Cross Category Trends
1. Bracing for uncertain times
Given the Netherlands’ high exposure to the global economy, brewing macroeconomic could cast a pall over Dutch companies’ near and medium-term prospects. Challenges ahead might include escalating trade tensions, as well as the prospect of a global recession. The biggest potential obstacle is Brexit, and its possible effect on trade and labor flows throughout Europe. Proactive Dutch brands of all stripes should be drawing up contingency plans to address these challenges; it’s not at all unlikely that they will have to use them.
2. Dutch values still matter
At dawn of the 2010s, there were fears that Dutch brands would be crowded out by foreign corporate titans like Amazon and Aldi. In reality, local retailers like bol.com, Coolblue, and Albert Heijn have held strong by understanding local needs and upholding high Dutch standards of service. What’s more, many Dutch brands – including HEMA, thuisbezorgd.nl, Booking, Action, and the Netherlands’ many beer labels – have actually expanded outward to become even bigger world players. This success has been achieved not despite, but because of, these brands’ typically Dutch attributes like good value, smart design, and quirky humor.
3. Consumers need reassurance
Dutch consumer confidence began to decline precipitously in late 2018, and in 2019 it dipped into negative territory for the first time in four years. Though nowhere near the lows of 2013, Dutch consumers’ economic confidence and willingness to buy is clearly in a downward swoon. This is not yet a cause for brands to panic – it’s not as Dutch people will stop spending money overnight – but now is the time to double down on brand strengths, as well as revisit the strategies that worked best during previous gloomy spells. There are strong Dutch values around thrift, resourcefulness, and creativity under pressure that local brands can rely on in times when consumers seek reassurance.
4. Instant is the new quick
In search of convenience, security, and innovation, Dutch consumers have been especially eager to embrace new forms of quick payment. In 2018, cash accounted for only 37 percent of purchases and 59 percent of peer-to-peer transactions in the Netherlands. Dutch consumers embrace of contactless and digital transactions makes sense given the Netherland’s continent-leading rates of internet and smartphone penetration, and is reflected in a growing passel of Dutch fintech startups led by the likes of Adyen. In 2019, transactions sped up even further after the country’s major banks rolled out a new Instant Payment standard that credits users’ accounts within seconds, no matter the time or date. Combine these developments with the news that bol.com has begun to offer 2-hour delivery in select parts of Amsterdam – a fulfillment standard that’s likely to spread given the Netherlands’ high population density - and “instant” is clearly becoming the new “quick” in the world of Dutch commerce. Going forward, there’s a real opportunity for brands to make the combination of high speed and high service into a hallmark of Dutch commerce.
5. Trust in transparency and accountability
Amid media reports on corporate tax schemes, foreign corruption trials, money laundering controls, executive pay, and “greenwashing,” Dutch brands and businesses are more scrutinized than ever. Going forward, they will need to take proactive steps to explain their intentions and guard their reputations. Social media has increased brands’ exposure to feedback from ordinary citizens, and increasing public debates on inequality and sustainability will necessarily invite comment from leading Dutch businesses. An increasingly global economy has given activist investors, regulators, and the press more influence than ever on boardroom operations. In this environment, transparency and self-accountability should not be a last resort or a means of damage control, but a preferred way of doing business.
6. Collaboration wins
The notion of collaboration for success is more vital than ever in the Netherlands. The Dutch Top 30 is full of examples of brands linking up to seek mutual wins and enhance their global competitiveness. Consider, for instance, bol.com’s successful pivot to working with third-party sellers, as well as the brand’s tight integration with Albert Heijn grocery stores. Consider the way that banks have cooperated to seamlessly implement the new Instant Pay standard nationwide. And consider the very existence of one top Dutch brand, Senseo, as the fruit of a technical partnership between two others, Philips and Douwe Egberts. It turns out that the best way to compete may well be to collaborate.