The market viewpoint
Citizens of global change and forces,
but with a distinctly local response
In our inaugural Me, my life, my wallet report, we explored how changing consumer attitudes, expectations and behaviors were playing out in the four major global markets of China, India, the UK and US. This year, we have extended our survey and ethnographic research to include four additional countries, namely Brazil, Canada, France and the UAE.
As the chapters that follow reveal, consumers are changing all around the world, subject to common forces and factors, but often with an uncommon response. Change, it would appear, is indeed in the eye of the beholder.
In Brazil, once a leading light among emerging market economies, consumers have weathered political upheaval and the worst economic contraction of modern times. Their introduction to the modern digital world and all the benefits it has to offer has been offset by heightened pressures on the customer wallet in the face of a weak recovery, and low levels of trust in both public and private sector institutions. And while this increasingly digitized nation of more than 200 million consumers may be entering an upswing in prosperity and confidence, its online culture of bargain-hunting and recent memory of corruption, scandal and the risks inherent in data may not dissipate overnight.
Further north, in Canada, comparatively low levels of economic activity online masks a highly connected society, even in rural areas. Characterized by their diversity, the definition of the Canadian consumer changes apace, as an open attitude to immigration from countries with higher levels of internet usage is set to accelerate adoption of next-generation digital services and experiences. One barrier to this potential, however, is a discomfort around parting with data; among the most wary of any nation in our survey. Yet there exists a core of Canadians who see less of the generational differences between young and old that typifies other developed economies. Fine-tuning offerings for the Canadian consumer is nothing short of the table stakes for success.
Consumers are changing all around the world, subject to common forces and factors, but often with an uncommon response.
The search for deep consumer understanding is not a new idea for 2018, but it has grown in importance.
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In France, we see a nation of digital enthusiasts, one of the world’s top five nations for e-commerce and the first with a national online commerce network dating as far back as 1981. With three decades of e-commerce history, it should be no surprise that online purchasing is not limited to millennials. Yet while keenly embracing technology, French consumers are doing it on their terms, expressing distaste with being treated as a data point, and demanding human, personalized interactions and experiences with brands. They know the value inherent in their data to brands and other institutions, and are willing to share it for the benefit of personalization. But trust is found lagging, particularly in banks, technology and telecoms companies.
Turn to the vast and rapidly changing country populated by 1.3 billion Indian consumers, and diversity becomes strikingly apparent. More akin to a continent than a country, India is home to a collection of languages, religions, demographics and more, as well as vastly different urban compared with rural connectivity and behaviors. While smartphones have become part of everyday life for the 10 percent of India’s citizens who reside in its 10 largest urban centers, the digital revolution, and with it new access to information and choice, is revolutionizing commerce and customer engagement across the vast expanse of the mainland. Caution is noted, however, that adapting to the Indian market is essential, especially given the time-poor nature of consumers, with differing motivations and life goals than in the West.
Meanwhile, the UAE’s modest, yet affluent, population of around 9.5 million citizens is witnessing a comparable but equally different digital revolution. This highly connected nation places great value on social and immersive entertainment and experiences that accompany the Gulf states’ expansive malls. But citizens are being encouraged to embrace the value of technology through the digitization of public services and investment in smart cities. This will only serve to raise the bar for those keen to engage a population unlikely to turn their back on the offline customer experiences that typify their day-to-day lives.
Further east, in China, the dramatic growth of a handful of dominant platform businesses such as Alibaba and Tencent continues on its pervasive path, accelerated by a growing middle class and trend towards urbanization comparable only to its equally populous neighbor India. Home to dramatic differences in consumer motivations and attitudes between top-tier cities and more urban areas, technology looks set to continue its profound impact for the majority of citizens, only set to play out in very different ways across the country, raising the localization and personalization imperatives for organizations seeking to capture increasingly connected consumers.
Returning to the West, the UK’s rapid digitization of its recent past and status as the ‘connected kingdom’ is no longer necessarily a guide to its future. Uncertainty grows stronger as the implications of leaving the European Union remain opaque, both politically, economically and societally. The impact on UK consumers’ choices, should their wallets face new pressures in 2019, remains unclear. Meanwhile, the evolution of attitudes towards trust and data privacy continues to compound organizations’ efforts to engage consumers, subject to an advancing regulatory environment. It remains to be seen whether new regulation will enhance consumers’ feelings of protection or lead to a further retrenchment in sharing data.
of global CEOs say that, rather than
waiting to be disrupted by competitors,
their organization is actively disrupting
the sector in which they operate
Finally, in the US, we see consumers increasingly carrying their opinions with them when they spend, further complicating a market as diverse as its Eastern counterparts, if unmatched in scale. Trust is uncertain and consumers continue to value and reward those organizations that deliver meaningful customer experiences. Technology and its adoption in customer engagement continues to flourish as Silicon Valley and others look for smarter ways to get things done, and create evolving or innovative business models.
While consumers in each of these markets are subject to many of the same forces of change, and often talk of many common themes affecting their Five Mys, the nuances are vastly more significant than some may at first assume.
The search for deep consumer understanding is not a new idea, but it has grown in importance. Consumers are responding differently to this changing environment, not just by generation or income level, but influenced as well by national culture and context. Those organizations that reflect this in how they design and deliver products, services, propositions and experiences, and organize and structure their businesses to do so, stand only to increase their relevance to an evermore complex customer.