Consumers Unmasked: New Study Reveals Evolving Attitudes and Behaviors Influencing Consumers
There's no doubt that consumers are changing the way they spend, but how much of the change is permanent? Much has impacted established retailers and consumer product companies, from massive societal shifts and cultural change to marketplace disruption and accelerations in direct-to-consumer (D-to-C) models. As businesses emerge from one of the most sustained periods of social instability in modern times, they find themselves at a crossroad: continue their adapted business model or return to the way things were before the pandemic? A recent comprehensive study found that perhaps a hybrid of the two is necessary.
The Consumer Council
A leader in product development, engineering and design announced the first in a four-part study which followed a consumer council comprised of 71 millennial and Gen Z shoppers from the U.K., the U.S. and Germany. Through discussion forums, Q&As, diaries and vlogs, the study explored their spending habits across the food, fashion, fitness, travel, and home industries.
Takeaways From Consumer Spending Habits by Category
The study examined the factors influencing consumers' spending patterns and decisions in five key industries:
- Food: Consumers favored creativity, and although curbside pickups, click-and-collect, and meal kits grew in popularity — and consumers feel some elements will be retained — people are also eager to return to their favorite local businesses for professionally prepared food, ambiance and an enjoyable experience.
- Fashion: Across all countries, people spent more online than they had ever before — and many anticipated that they had grown quite accustomed to this form of shopping. However, consumers mentioned that they missed the benefits of physical shopping, such as trying on clothes. Consumers also indicated that they valued deals, variety, and flexibility of payment and delivery options. Sustainability influences decisions, but isn't a primary driver.
- Fitness: The chief drivers behind consumer choices were the benefits of apps and subscriptions, along with data, support and communities that were judgment-free. Overall, the desire for gyms and exercise remained throughout the pandemic and will continue beyond.
- Travel: Worldwide, this industry took a colossal hit, and while the consumer council expressed a longing to travel again, only those from Germany were confident enough to book flights and accommodations overseas. The U.K. and U.S., however, faced the largest barriers to travel. A feeling of trust was valued over price as a purchase influencer. Our consumers leaned on brands they felt were reliable and offered late cancellations, refunds, rebooking flexibility and a COVID-safe experience.
- Home: Many of the surveyed consumers were at home 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and as such, the home was a focal point of their buying decisions. Many weren't home owners so they spent on small items that made them feel good, inside and in their gardens. Primarily, the desire to create an in-person feel from items drove spending.
Six key themes that best encapsulate consumers shifting attitudes are, but are not limited to, the following:
- Whatever Else Matters, Value for Money Matters More. Value for money (a combination of quality, availability, choice and price) is a key trigger.
- Finding the Best Deal is a "Badge of Honor." Searching for the best price became a challenge, and finding it was an achievement.
- Rewarding Experiences Are Expected. Consumers grew to expect more from their online experiences — they anticipate seamlessness but also fun. Consumers more willingly invited brands into their homes, paving the way for new "valued" brand interactions moving forward.
- Ethics Climb the Leaderboard. Many consumers voiced respect for brands that do (or are trying to do) good, but said altruism needs to be genuine and transparent. Consumers are ready to buy ethically sourced products if value for money is in place.
- COVID-19 Concerns Remain. The uncertainty of the pandemic still affects consumers' purchase decisions.
- Superbrands. Already super marketplace brands got even more "super." In particular, Amazon.com was a recurring standout across all shopping themes. The superbrand was frequently referenced as the benchmark by the council.
Though customers expressed desires for old habits, some changes such as online buying and increased convenience will remain in the future. As businesses navigate, learn and plan for evolving consumer motivations, these insightful data will be a great reference point moving into the post-pandemic era.
Consumers Unmasked provides a unique moment-in-time study to monitor and understand sticky vs. transient behavior. There will be three further studies — qualitative and quantitative — over the course of 12 months to enable this "live" view of consumer sentiment to be captured.
Natalie Gross is vice president and head of brand strategy at EPAM Systems, an enterprise software development, design, and consulting firm.
Related story: The Consumer-Driven Revolution: Where Are We Headed?
Natalie is recognized as one of the top three influential digital professionals in the UK (eConsultancy). She has spent the last 20 years leading and growing European agencies - including seven years as CEO of Global Marketing and Technology Agency Amaze, before joining TH_NK, acquired by EPAM in November 2018 - and building digital capability for their global clients including Toyota, Lexus, ASICS, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Soho House Group and The Adecco Group. She brings deep expertise in setting out digital visions and operating models, advising on global/local operations and developing talent and teams. As VP, Brand and Marketing, EMEA at EPAM, she is responsible for developing and enhancing go to market propositions for EPAM’s key brands and strategic initiatives.