Megatrends – Middle Class Retreat’s Effect on Consumer Behaviour

Change in middle-class behaviour in developed markets is driven by factors such as greater use of technology, low-income growth and rising socioeconomic uncertainties. From fickle consumers and trading up, companies must innovate and adapt to the changing consumer behaviour.

Our webinar Megatrends: Middle Class Retreat’s Effect on Consumer Behaviour explored how companies can adapt. Attendees followed up with many interesting questions, a selection of which are answered here.

What do you see happening to this group in the next 10 years? Said differently, how long do you expect this mega-trend to last?

By definition, a megatrend in Euromonitor’s view will exist for at least 10-15 years. We selected megatrends such as this based on historical performance and the fact that the drivers we have identified are unstoppable and resulting in long-term shifts/changes.

The Middle Class Retreat and key trends arising from it are here to stay in the long term, as the values, attitudes, lifestyle changes, and consumption habits formed as a response to the 2008-2009 global financial crisis have become engrained in the mindset of middle-class consumers while the drivers feeding the Middle-Class Retreat continue to occur around us.

What about the middle class in emerging markets? Is the changing behaviour reflected in emerging markets?

Although we identified this megatrend as rooted in developed markets, its interpretation and manifestations can change over time. For example, Healthy Living is a megatrend but what is healthy living today is different to healthy living 10 years ago.

The same goes for the Middle-Class Retreat. Although it started in developed markets, its manifestations has changed over time to apply also to emerging markets especially where the key drivers shaping the Middle-Class Retreat are at play. At Euromonitor, our consumer and industry analysts will continue to explore trends and themes relating to the Middle-Class Retreat in both developed markets and beyond, including the changing consumer behaviour of the middle class in emerging markets and the future of the global middle classes.

Q: Do the trends highlighted in the webinar apply to South Africa?

Yes, the trends associated with the Middle-Class Retreat can also be observed in South Africa. Between 2012 and 2017, South Africa’s middle class expanded from 1.9 million households to 2.3 million households. But despite this expansion, the country’s middle class is suffering a financial squeeze, as the real median income declined by 0.6% during the same period.

As we discussed in the webinar, falling incomes is one of the key driving forces for changing consumer behaviour. Other drivers at play include technology; changing values (e.g. a greater value placed on time, convenience and a simpler life); and environmental shifts and pressures (with South African consumers being acutely aware environmental issues directly impacting their lives).

Q: Many of the trends explored in the webinar seem to be focused around thriftier lifestyles, but a lot of our research up to now points to premiumisation – how can this be the case?

This really boils down how much better informed middle-class consumers are becoming – through technology, and through brands constantly stepping up their offer with initiatives that engage their audience. It’s this notion that is driving the middle-class consumer’s pursuit of value for money. Sure, they love a deal and want to be thrifty and sustainable, but they are also happy to pay more for something special.

This is probably best highlighted in the Trading Up, Trading Down trend where consumers save in one area to go premium in another. They might take a budget long-haul flight with Norwegian Airlines to afford a more expensive hotel and other treats at the destination, for example. Overall, premiumisation and the middle-class retreat can coexist alongside one another.

To learn more, watch the webinar Megatrends: Middle Class Retreat’s Effect on Consumer Behaviour on demand.