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Across virtually all areas of our research, we see signs of Americans lowering their ambitions, trading an appetite for success with more modest goals. While there will still be some post-pandemic splashing out, 2023 is likely to see similar changes in spending habits and in American culture as we observed during the Great Recession.
The years after 2008 saw Americans downsize in nearly every aspect of their life, from retirement to their children’s future to everyday expenses. Similar changes are on the horizon in the next 12 months as consumers face up to a cost of living crisis. It’s a full circle moment for some, as I Need a Dollar becomes all too familiar again.
Here’s the headline: Americans are getting worried about their financial security. 51% of the nation's consumers believe that the US economy will get worse in the next six months and confidence in personal finances looks to be waning too. Consumers have become more price-conscious about everyday expenses and, since Q2 2021, use of apps to track spending has increased 9%. Budgeting is back on the menu.
Lockdowns reminded consumers of how important personal relationships are. 34% say that being present for family and friends is their most important goal in life, an increase of 7% from last year. At the same time, the kind of YOLO (you only live once) attitude we saw when lockdowns were lifted is disappearing. Having a goal of “challenging myself” is down 8%, while “trying new things” is down 11%.
While consumers still value a workplace where they can challenge themselves and progress, salary, benefits, and time off take precedence. Boundaries are being set, and career goals have been redefined to fit the “I work to live, not live to work” narrative. And with good reason, as US workers face some of the highest levels of burnout and being overworked.
Striving for simplicity has led some to make big changes to their working life. Time away from a traditional 9 to 5 has allowed workers to explore other options, with the number who work while on the road or traveling increasing by 38% since Q3 2021. The search for the simple life is as much a cultural trend as it is an economic one. Some start the #vanlife because they have to, others because they want to.
This is key for brands to understand in 2023 – especially in luxury and premium sectors. When times are hard, status symbols change. Sometimes simplicity is the biggest luxury, and people pay good money for it.
Since mid 2021, there’s been an 8% drop in the number of consumers who want brands to be “exclusive”, which means that some high-end brands won’t be able to rely on their logo as much as they used to.
Americans are also much more modest about themselves. They see themselves as less sophisticated, less trend-focused, and less bothered about showing off.
Influencers could benefit from turning over a new leaf and branding themselves as a ‘genuinflencer’. The number of Gen Z who say that following influencers is a top reason for using social media has dropped 22% since Q2 2021, while Americans of all ages are less likely to agree that social media is good for society. Yet interest in influencers is still there and growing, increasing by 16% year-on-year; and it will probably continue to grow, as long as the content shared shifts from aspirational to inspirational.
The emergence of social platform BeReal, which has branded itself as a life without filters, is also driving a change in online expectations. This has cleared the path for more inspirational material – year-on-year the number of Gen Z who use social media to find inspiration is up 12%. They’re just less likely to be finding inspiration through chasing someone else’s dreams.
Influencers are just the tip of big changes in the world of fashion. “Outfit of the day” inspiration will come less from influencers and more from your local Goodwill, as taking note of what influencers are wearing has dropped 7% since Q2 2021.
Economic downturns often prompt changes in fashion, especially when inflation sends the cost of materials soaring. Whether it’s the comeback of indie sleaze or something else, 2023’s hot looks will be a product of this quest for simplicity.
It will also provide a boost to the secondhand fashion trend. Comfort with buying preowned items is up 12% year-on-year, and little wonder as the hunt for the next best #ThriftFlip has garnered over 2.8 billion views on TikTok.
If Americans are less keen on impressing others, what might they be prioritizing instead? Bound up in these cultural changes around social media, fashion, and other areas, is a new focus on more offline activities.
Some of the fastest-growing personal interests for Gen Z year-on-year are handicrafts (+16%) and books/literature (+15%). Both have a strong presence on social media, and making your own clothes is usually cheaper than buying them. But they also indicate a scaling down among young people in their online behavior in favor of more hands-on pastimes – especially when interest in gaming, television, technology, and computers are all down among 16-25s.
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The automotive market is one of the best examples of just how differently consumer segments will behave in 2023. Since Q2 2020, there’s been a 121% increase in the number interested in buying a Ferrari or Lamborghini. At the very top end, consumers will still want to splash out – even if they’re more discreet about it.
However, many car owners see their vehicles as less of a way to express their personality and status – with those attitudes decreasing by 9% and 14%, respectively, since Q2 2021. Value for money is also the new motto in the automotive world. More are keen to have a vehicle that’s as cheap and easy to maintain as possible (+7%).
Travel is another example of this trend affecting people differently. Rich Americans are reportedly spending more than ever on flashier vacations. Though, generally, interest in new cultural experiences has decreased by 8% since Q2 2021, while the importance of familiarity with the destination has increased by 12%. Wanting good value for money has also ticked up.
Peoples’ values and priorities are bound to shift over time – it’s the natural progression of any society. But with the American dream so heavily embedded in US culture, a wider change in outlook is no small feat.
Americans have ultimately fashioned themselves a new dream based on the realities of today, one with more modest ambitions, and brands must cater to it.
Americans are dealing with a lot coming out of the pandemic. So, they’re looking to media to give them some hope and, at the very least, an outlet for their emotions.
America’s landscape is in flux. Social justice fatigue might be setting in. How can brands hit the mark?
Although environmental pessimism is on the up, worry remains stable. Repeated exposure to the situation is causing climate change fatigue.
Interest in virtual worlds is rising. Creating safe spaces for experimentation is key for users to feel welcome.