a totally natural and intuitive part of life with the open boundaries between the real and virtual world.

About Barbara Busse

Barbara Busse went to university in Cologne and did her degree focusing on product design in 2005. Before she worked in the design segment at Deutsche Telekom, she worked in London, South America, Australia and Munich. Today, she owns the design agency Future+You, focusing on trend and future research.

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