The last few years have seen a series of unprecedented events that have created a new paradigm where consumer expectations and needs have been radically redefined. In this new world, retailers need to respond with a new approach in tune with our changed times.
So how did we get here? Firstly, the pandemic’s cultural legacy has been a shift to a life where many of us continue to work from home, meaning retail businesses need to cater to a new stay-at-home existence. Meanwhile post-pandemic we have seen political instability and huge inflationary pressures impacting many. The climate crisis is also becoming more apparent on the back of record global temperatures and a series of catastrophic natural disasters. This is also feeding into permanently changed behaviour from millions, particularly younger consumers.
For every retail marketer, an evolving playbook is needed for this new age to respond to this evolution of behaviour. Both cultural, economic and environmental. Based on some recently commissioned research with YouGov, we identified five key factors driving behaviour at this time.
This means something different to everyone, but in a recession or a flatlining economy, customers spend differently. So what does affordability mean for your consumer and how do brands accentuate this factor? I recently spoke alongside AMDEA who are the body that represents the white goods industry in the UK, who did some research in relation to the Eco buttons on washing machines and dishwashers.
They revealed it was saving consumers on average £90 a year. They now really highlight this fact to drive consumers to brands promoting this feature either in store or online. Knowing that affordability is a critical criteria for consumers, brands can smartly promote the long term savings they can offer. Perhaps paying back the cost of the appliance within five years. When you multiply this reduction in energy costs across several appliances in the home, you can see how the savings increase.
Furthermore the energy saving ‘eco’ modes can provide a win/ win of appealing to sustainability minded consumers.
2) Essential trumps desirable
We are seeing far more caution in the market for spending on big ticket items in particular. Therefore positioning your products as ‘essential’ items in the psyche of your target audience is important as part of the marketing mix.
Perhaps the days of assuming there is an implied need for your brand are no longer present. Disposable income in all households, even middle earners, is becoming more scarce. They may want your product. That desire may be there. They may covet it. They may feel that they need it, but unless it’s absolutely essential and integral to their life, they are not going to buy it.
Therefore highlighting why your products are ‘essential’ to their needs. It is not so much that it is on offer but more, how does it add genuine value to their lives? Why is this going to be a product they can’t live without? Tapping into the primal needs of the customer in more challenging times is a way retailers can craft their story and resonate honestly with their target audience.
As an extension to being essential, people will need to feel that the item that they are buying is built to last for more than the lifespan of your average reality star. Low down on the list of drivers influencing behaviour in today’s climate are more ephemeral qualities like perceived ‘brand value’.
Rather than offering a lifestyle associated with a brand or product, retailers could focus on the quality of their products. This should be the starting place for a conversation about a brand and how it will last for someone whose budget is going to be squeezed for some time. The hardiness of your products, particularly for those more expensive items in your range, is crucial. No one likes being ripped off but people are far less willing to tolerate buyer’s remorse in a recession.
Indeed we are now in a new reality where brands have to accept quality and durability is delivered at a more affordable price point. Certainly if they want to maintain market share. Losing market share in a downturn can be very difficult to recover from, when times return to being good. Long term thinking needs to trump short-termism.
The longer something lasts, of course the more sustainable it is. Sustainability is a huge driver for younger generations. Far from moving away from this priority at a cash strapped time, consumers are in fact doubling down. Indeed research from SAP revealed that despite the cost of living, over half (52%) of UK consumers aged 18-34 were actively looking to shop more from retailers with strong sustainability credentials last Christmas.
This is not greenwashing but also understanding this generation will do their research about the full life cycle of a product. The good news is the extent to which this isn’t something that needs to sit in isolation to your other brand positioning. If something can save money through assisting less energy use or being more durable it is therefore more sustainable and solves for a number of current consumer concerns.
Think through the life cycle of your products and make sure they stands up and are robust. It is not just a page on your website espousing your values, but should run though your whole business model like a stick of rock (made with ethically sourced sugar).
Finally innovation remains of critical importance. To grow you have to be of relevance tomorrow as well as today. Particularly when there is a real need to stand out from competitors with people less willing to make multiple purchases.
Indeed innovation plus value has also been a winning facet of the trend for air fryers. Indeed according to research by price comparison website PriceRunner, demand has soared by 3,000 per cent since 2021.
However critically the air fryer answers several other current consumer needs states. We, post-covid are eating at home more and it is a way of getting your family and your friends and getting your kids involved. It is also healthier. This addresses the growing trend for healthier versions of popular meals.
Most crucial to the surging trend though is the value proposition. The money that can be saved through cooking at a time of rising energy costs is significant and of course energy efficient.
In summary, retailers do need to recognise changed behaviour and a new paradigm on the back of a series of interconnected trends and crises. These centre on changed lifestyles that are more based in the home, a growing movement for sustainability and most crucially the need to save money.
Consumers quite simply won’t invest in the way they did before meaning retailers need a laser like focus on their new needs states. The values they need to highlight are: value for money, being essential, durability, sustainability and innovation. The more they can be all of the above, the more customers will respond.
To remain relevant as we face an economically challenging climate is tough. For some, this will require a radical step change.
To read the full article by Daniel Todaro, Managing Director please visit Retail Sector