1 The rise of e-commerce
E-commerce is on the increase – it’s now even possible to buy a new car online, thanks to a partnership between Amazon and the carmaker SEAT. But the use of e-commerce varies considerably, not only between different people but also between categories. When they’re looking for deals on travel, entertainment and technology, many consumers are comfortable shopping online, but those same people are less inclined to click when they’re shopping for clothing, shoes, baby products and groceries, with the majority still preferring the physical shopping experience for those. Kantar TNS research shows that among those categories with low e-commerce penetration, there is strong consumer interest in switching to online if the price is right, delivery is fast and quality is guaranteed; this is, therefore, a market in which apparently stable categories are ripe for disruption by new online offerings that can change buying behavior. Most of the online shopping that’s happening so far is via laptops and desktop computers; smartphone shopping is yet to take off at scale.
2 Consumers are concerned
Across the western world, we are seeing that in a climate of political and economic uncertainty, people are scrutinizing more closely at the brands they engage with, and are seeking brand partners that share their values. No longer are recyclable packaging and a tree-planting policy enough to satisfy increasingly discerning and well-informed consumers. People are now reading labels, but also reading up on companies’ supply chains and how businesses treat their employees. Doing “good” in these areas is not just a “nice to have”, nor a luxury available only to those brands that can afford to make sustainability a priority. Now, brands can’t afford not to make this a priority. They need to work towards a bigger purpose than making and selling things.
3 Experience is the new, new thing
People don’t just want to accumulate more things – they want to enjoy life and make memories, and that means consumers are looking for brands that can deliver or help them create experiences. It is this desire that fuels demand for things like coffee shops, where everyone knows the cost of the actual coffee is only a fraction of what the customer pays, but it’s worth it because along with the coffee, the customer is also getting the music, the service, the sofas and ambience – and perhaps even a brief sense of relief from the daily routine. As well as making memories, consumers increasingly want to create content they can share; it’s important that experiences are photogenic, especially in a market where nearly 20 percent of people online are using Instagram, and 70 percent are Facebookers. In the consumer’s world, the online and offline experience are inseparable; brands can use technology to ensure that the experiences they offer are similarly integrated.
4 The balance of power has altered
Evolving media consumption habits are changing the way people relate to brands, and the balance of power has shifted in favour of the consumer. Not only are they in the driving seat when it comes to determining when they engage with brands – about a third of French consumers are using digital ad blockers – they’re also being guided by new sources of information and opinion. When looking for a product or brand recommendation, Facebook is a frequently mined resource, followed by Twitter and YouTube. In fact, more than a third of French consumers now consult Facebook about brands, while only about 20 percent consult their friends and family in the physical world, and about the same proportion (19 percent) consult blogs, online forums or review sites. In this climate, it’s essential that brands are online listening to what’s being said about them, and responding in real time, both to general sentiment and to individuals’ questions and expectations. Email and instant messaging are much preferred as a customer service tool to having a discussion with staff in a store, and among the most intensely digital consumers, the preference for dealing with a brand online and via social channels is especially high. The opportunity is strong for brands that can be available when and where consumers want them, without being seen as intrusive.
5 Generation gaps are widening
Older people are redefining what it means to age, with retirees enjoying active, busy lives. At the other end of the spectrum, young people are not just very different to their parents, they’re increasingly different to each other. Key distinctions are emerging between the young and the very young, and they aren’t always what you might expect. Generation Z, who are still in their teens, are the most likely to be influenced by celebrity content, for instance, and are more engaged with online music. But they are also highly diverse, and in many cases are more sensitive about privacy than those in their 20s and 30s, and are the most likely to say they only enjoy content that feels honest and real. This makes the creation of communication that is effective across all generations tough – not just because they appreciate different content through different channels, but are also responsive to contact from brands at different times of day. What unites people across generations is a preference for branded content that is useful or entertaining ahead of many other ad formats, unless those formats give users the power to adapt and interact with them.