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Key Takeaways

Offer value, but don’t be cheap

Discounters are still on the rise in Italy; Aldi has opened 50 stores in its first year here, ahead of its target of 45, and Lidl continues to expand, with two recent store openings in Sicily, taking the total to 45 on the island alone, as well as new branches in Bologna and Bergamo. And the discounter MD has announced plans to open 180 new stores by 2021. Consumers spending is subdued in the current economic and political climate, adding to the appeal of stores promising bargains. But a good deal isn’t always the cheapest. Balance quality with affordability.

Private label is growing in new ways

Pressure on household budgets is part of the reason why private label purchasing grew by around 2 percent in 2018, taking private label sales to almost 20 percent of the grocery total. But it’s not all low-priced options winning share, in fact many private label product prices have risen. Premium, organic and other specialist options are broadening the appeal of private label. For instance, the premium private label from Unes supermarkets, Il Viaggiatore Goloso, has now become a self-supporting brand with its own stores. And Penny Market’s new “Vicino – Prodotti del tuo territorio” private label range focuses on local, sustainable fresh produce.

Views about mobility are shifting

There’s growing interest in high-tech vehicles, and well over half of Italians say they’re keen to have an electric vehicle and for their car to be internet-enabled, providing access to apps and relevant services. Less appealing, at least for now, is the idea of having access to a car-sharing service rather than owning a car. Kantar TNS Connected Car research shows only 35 percent of Italian consumers are currently interested in this.

Organic is increasingly mainstream

Spending on organic food and drink is growing apace, up by 6.5 percent in the first half of 2018, building on record 10 percent growth for 2017. On average, nine out of 10 Italian families have bought at least one organic product in the past 12 months. Fresh produce and cereal-derived foods such as pasta account for more than half of organic sales, while interest is booming in organic milk and other dairy, eggs, meat and fish.


Fit to full screen

While mobile phone use is close to ubiquitous, this is still a multi-screen online market. In fact, Kantar TNS’s Connected Life study shows Italians spend more time online using a desktop computer or laptop (48 percent) than they do a mobile (41 percent), and 11 percent of online time is via a tablet. This means that while websites and advertising needs to be adapted to the small screen, it must work on other screens, too, and must be tailored accordingly.

Old media is still today’s media

There’s strong adoption of new technology, and 70 percent of all Italian consumers use a social media platform at least once a day. But don’t invest in the new at the expense of the old, which is still a highly effective way of reaching huge numbers of people. Even now, 43 percent of consumers’ media time is spent with traditional TV, print or other “old” media. This is in contrast to the global split, of around one-third of people’s time with old media, and two-thirds with new.

Multiscreening is yet to take off

Italian consumers are well equipped when it comes to connected gadgets, with every adult having an average of between three and four devices – higher than the global average. And while many people are looking at their phone at the same time as watching TV, the amount of multiscreening going on in Italy is much lower than elsewhere – only 26 percent of people say they use more than one device at once, compared to 35 percent globally.

Plastic peril proves divisive 

The launch of a ban on plastic shopping bags and a requirement that stores charge shoppers at least one cent for a biodegradable one has sparked fury in some quarters, with consumers and shopkeepers complaining on social media that the charge is unfair. The need to deal with plastic is clear to most, however, and the Tremiti islands off the eastern coast of Italy have banned plastic cutlery and plates to stop picnickers further harming what is a protected marine reserve. Many consumers want to do “the right thing”, but if it costs them money, enthusiasm can wane.

There are new ways to pay

Cash has always been king in this market, but growing numbers of retailers are now offering more modern alternatives for payment. The supermarket chains Esselunga, Bennet and Lidl have launched the option for shoppers to pay with Google Pay, while Auchan is gradually introducing the ability to pay for groceries using PayPal – for now only in selected cities and regions, but with plans for a broader rollout. 

Techies don’t always want more tech

Don’t assume that the early adopters of new technology necessarily want to adopt all things new and digital. In fact, the most digitally active customers are often the most discerning about the products and services they’re willing to try, and their attention is hardest to grab. So, don’t rely solely on broad demographic stereotypes. Within these target groups, there can be a huge diversity of behavior and attitudes, and even those with the most open minds need convincing.

Remember to be human

This is a well-connected market, but there’s a wariness about allowing technology to penetrate more deeply into consumers’ lives. Already, 30 percent of Italians feel they spend too long on their phone – slightly above the global average – and 48 percent object to devices that monitor their behavior, even if it means making their lives easier. Technology is both exciting and a little frightening, so be aware of when the human touch is required. Only a small minority are happy to pay for everything online.

Social marketing isn’t just one thing

Brands can use social media to inspire, inform and lead consumers to interact (and transact). The key to success is knowing which consumers are using which platform for what. Social video is a great source of inspiration – fashion and home decorating ideas, for instance – and that’s best done on YouTube, while Facebook is better suited to imparting information – upcoming discounts, free delivery and opening hours. The extent of a platform’s reach matters less than matching the right branded content to the platform’s users.

Big brother is watching

There are major concerns about data protection in Italy, with over half of people here worried about how much data companies have about them, and almost the same number lacking confidence in the government to use personal data in order to improve services. Be utterly transparent about how data will be used and protected, and demonstrate clear value in return for it being shared. Already, the use of ad blockers here is higher than the global average, and rising each year.

There’s wariness about wearing tech

Concerns about the sharing of personal data might be behind the slow takeup of wearable devices such as fitness trackers and smartwatches. Only around 14 percent of Italians currently have a wearable device of some kind, compared to a global average of 17 percent. Again, reassurances need to be made about how highly personal data are used and stored if consumers are to be convinced this kind of technology is for them.

Views on sugar are changing

There are plans to introduce a sugar tax on fizzy drinks in order to reduce taxes and provide more funding for universities, though this comes at a time of declining consumption of carbonated soft drinks. Summers may have been getting progressively hotter, but sales have dropped by a quarter in the past decade as consumers become more health-conscious. That said, health concerns aren’t stopping Italians treating themselves to a sweet indulgence. Sales of Christmas confectionery in 2018 were reported to be 7 percent higher in 2018 than in 2017.