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Robots, Mood Enhancers, and Scooters: Top Consumer Trends for 2020

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What are the biggest consumer trends set to shape 2020? Technology will drive many of the changes, predicts market researcher Euromonitor International.

People will face challenges in safeguarding their privacy online as they rely more on artificial-intelligence devices at home, seek better transportation options and expect highly personalized digital communication, Euromonitor says in its annual trend report. The year ahead will also bring clean-air activism, heightened demand for reusable products and greater inclusivity for all consumers, the firm predicts.

Euromonitor, a London-based global market research firm, has released its forecasts since 2010. Four years ago, it correctly predicted the rise of the “buying time” trend, which flagged how consumers wanted apps and online tools to save them time. In 2018, Euromonitor also noted the rise of “clean lifers,” consumers who choose to live more healthfully and ethically.

But their forecasts haven’t always come true, yet: In 2018, a prediction that consumers would participate in the product-creation process ended up being “less impactful that year,” Euromonitor says, noting that it could still happen in the years ahead. The trend of companies using DNA-based personalization also didn’t take off in 2018, as Euromonitor predicted, but by 2019 there was an uptick in activity, the company said.

Here are its predictions for the biggest global consumer trends:

Privacy Concerns Mount

More consumers expect brands to customize products and services for them, but hesitate when such personalization requires surrendering personal information. Consumers remain suspicious of data-collection efforts, with more than 40% of consumers believing that targeted ads based on online searches are an invasion of privacy, according to a 2019 Euromonitor survey. Younger consumers are more willing to share their data in exchange for personalized offers but want transparency in how it will be used.

Euromonitor predicts that legislation will shift more privacy control to consumers and will enable them to more proactively opt out of companies tracking their digital habits if it doesn’t directly benefit them. “Consumers will surely become progressively less trusting of companies extracting and using their data without transparency, adequate security and opt-out options,” Euromonitor says.

More Robots

Consumers are beginning to accept that robots or other types of artificial intelligence can perform jobs traditionally done by humans. They are buying more AI-enabled home appliances and virtual assistants, like Amazon Alexa, and adopting new habits to use them, including voice commands. “Though complete trust of and universal access to this technology will take more time, we are embracing the concept of AI-driven robots for our own welfare, convenience and comfort,” Euromonitor says.

Homebodies

During times of economic, political or personal uncertainty, consumers often want to retreat to their homes. Now, thanks to high-speed internet access, more at-home services and faster delivery times, many fully can. The percentage of global households with access to broadband internet has doubled since 2010, allowing many consumers to work from home, according to Euromonitor research.

“Without having to leave the house to go to the office, consumers are reluctant to leave for any reason,” the firm says. “As a result, remote workers are fueling growth in areas such as internet retailing, home-fitness providers and ready-to-eat food and grocery delivery at the expense of brick-and-mortar stores, gyms and restaurants.”

Instant Gratification

Shorter attention spans means that people expect information to be as accessible as possible in the quickest possible time frame. Euromonitor calls this the “catch me in seconds” trend, flagging brands that offer “drops,” or the practice of selling exclusive merchandise for a short period of time, and the increasing availability of faster video-playback speeds, which allow consumers to watch more online content in less time. Friends, family and independent consumers are becoming the most trusted sources as consumers try to quickly decipher the most relevant information amid the vast trove they can now access.

Better Travel

As the world’s population becomes increasingly urban, residents are growing frustrated with congested roads and overcrowded public transportation. More people now turn to navigation apps to plan their journeys and offer real-time updates on the best way to travel via train, taxi, electric bike, scooter, helicopter or a customized combination of them all depending on time, budget, weather and occasion.

“Consumers want their transportation across cities to be modular and personalized to their individual needs in 2020 as they embrace a crowded world that is no longer seen as car-first,” Euromonitor says.

Inclusivity

As more consumers want products that satisfy their needs as well as reflect their values, brands are shifting their products and services to be more accessible to everyone and adopting marketing that represents individuals beyond the mainstream. More products and services are highlighting “inclusivity for all,” including people with physical and mental disabilities. “From fashion to toys, games, foodservice and interior design, brands are responding to a societal push for change,” Euromonitor says.

