For the 2012 consumer – from toddlers upwards, technology is part of life with a lot of simultaneous tech consumption (watching TV and using a computer at the same time, for example). Access to the internet has extended to accompany people as they go about their daily lives, at work and on holiday. We're moving into a technology space where mobility is becoming less about devices, and more about the mist of data that we each generate with every interaction on the internet.
Of course, there's a backlash: a vocal population of consumers who critique today's over-reliance on technology, virtual lives and fixation on various screens. There are also some interesting fusions of tech-led and 'slow' lifestyles that are impacting on buying behaviour.
For 2012 consumers, being connected to technology is commonplace. Savvy brands are recognising that consumers want a seamless flow between their on- and offline lifestyles as buying behaviour has become increasingly influenced by new technology.
Is the internet a human right? The United Nations recently declared that disconnecting people from it is a violation of human rights. Consumers of all ages pursue internet access via computers, tablets and smartphones for communicating, information, and shopping.
According to Euromonitor International's Annual Study 2011:
- 36% of respondents buy a physical item online at least once a month Click to tweet!
- As many as 45% of respondents read reviews of products or services online at least once per month Click to tweet!
- 16% of respondents globally buy groceries online at least once per month, with only 8% doing so at least once per week Click to tweet!
Global Online Retailing in real terms: 2010/2011/2012
Source: Euromonitor International from trade sources/national statistics
Note: Online Retailing expressed in Constant 2011 prices (Fixed 2011 Exchange Rate); Data for 2012 are forecast.
Euromonitor International data shows that US$399.1 billion was spent online in 2011, while in a bid to woo online consumers, online adspend jumped by 16.6% in the year to 2011.
Meanwhile, social networking and other communications tech experiences have consumers in their grip. More consumers are approaching customer service offerings via social networking rather than via the telephone. In 2011, an Israeli couple named their daughter “Like” paying homage to Facebook and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines have announced plans to trial a “meet and seat” service that will link travellers' Facebook and LinkedIn profiles to the check-in process. Resisting the urge to check social networking sites for updates is more difficult than turning down a drink, researchers from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business found in research published in February 2012.
Older consumers are connected too. A study commissioned by German electronics trade association BITKOM at the start of 2012 examined internet habits of silver surfers and found that around 60% of German 50 to 69-year-olds are part of the social network. In their book “Branded: How Retailers Engage Consumers With Social Media And Mobility,” Bernie Brennan and Lori Schafer claim that buyers aged 52 and older are up to five times more engaged with social media than they were two years ago. “Their buying power is less,” said Brennan, “but their sheer numbers are more.”
Older adults, living independently for longer periods, are creating a potentially huge market for technologies and services that promote wellness, mobility, autonomy and social connectivity according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AgeLab. Significantly, social networking and social gaming will bridge the generation gap, as users link up and communicate with like-minded people and relatives, rather than sticking to their geographical peer groups as they might once have done.
At the moment, interest in the marriage of social media and finance remains high. In early February 2012, “USA Today” reports that the conversation tying tweets and social media and stocks together has become louder since last autumn, when an academic study at Indiana University found a correlation between the collective mood of millions of people identified by tweets and the direction of the Dow Jones industrial average.
Technology as lifestyle accessory
There are indications everywhere of the recognition that technology has become a lifestyle accessory. In Israel, computer chain BUG calls itself a “Digital lifestyle store”. Few holidaying consumers want a complete break from being online – with the travel industry responding with “bleisure” (combined business/leisure trips). Consumers continue to delight in the variety of apps on offer. Meanwhile, pets are part of this digital lifestyle. Social media specialist, Stephen Davies, explains: “We use sites like Facebook and Twitter as an extension of our real-world selves and when we think of our pets as part of the family we want them involved too.”
The ubiquity of technology has nurtured a longing for a 'slower', more simple life among many consumers; a lifestyle with a less instant and connected nature, more local in feel, one coloured by more than a hint of nostalgia.
A late January 2012 article on Salon.com is entitled “Can music learn from the slow-food movement”. Steve Jobs, the media recently reported, preferred listening to music on vinyl than on an iPod. Cultural critic, Kurt Anderson, in “You Say You Want a Devolution?” in Vanity Fair, January 2012 observes that “Ironically, new technology has reinforced the nostalgic cultural gaze.” He believes that now that we have instant universal access to every old image and recorded sound, the future has arrived and it's all about dreaming of the past. For Anderson, this is largely due to an often unconscious reaction to “All the profound nonstop newness we're experiencing on the tech and geopolitical and economic fronts.”
