BCG Henderson Institute

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Earlier this year, several leading clothing brands saw an unusual spike in sales of tops—but no corresponding increase in sales of skirts or pants. The reason: amid the coronavirus pandemic, customers were adapting their work wardrobes from office attire to appearances on Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms.

This anecdote is just one illustration of a market-changing trend that has been accelerating for several years, beginning well before the pandemic: consumer preferences have been evolving rapidly—almost continuously—and have become increasingly volatile, mutable, and uncertain. And they have outpaced companies’ traditional abilities to track, anticipate, and respond to trends.

To adapt to what has become “certain uncertainty,” companies must find new ways to interact with consumers and gain insight into that uncertainty. It’s not as impossible as it might sound: they can rely on new “eyes and ears,” courtesy of the exploding availability of vast quantities of data from an increasing variety of sources as well as new capabilities afforded by technologies such as artificial intelligence to process, learn, and respond in near real time. These technology advances will enable a new kind of dialogue between companies and consumers that will lead not only to deeper insights into what consumers want but also to a proliferation of offerings from companies seeking to meet consumer needs. We call this emerging model the new consumer conversation.

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