We are living in an age of hyper-uncertainty with Covid, Russia’s war on Ukraine, inflation and other local and global factors of varying degrees of seriousness making it increasingly difficult to map out a road to the future, according to a recent fascinating, if not entirely cheery, piece of research from Behaviour & Attitudes (B&A).
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B&A’s annual Sign of the Times survey, some details of which were published in this newspaper late last month, contains many insights into how Irish people are coping with the waves of crisis, including war price hikes not seen since the 1980s and, of course, a global pandemic that refuses to go away.
It also draws parallels with the 1990s to show how much our world is changing. While nightclubs are no longer popular for mass and large gatherings, gyms and yoga studios are thriving in ways that were once unimaginable.
While we eat healthier and exercise more, our waistlines have increased alarmingly due to our dependence on take-out and processed food. One in four Irish people were considered obese in the 1990s. Only 3 percent of Irish people used to eat ready meals every day. Today, this number has risen dramatically to one in three and the popularity of takeaways is also on the rise.
This is the fun stuff. There is also darkness in the report.
It suggests that as a society we are more polarised than at any time since, perhaps, the Civil War when it comes to social and political issues – thanks, Twitter – with worse likely to be coming down the tracks later this year as tension between the haves and have-nots mounts and increasing debt and consumers strongly cutting back spending becomes more likely.
And the report, for all its comprehensiveness, doesn’t even get to the possibility that we will have to ration energy, something that would have been unimaginable even six months ago.
Despite all the gloom, there are still many things to learn about the Irish consumer and how they have been shaped over the past 30+ years.
Get the best
The report shows that we are more willing to spend more on the best products and have a greater appreciation for good food. There is also a significant increase in shopping around to find the best deals and a decrease of belief that well-known brands are better products than their own-brand products.
When asked if they would spend more to get the best, just over half of those polled in 1990s said yes. This compares to just under two-thirds of those polled today. 56% of those polled in the 1990s said they enjoyed the indulgences of buying good food, as opposed to 66% now. Meanwhile, 56% stated they were happy to treat themselves to the occasional treat. “finer things in life”While 77% of respondents agree with this statement, they are not yet in agreement.
Unfortunately, the report doesn’t define the finer things in the life, but we can imagine that they have evolved since the early 1990s, when fluorescent shellsuits, cubes cheese on sticks, and litres worth of wine for a fiver were all the rage.
One thing that seems to have not changed is our loyalty. That is odd considering our propensity to shop around. The statement was presented to me. “Once I find a brand that I like it is difficult to get me change,”59% agreed in 1991, exactly the same percentage agreed 30 years later.
Covid’s report looks at the present and future, as well as the then and now. It also examines how consumers have been affected by Covid and outlines ways that brands can adapt.
It states that the pandemic experience has sparked a strong desire to “make up for lost time”With two years of our lives described as “very significant, particularly for the young, the old, and anyone at transition points in life (young adults who are pre ‘settling down’, those looking for new relationships, the recently retired)”.
Research suggests that the making up for lost times thing has been evident since the end of last lockdown, manifesting itself in various ways.
It says that bringing children back into their activities was a major focus of the summer and autumn of 2013. While highlighting how young adults returned to bars and nightclubs during the short boom in the autumn 2021, it states,
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It suggests that the main focus of Covid’s efforts to curtail communal experiences is maintained. “dialling up the experiential is a good idea for most brands”.
This suggests that autumn will be a great time for brands to help consumers with budgeting, book-balancing, and other issues. “as the spoils of the summer will have to be paid for”, and adds that “the full economic implications of the period we’re living in haven’t quite hit us yet – we can all see those trains coming down the tracks. Anything brands can do to help consumers manage day-to-day expenses better will be welcomed. The age of the hyper-thrifty consumer may soon be upon us.”
It says that there is “great appreciation for brands that went the extra mile during the Covid crisis”But, it is noted that brands are expected to do more. “many of the younger/poorer members of society are still really struggling. These are longer term, more chronic issues, but brands in a position to support more marginalised groups will be appreciated for doing so.”