Many consumers feel online shopping is lacking. Last November, Finnish grocery store K-Citymarket installed a slow checkout lane for the infirm and anybody who wants a more relaxed shopping experience while new publication “The Book of Awesome” lists simple pleasures for rediscovery by a younger generation.
Consumers are taking up more offerings that promise an escape from the pace of modernity. Last July, Swedish telecoms provider Telia launched a download allowing customers to disable the internet for a set time at home while US outdoor clothing brand Weatherproof opened its New York store recently with a 'leave your Blackberry at the door' policy. Dr. Loren Cordain has written “The Paleo Diet” with instructions on how to eat like our caveman ancestors. Eric Demby, one of the founders of the Brooklyn Flea Market, argues that “It's kind of old-fashioned, and it's about people interacting in the real world, which I think people crave more and more. The more online we go, the more offline interaction becomes a kind of romantic thing.”
Some consumers are choosing to take time out of social networking. “I wasn't calling my friends anymore,” said Ashleigh Elser, 24, to the New York Times. “I was just seeing their pictures and updates and felt like that was really connecting to them.”
There is no shortage of warnings, worrying surveys and gadget addiction rehabilitation centres highlighting the consumer over-reliance on technology and the restricted mindset it induces. Internet activist Eli Pariser, author of “The Filter Bubble” uses this term to describe what he sees as the mind-narrowing process in which websites use algorithms to selectively guess what information users want to see, limiting their exposure to new information.
A 2011 report commissioned by UNICEF, looking at children in families across Spain, Sweden and the UK, accused families with overworked parents of 'co-existing' under the same roof rather than sharing time and space together, with children encamped in their 'media bedsits'. This has coincided with public discussion of the virtues of 'slow parenting'. Launched by Asobi Toys in the UK this winter, the slow toy movement promotes toys which are fuelled by kids' imaginations not batteries.
Finding a happy medium with technology
The majority of consumers want seamless access to positives of the digital world – choice, convenience and control – and the real world. A number of commentators see 2012 as an exciting year for “search” as complex search and knowledge management algorithms and the growing layer of location-based applications fuse as “smart space”. In its recent promotion highlighted at SlowTravelNorth.com, the Tourism Authority of Thailand reported: “Our research has found that tourists aged between 25 and 45 years now want to achieve a better balance between technology and simplicity.” Israeli drinks brand, Spring, has a herbal drink called Log Out featuring an invitation to find the brand on Facebook.
Chinese e-commerce giant Taobao is stepping up its rivalry with bricks-and-mortar retailers with the launch of a 'try out' home furnishings showroom in Beijing. Taobao aims to overcome a hurdle hampering the growth in Chinese internet retailing – the local need to examine major items in person.
Books and ideas on the optimal ways of blending technology into our lifestyles and the promise this holds such as the following are everywhere:
- In her new book, “The Republic of Noise,” New York City educator Diana Senechal reminds readers to make time for reflection, and thereby enhance the very conversations new media and technology make possible;
- In “Too Big to Know,” David Weinberger of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, argues that because “networked facts” are always available, not removed, we have entered a new golden age in which technology has finally caught up with humans' endless curiosity with the potential to revolutionise jobs and research. His optimism extends to positive expectations about diversity which he believes is integral to the internet, a network of people and ideas that are not totally in sync.
Look out for the ninth in the series: TOP 10 CONSUMER TRENDS FOR 2012: Youth – Future Imperfect
About Euromonitor International's Annual Study, Global Youth Survey and Quick Pulse Surveys
Euromonitor International's Annual Study surveyed 16,000 consumers of all ages (15-65+) in eight mature and developing markets in July and August 2011, questioning respondents on the following themes: health and wellness, food and drink, technology, shopping and leisure, personal traits and values.
Euromonitor International's Global Youth Survey reached out to young consumers living in 15 countries with the largest and fastest-growing youth populations. Fielded August-September 2011, the survey questioned 16-24 year olds on the following themes: financial expenditure, food and drink, technology, leisure activities, personal traits and values.
In Quick Pulse surveys, Passport Survey reaches out to Euromonitor's network of in-country analysts and in-house researchers around the world in order to find out more about current consumer attitudes and habits on a wide variety of topics, from economic outlook to daily activities.
Note: Euromonitor surveys are online surveys; all respondents are drawn from the online population in any given country, not its population as a whole. This means that in emerging markets, respondents tend to be more educated, affluent and urban.