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EPAM Continuum Launches Consumers Unmasked

EPAM Continuum Launches Consumers Unmasked

We masked up. We socially distanced. We worked from home, shopped local and said a temporary goodbye to our favorite bars, shops, restaurants and gyms. The past 16 months changed us all. But how much of that change is permanent?

To find out, we’ve embarked on a semi-longitudinal study with four touchpoints over a 12-month journey. Starting in July, we’ll release what we learn from our EPAM Continuum Consumer Council—a group of 60 millennial and Gen Z consumers in the UK, the US and Germany. The council will track their spending habits across the food, fitness, fashion and home industries through discussion forums, Q&As, diaries, exercises and vlogs. We’ll expand on their insights with quantitative surveys opened up to a larger audience. And we’ll compare and contrast the situation in each location and examine how and why their attitudes and actions shift as restrictions ease. In 12 months’ time, we’ll check in with our council and conduct another qualitative survey to see how well consumer intent aligned with their actual behaviors.

Ultimately, your business will learn more about consumer needs and interests—and how to better serve them.

The Big Questions

Much of what we’re seeing from our initial survey of the Consumer Council is what we might expect based on anecdotal feedback. But the purpose of the project is to dig deeper:

  • To find out why new habits are sticking
  • To examine actual vs intended behavior
  • To see how that behavior plays out over what will be another year of change

To help guide us, we’re focusing the project on three questions that are central to the way brands position themselves over the coming year.

  1. What is the new state of hybrid living?
    Over the past year, we’ve all become homebodies—some of us willingly and some of us unwillingly. But will it stay that way? We’ll consider where the needle has settled on the balance between physical and digital. Then, we’ll examine why and how that balance may shift over the year—and ask what that means for brands.

  2. Does price still rule?
    We know that our experiences of the past year have brought ethics, sustainability, social responsibility and shopping local to greater prominence. But when set against the hard reality of price, just how much do people care?
    Over the coming months, we’ll examine to what extent the old values of quality, convenience and value for money remain the dominant buying factors.

  3. How is loyalty changing?
    Social media has highlighted the stories of stores, gyms and restaurants going the extra mile during the pandemic. But does a good pandemic response translate to loyal customers? Do brand values matter? Does brand loyalty as we knew it even exist anymore?
    We’ll track the changing shape of consumer allegiance and ask whether it’s time for brands to rethink the concept of loyalty.

We’ll release our first round of results in July, but we’re already seeing some clear trends we’d like to highlight now. 

Initial Insights

To give us a baseline, we asked participants to tell us how they feel right now. While we’re still analyzing the results, we’re already seeing some clear trends. 

  1. Whatever else matters, value for money matters more
    Peer influence. Brand innovation and resourcefulness. Acting responsibly and sustainably. They all matter, but value for money (that is, a combination of quality, availability, choice and price) matters more. With value for money in the mix, other factors have a chance to influence the buying decision. Without it, the decision will be to look elsewhere.

“Value for money doesn't have to mean cheap, it just has to mean that I get the quality and durability I expect for the money that I pay for the goods.”

2. Valuing innovation

To stand out in the minds of consumers, brands need to do more than simply replicate physical experiences online. Our study showed a real appreciation for brands demonstrating resourcefulness. Examples include:

  • Curbside pickup and other delivery alternatives
  • Accompanied video shopping
  • Gyms offering outdoor training
  • Restaurants finding new ways to reward loyalty or larger orders

“Something I really liked was the offer of a local shop to make an appointment for a video call to shop. The assistant showed me everything in the shop via WhatsApp video call. That was great!”

3. Loyalty remains but is superficial

Loyalty exists, although it appears to be attached to perceptions of quality, experience and value than specific brands. Even then, loyalty can be fleeting and superficial. A good experience last time wins a first look next time–but unless value is maintained, it won’t necessarily be enough to prevent a customer shopping around.

“I would be willing to shop around if it was a concerning price. If I was getting the same item at less cost than another store, then I would buy from that store.”

4. Confidence continues to affect decisions

The uncertainty of the pandemic has manifested itself in numerous ways. Some are wary of returning to stores and restaurants. Some are conscious of not overspending. Some are intentionally asking, “Do we really need that/need to do that?” We’re seeing the greatest reserve in Germany, but all retailers face the challenge of overcoming new mindsets forged during lockdown. 

“Buying decisions are definitely more considered. And the ‘luxury decisions’ like a new TV or something have been put on the back-burner for now.”

5. Do the right thing(s)

Rewarding loyalty, looking after your staff, customers, suppliers and providing transparent, consistent information are top of our Consumer Council’s list of expectations of how brands should act—but, again, not at the expense of value for money.

“Create a world class online experience, set expectations, show us everything we need to know about the product, fast delivery, and reward us for loyalty with promotions or points. When something goes wrong, communicate with us the process and make it right. Always.”

Our German and UK participants in particular express interest in ethical and sustainable brands, although UK consumers expect ethics and sustainability to be balanced with value for money. Brands still have to overcome the impression that ethical = premium price.

This conflict between value and values is a recurring theme and over the life of the study we’ll ask what that means for brands and what opportunities it presents.

Stay up to date with Consumers Unmasked

It has never been more important for lifestyle brands to stay close to their consumers. Over the coming year, we’ll build a new picture of the consumer to help you do just that–and you can be part of the project.

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