Local Pride

More consumers want local brands and products, seeing them as more authentic and better representing their individuality, Euromonitor says. In addition to pride in hometown goods and an appetite for niche brands, environmental concerns are also motivating consumers to prioritize local businesses. “For North America, the shopping mall and chained retail experience feels homogenized and steadily less appealing,” says Euromonitor. “People want to connect to their neighborhood again and support local, independent traders.”

Clean-Air Activism

Awareness of air pollution is affecting more consumers’ purchase decisions and pushing more brands to position themselves as environmentally conscious. As many cities exceed safe air pollution limits, eco-anxiety is pushing shoppers to buy more sustainable products that allow for a guilt-free experience.

Euromonitor expects climate activists to intensify their stance against carbon emissions, further pushing consumers and businesses to do their part in the year ahead. The firm predicts brands will fight for market share based on their efforts to contribute to environmental protection. “Vegan, fair trade and natural are becoming must-have brand credentials,” Euromonitor says.

Reuse Is the New Recycle

New circular business models aim to promote sharing, reusing, refilling and renting to avoid waste. The move is powered by increased environmental awareness, especially among younger generations who prioritize experiences over ownership.

Still, companies trying to tap into this trend need to balance between sustainability and convenience as consumers still prioritize efficacy, value and aesthetics, Euromonitor says, advising that brands should incentivize consumers to switch to reusable or refillable options that are both convenient and affordable. “As more companies integrate reusable packaging into their product lines, this option will be less of a competitive advantage and more of a must-have,” Euromonitor says.

Mood Enhancement

Consumers are increasingly making purchase decisions to improve personal needs like anxiety or low energy, seeking products that offer mood-enhancement and brain function boosts. Legal cannabis is a leader of catering to the broad spectrum of mental well-being, Euromonitor says, estimating that the global legal market will reach $166 billion by 2025. The firm predicts more functional botanicals in food and beverage products including turmeric, mushrooms and matcha, and hormone stimulants in cosmetics.

“For decades people all over the world used substances such as tobacco and alcohol, despite consequences, to self-regulate their mental health,” Euromonitor says. “However savvy consumers are seeking a more diversified, subtle and targeted approach to the age-old problem of mental wellbeing.”

Write to Ellen Byron at ellen.byron@wsj.com

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FPIs pour in Rs 1,624 cr in Jan so far as US-China deal boosts sentiment

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Foreign portfolio investors (FPI) have infused a net sum of Rs 1,624 crore into the Indian capital markets in January so far, buoyed by the signing of the first phase of the US-China trade deal.


According to the latest depositories data, FPIs invested a net Rs 13,304 crore in equities and withdrew a net Rs 11,680 crore from the debt segment between January 1-24. This translates into a total net inflow of Rs 1,624 crore.



“After starting the year on a muted note, investments from FPIs has picked up pace and most of that flows came after US and China signed a trade deal putting the trade war between them on a pause,” said Himanshu Srivastava, senior analyst manager research at Morningstar Investment Adviser India.


The latest investments came despite challenges such as enhanced geopolitical tension between the US and Iran and dwindling domestic economic growth, Srivastava noted.


On the domestic front, “there are some signs of India shaking away the slowdown with business activity picking up and this is reflecting in the investments coming into equities. Besides, after the limit to which FPIs can invest in debt instruments has been increased, more inflows into the debt category can be expected,” said Harsh Jain, co-founder and COO at Groww.


The Reserve Bank of India on Thursday raised the investment limit for FPIs in government and corporate bonds, a move that is likely to bring in more foreign funds in the country.


According to the current norms, short-term investments by an FPI should not exceed 20 per cent of the total investment of that FPI in either central government securities (including treasury bills) or state development loans.


The same norms are applicable on investments in corporate bonds.


The short-term investment limit has now been increased from 20 per cent to 30 per cent in both the cases, the RBI said in a circular.


Additionally, the RBI has also made relaxation in the voluntary retention route (VRR) for FPI investments in debt. The investment cap through VRR has been doubled to Rs 1.5 trillion, the RBI said in another circular.


Going forward, “all eyes will now be on the upcoming Budget to get further cues. This will play major role in terms of shaping up the investment views of foreign investors and decision to invest in the Indian equity markets,” Srivastava added.



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Iraqi security forces clash with hundreds of protesters in central Baghdad By Reuters

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi security forces firing teargas and live bullets clashed with hundreds of protesters in central Baghdad on Sunday, a Reuters witness and security sources said, following a push to clear out a sit-in camp in the heart of the capital.

