The ‘New’ Consumer

Jul 16, 2003

By Al

In an energetic and well-received presentation at IIR’s (Institute for International
Research) Consumer Insights in Action conference on Monday, J. Walker Smith,
president of research/consulting company Yankelovich (
asserted that many business models are built around consumers that don’t exist

For example, he said Yankelovich’s research showed that consumers now value
quality over quantity, intangibles over tangibles and time over money. Because
baby boomers are now in a life stage where money is less important, they are
driving a broad shift in consumer values. So, we now live in a world where many
consumers feel they have enough “stuff”, aren’t looking to accumulate more,
and suffer from “the claustrophobia of abundance”(i.e. full closets). So, how
do retailers sell to consumers who already feel that they have enough things?

In general, Smith believes that consumers, having experienced the exuberance
of the 1990’s, have now moved away from that lifestyle towards seeking more
satisfying experiences. (Side note: he also claims there is no correlation between
money and happiness.) So, consumers are more interested in things that are “genuine”
and “authentic”. As retailers, the idea is to give consumers a more satisfying
experience, which can mean fewer choices. For example, in an experiment, a sampling
table in a food store sold 10 times the amount of jam when only 6 types were
offered, compared to a table offering 24 types.

This is not to say that consumers aren’t looking to buy. In fact, Smith believes
we’ve reached a point of “the mainstreaming of affluence”, where things once
available only to the elite, such as day spas, SUV’s, adventure vacations, and
sushi are now marketed and available to almost everyone.

Consumers are also more anxious than they used to be, owing to layoffs, 9-11,
geopolitical turmoil, institutional scandals, etc., so they are looking for
“comfort” and “connection”. This leads to the home becoming a ‘hive’, instead
of a ‘cocoon’. People want to embrace others in a safe setting, with activity
all around. Examples of products selling well in this environment: DVD’s, board
games, vacations (the driving kind), and ping pong tables.

Shoppers, according to Yankelovich, aren’t anti-marketing, as much as they
are anti- BAD marketing. They just want us to do a better job of talking to
them. And, marketing communication should go both ways: 68% of those surveyed
said they were more likely to do business with a company that has asked their

In summary, many people are now looking for meaning, not just stuff, and marketers
need to link “stuff” to life. Advertising can become the locus of brand value,
and brand interactions need to enrich consumers. In short, there is a great
opportunity for retailers and suppliers to do a better job of interacting and
engaging with their customers, which should give us all hope that retailing
hasn’t completely devolved to who has the best price.

Footnote: Consumers hate telemarketing. In yet another Yankelovich survey,
at the end of the last century, two things tied for #1, in terms of consumers
not wanting to bring them along into the new millennium: Telemarketers and Jerry
Springer. Maybe there is hope for the world, yet.

Moderator’s Comment: What are your thoughts on the
new consumer identified by Yankelovich?
Anderson – Moderator

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