It asserts that brands with an interest social cohesion should be able to compete. “should be looking for ways they can connect different groups in society and foster commonalities between them”This note is from. “is sorely lacking for today’s consumers”.
What should brands do? They could draw. “connections through shared interests, shared spaces, priorities (think about some of the common views held by the youngest and the oldest on climate change for example)”.
B&A suggests another suggestion: Encouragement of “respectful debate and sharing of views”It warns brands to “always be vigilant about social media’s propensity to make the debate confrontational and avoid the pitfalls of Twitter in particular”.
It discusses how social media influencers and tribes influence consumer decision-making. “we are also strongly informed by the views of people who we feel understand and ‘get’ us”. It warns that while people’s connections on social media “may not actually deliver this, it could well be an illusion, but it is a powerful one all the same”.
It highlights a “flagging”In the motivation and desire to take significant steps to reduce carbon emissions, and says that this could be “environmental change can be associated with cost”People “don’t feel empowered or informed enough to make the changes required”.
The report also notes that people are unsure if there is enough leadership from the Government or big business to help make the necessary changes. “political parties (as a collective) are not signalling this as a priority. Covid showed us what could be achieved when things were truly urgent. Almost none of that focus or monetary investment is being put into fighting climate changes.”
It also speaks to people “don’t feel anything has actually been achieved, or if it has it’s too small to be of consequence [and] feel isolated, with our own efforts not worth much. We need to feel like part of something bigger and that we’re all working together.”
It encourages brands consider their messaging and states that consumers are more open for change if a company starts small with a positive frame. “Tone is also important. The constant doom and gloom with no strategies for improvement are causing consumers to disengage.
“People need to be given strategies and clear direction on what makes a difference – any brands that can do this will be at a big advantage. The feeling that green behaviours should make economic sense for the consumer continues to grow and there will be very little patience for paying more for green options as the cost-of-living crisis kicks in.”
It is clear that consumers are aware of this information. “they can’t achieve much on their own. Making people feel like they’re part of a bigger, collective effort is so important”It emphasizes that a brand can be recognized as a “brand” if it is “becoming greener”It is a must “be authentic and clever, otherwise it is washing and wallpaper – people see this”.
The report also examines how our shopping habits have changed, and points out the pandemic-fueled explosion in online retail. It claims that many people were able to overcome the barriers to online shopping because of the pandemic.
The long periods where non-essential retail wasn’t available encouraged consumers to try shopping online, even if it hadn’t previously, with many figuring out issues such as how best to handle returns policies, how to gauge clothes sizing and/or which sites work for them from a sizing point of view, and how to get a better handle on materials, look and feel in an online purchase.
It also noted that online retail is a growing trend. “can feel like a very functional experience compared to in-store, connection and integration with social media is changing this, [with] Instagram Influencers playing an important role in providing inspiration and alerting us to what’s out there, something we used to rely on in-store to do.”
The research doesn’t dismiss in-store shopping and predicts that it will continue its place. “but it now must work hard to overcome the advantages online has for consumers”This includes the ease with the which people can search for and compare prices, lack of queues and wider availability of products.
It also highlights how easy it is to shop from your bed or at work.
Research has shown that people still love to shop at stores for a variety of reasons. “Shopping still delivers as a fun way to spend time for many, though there is less patience for things like queuing, crowded stores, poor merchandising,”It says.
There is also people-watching. “We realised during the pandemic just how much other people add to our shopping experiences – watching them for fashion tips, following their lead in terms of navigating the store,”The report continues.
It demonstrates the benefits of interacting with products in person and states that even the best online experiences can be better. “can’t match the total sensorial experience of seeing, feeling, engaging with things in reality”.
The research highlights a “clear love/hate relationship with tech”It says that it has many positive impacts on our society. “We are living in an insular, tech-driven society, but there are signs of desire for social contact and connection”It suggests that “organisations need to consider how they utilise both in-personal and online to deliver adequate” customer experience.
It is all about focus “will also need to be placed on building brands creatively in an increasingly digital world, likely through developing emotional connection. Strictly transactional relationships with brands online is part of the fear surrounding tech dominance, which highlights the growing need for offline comms.”