At least 14 protesters were injured, the security and medical sources said.

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Facebook content moderators required to sign PTSD forms

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Content moderators working at a European facility for Facebook have been required to sign a form explicitly acknowledging that their job could cause post-traumatic stress disorder, according to documentation and employee confirmation obtained by the Financial Times.

The facility, which is operated by global professional services company Accenture, hosts roughly 400 content moderators who trawl through hundreds of disturbing images and videos — ranging from bestiality and child abuse to hate speech, self-harm and terrorism — across Facebook and Instagram every day.

The moderators’ jobs entail making granular decisions about why each image or video is objectionable. One employee at the facility, who asked not to be named, said that people working there “cry every day”, and that many “take sick leave for mental health issues, sometimes three or six months”.

Accenture runs at least three content moderation sites for Facebook in Europe, including in Warsaw, Lisbon and Dublin, where workplace safety rules are some of the most stringent in the world and include protections for mental health.

The document was distributed to all moderators at the European facility in early January via email, asking them to sign it immediately. It stated: “I understand the content I will be reviewing may be disturbing. It is possible that reviewing such content may impact my mental health, and it could even lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

The two-page form also outlines Accenture’s WeCare programme, which provides employees with access to “wellness coaches” from whom they can receive mental health support. The company says, however, that “the wellness coach is not a medical doctor and cannot diagnose or treat mental disorders”.

Facebook is facing lawsuits in California brought by two former moderators, and a slew of personal injury claims in Ireland, where its international headquarters are based, brought by a dozen Facebook content moderators who have all experienced severe mental health conditions, ranging from panic attacks to PTSD.

A similar document was also provided by Accenture to workers at a YouTube content moderation facility in Austin, Texas, according to the Verge.

“Now we see it in black and white: Big Tech knows full well that content moderation causes PTSD in its workers,” said Cori Crider, director of Foxglove, a UK-based litigation non-profit organisation that is assisting with investigation, strategy and campaigning in one of the Irish cases.

“The question is, when are Google and Facebook going to clean up their unsafe factory floor? Pushing responsibility on to the individual worker, as this document tries to do, won’t cut it. It’s on them to make their workplace safe.”

A spokesperson for Accenture said: “Although targeted at new joiners, the document was also reissued to existing personnel, but there are no consequences for not signing the updated document.

“We regularly update the information we give our people to ensure that they have a clear understanding of the work they do — and of the . . . wellness program and comprehensive support services we provide.”

Facebook said it did not review or approve forms like the one Accenture had sent and was not aware that its content moderators were being asked to sign it. It did say, however, that it required its partners to offer extensive psychological support to its moderators on an ongoing basis.

“Facebook themselves were part of an industry group called the Technology Coalition that proposed standards for protecting moderators’ mental health years ago — in 2015,” Ms Crider added. “But they didn’t follow those standards. So these companies are going to be hard pressed to say senior management weren’t aware of the problem.”

According to an employee who signed one of these acknowledgment forms, every moderator at the facility was emailed a link and asked to sign immediately. The employee said they had seen multiple instances of severe mental health conditions among their colleagues, and had also been diagnosed with depression themselves, something they believed was exacerbated by their working conditions. However, they had never previously been asked to sign a form acknowledging the potential for damage to their health.

“When I started to work there, I thought graphic violence and sexual and animal abuse would be the hardest part of this job for me, and I think they were,” said the moderator. “But if you work on hate speech six hours a day, five days a week, it gets to you. I’m a cis white heterosexual male, so I can’t imagine how it affects the people that represent minorities.”

The moderator explained that it was not just the content that caused severe mental health problems among employees, but also that Accenture’s running of the facility contributed to the overall stress levels.

“I would stress . . . that the employment conditions are a factor in the high rate of mental health problems in our workplace,” the person said. “When I started, we had five possible decisions to make; now there are more than 250 possible combinations of labels. The content policies are changing every two weeks.”

Employees are expected to hit quality scores of 98 per cent, which means their decisions on why a piece of content is egregious have to match that of their quality reviewer in almost every instance.

Every few minutes, a notification with quality scores pops up on an employee’s screen, showing them how many mistakes they have made. Their scores determine if their short-term contracts are terminated or extended. “The anticipation of the quality score is what is very stressful for me, and for most of us,” the person said.

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