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What now? The consumer mood – it may not be what you think

by Jon Berry , 16.11.2016

Cisco Systems has recently been running an ad of Ewan McGregor marveling over the technologies transforming the world – Growing lettuce in space! Protecting rhinos with drones! Apps for clean water! – then, peering at a glass of water, concluding “looks half full to me!”

It seems an oddly asynchronous message for the cacophonous election cycle that’s just come to a close in the US. But it has a point.

Consumer sentiment is pretty solid

As we reported recently in the GfK Consumer Life “Mood of the World” webinar summarizing the first release of data from our 2016 Global Survey, consumer sentiment in the US and globally this year is, actually, pretty solid – much better than the claims and counter-claims the political world would have you believe.

More than two in three consumers, both in the US and the world, tell us they’re at least somewhat confident they’ll be better off financially in the coming year. That is substantially better than the lows of the Great Recession (+10 percentage points globally vs. 2009; +15 points for the US), and marks the third straight year of confidence in the 2-in-3 range.

Our latest research on the US suggests the trend of an improving consumer mood has continued. About 1 in 3 Americans feel it’s a good time to buy the things they want and need; that is double the lows of the Great Recession. More than 6 in 10 describe themselves as “generally optimistic” about their personal situation; that, too, is markedly higher than the recession.

Consumer values conducive to innovation

A lot of theories are being put forward to explain Donald Trump’s surprising win in the US election. Clients are beginning to ask what the implications are for them. Decades of research have taught us to resist simplistic explanations; stay close to what your consumers are saying; and, as my colleague Kathy Sheehan wrote recently in this space, not forget “the long view”.

It may be that how people feel about the country and how they feel about their personal situation are following two different tracks; indeed, our research has been pointing to this for several years.

So what can you do? Focus on what you can affect. We have been telling clients we see this as a time for marketplace innovation. Our research on personal values has certainly been saying that. Both globally and in the US consumers are putting a higher priority on values conducive to innovation, in particular, Creativity, Open-mindedness, and Knowledge. There’s a mantra worth remembering in here: the future belongs to those who are creative, smart, and open.

Are your strategies in sync?

The marketplace, similarly, is telling us this is a time for innovation. Amazon’s Echo virtual digital assistant is on a first-year sales pace comparable to the Apple iPhone in 2007.  Fitness and health trackers like Fitbit, which seem to be only hints of what to come, continue to show a strong sales pulse; 53 million units are expected to be sold this year.

New looks are coming to categories across the marketplace. In food, for example, meal kit services like Blue ApronHello Fresh, and Purple Carrot are pushing north of $1.5 billion on a formula of letting consumers bypass meal planning and shopping to focus on what they find most fun – cooking. New competitors like Whole Foods and Williams-Sonoma suggest continued inroads for the concept.

It’s no time for rose-colored glasses. Still, our data point to continuing momentum from consumers to move forward. It may be that there is still a glass half full in your future.

For more information or to share your thoughts, please email jon.berry@gfk.com.

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