The rise of the cautious rational younger consumer

Marketing Sciences conducted a study among younger consumers, spread across Hampshire & London which involved focus groups, a Facebook community and omnibus questions among 1,000 respondents across the UK.  Our intention was to uncover the behaviours of the mainstream consumers of tomorrow.

Whereas once the younger consumer was characterised by the phrase “buy now think later”, a recent study among consumers aged between 16 & 30 has shown a markedly different approach developing.

We have all been affected in some way by the economic changes since 2007, but for many who have retained their jobs this has been an abstract, emotional effect with little real immediate impact. For younger consumers, the change has been rather brutal and perhaps it’s not surprising that it’s had an impact.

I was fortunate to graduate in an era when that meant being essentially debt free and with good prospects of securing a “graduate entry position” in some large organisation. When we consider the youngsters of today that is somewhat different.
Even those who have left college and are employed find themselves with a student debt to pay off and looking at the almost impossible dream of property ownership (where one report highlighted that the average first home is bought close to your 40th birthday). That is a harsh reality to face up to, but at least these people are in work and are learning to get buy.

Take a step further down the age spectrum and we see an anxious and uncertain group of consumers. Today’s 18 year old faces a world in which
• to go to university means incurring a debt of £36k upwards
• having completed university and gained that cherished degree, there are fewer graduate entry positions available, meaning that their first job may well involve asking “would you like fries with that?”

It is hardly surprising then, that this group of tomorrow’s mainstream consumers have to develop new strategies to ensure that they can support their social life, interests and shopping habits. The first and arguably clearest change that we can see is that these younger consumers understand that they simply cannot spend spend spend without a care. The absence of access to credit is a reality of life to this age group and as such they are forced to spend longer considering whether any given purchase is necessary or simply desirable; the latter being instantly forgotten in a way that would have seemed implausible in the credit bubble of the 1990s.

Technology does come to the rescue of this audience to some extent, affording the possibility to research the best possible deal for any good or service, often overseas, meaning that it is easier to get what you want at a sensible price that you can afford. This eBay culture is further fuelled by a realisation that in many cases it is possible to shop on the high street for slightly inferior quality but much cheaper items. The success of Primark and Sport Direct is no surprise, they offer youngsters access to clothing that they want, which looks and feels almost as good as the “real thing” but at a fraction of the price.

What we also found is that youngsters are far less likely to have strong brand loyalty to one brand, but instead be happy to switch between a number of different brands in any given category. Apple is often the exception to this, but even here, we observe many youngsters discussing whether Apple really does warrant the price premium over Samsung or HTC products.

All of this means that brands now face a younger group of consumers who are far more rational and savvy in their shopping behaviour, meaning that communication needs to change pace and offer clear and compelling consumer benefits (value, quality, service, and convenience) rather than relying on traditional brand “values” in order to persuade the consumer to make a purchase.

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Sunita Bhabra
01962 842211
Article date - 01/11/2012
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