Founder and CEO of market research consultancy, Alter Agents; believer that powerful insights can change businesses.
The holidays and the New Year are upon us, so it’s time to think about our plans for 2022 and the prevailing trends just around the corner. From economics and politics to consumer sentiment research challenges, here are four trends that I’m advising clients to keep an eye on.
Inflation has been on the minds of many American consumers in the latter half of 2021, and it will stay there until they see gas and grocery prices fall again. And while consumers might understand why some retailers are hiking prices, they won’t be happy about it. But there’s an even bigger hazard that brands and merchants alike need to avoid: skimpflation.
Coined by NPR’s Greg Rosalsky, “skimpflation” is a new term to describe the business practice of reducing services or quality in order to avoid increasing the price. While it’s a useful tool for protecting a company’s bottom line, those considering this strategy need to be hyper-aware of what it does to the customer’s experience.
We know from our Shopper Influence research that customers always want to feel like they’re getting a good deal for their money and that, if they feel they aren’t getting that deal, it can be a top barrier to purchase. If skimpflation is part of your business’s coping strategy, it needs to be done in a way that doesn’t cheapen the customer’s experience.
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On the other hand, if you don’t choose to pursue this tactic while your peers are doing so, you may uncover a competitive advantage. If consumers feel as though their experience was diminished elsewhere, they’ll look to try a new brand or merchant that has a specific focus on quality in their shopper journey. If your company doesn’t go down the skimpflation route, make sure that your potential customers know that you didn’t, so it’s easier for them to identify you as their preference next time.
Reevaluating Priorities Requires New Insights
Consumers are also in a state of flux as they reevaluate their priorities following significant societal trauma. We see this happening everywhere, from shopping patterns to the Great Resignation. People are asking themselves: “What do I really want?”
This will continue into 2022, as people consider significant behavior changes and scrutinize their choices more closely.
When consumers are on a journey of self-discovery, it can be harder for researchers and brands to get at the truth through stated data in surveys. Survey respondents are just trying to figure out what they like and want for themselves, much less knowing how to put it into words or rate it on a scale. That situation calls for investing in new methodologies for gaining insights. One method my company adopted is a multimodal research approach that blends traditional quantitative and cutting-edge neuroscience that allows us to see what shoppers’ brains say that they really value.
Rising Shopper Promiscuity
The environment we’re heading into next year has all of the ingredients to sustain rising levels of shopper promiscuity, or the tendency to leave brand loyalty behind.
Inflationary pressure on consumer finances will increase price sensitivity, which is negatively correlated with shopper promiscuity. And as the pandemic sunsets in the developed world, entrepreneurs will bring more plans to fruition and innovation to the market. We could be looking at a period of even greater creative disruption that will mix up where shoppers put their dollars.
There’s also no sign that social issues will take a back seat next year. A sustained focus on the pandemic’s impact on families and its disparate effects on recent economic and health gains made by women and non-White racial groups will frame part of the debate. This brings us to the next issue.
It’s An Election Year
November will bring the 2022 midterm elections in the U.S., and nobody expects it to be a harmonious and cordial campaign season with control of Congress on the line. The avalanche of electoral advertising directed at consumers starting in late summer will put a lot of them in an anxious state, so it will be critical to really understand what your customer base is thinking about and what issues they are supporting so your messaging doesn’t misstep at a delicate political moment.
Chances are that your key audience isn’t just red or blue. I’ve written before here on the importance of understanding how to communicate with divided audiences, but it really bears repeating: Your shoppers are always changing and it’s critical that your brand understands who they are, what they want and how they feel. Having that solid foundation enables a brand to make effective, productive business and marketing decisions.
We won’t truly know where 2022 is going to take us until we’re already there. What we have learned over the past two years is that we’ll all need to be adaptable and agile to handle whatever’s on the way. See you next year!
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Author: Rebecca Brooks, Forbes Councils Member