1 The mood is buoyant
There’s confidence, people have money, and they are willing to spend it. But even affluent Germans are shopping around, looking for ways to make smart consumption decisions – not extravagant ones. Consumers are mindful of the fact that the world is uncertain place that requires a degree of caution when it comes to spending, and at the same time the public mood creates an expectation of modesty among those who can afford to spend big. This more subtle take on consumerism is linked to people’s desire to buy not just the brands that offer the best quality and value for money, but also those whose brand values – beyond making money – align with their own. Consumers want relationships with brands that share their perspectives on a fair deal for workers, humane treatment of animals, and consideration of the environment. Brands must have a purpose and promote it.
2 The search for better wellbeing is mainstream
Alcohol and smoking rates are down, demand for low-sugar, organic and meat-free products is up, and many Germans are taking up exercise. At the same time, there’s growing environmental concern, and this helps explain the rising trend for taking a bike or walking to work instead of driving – it improves the health of the consumer and the environment at the same time. Just under 10 percent of German adults already wear a fitness tracking device, and 30 percent of households in big cities only use bicycles for transport. This is a trend that’s affecting the behavior and consumption decisions of people of all ages – and that means brands in almost every category need to think how they can improve the wellbeing of the people they serve and the environment they live in.
3 There’s pride in people’s tolerance of difference
The country is seen as being progressive on LGBT rights; Berlin hosts central Europe’s biggest Gay Pride event, and Germany legalized gay marriage in mid-2017. Being different is fine, and being the same as other people is fine. Brands and their communications are increasingly reflecting this relaxed attitude to difference, not just in sexual preference but in other aspects of personal choice. Deutsche Telekom’s “Für alle, die Familie sind” takes a light-hearted look at a range of very different types of family, all dancing to the same song, to show that however different they are, they are all families and all eligible for the brand’s family tariff.
4 Too many brands are turning off consumers
This is a sophisticated consumer market, and people are highly discerning about the messages they’re prepared to give their time to. The harsh reality is that at the moment, there are a lot of brands simply making a noise that consumers don’t want to hear – and those consumers are equipped to switch off. Ad blocking is a significant problem in Germany, with TNS Connected Life research showing that 29 percent of Germans online have installed ad blockers on their devices, and the more tech-savvy the audience is, the more likely they are to be shutting out brands. The answer is not to shout even louder, but to understand consumers better and deliver something they want to engage with. Being everywhere the consumer might be is not just creepy, it’s counter-productive. Brands need to consider the times when consumers might find a message helpful, amusing or entertaining, and provide the right thing at the right time.
5 Life is for living, not shopping
Experience is becoming a sought-after commodity, especially among the young. They don’t always want to buy something they can keep, they want to enjoy a moment and make memories – preferably memories that can be photographed and shared on social media. This means brands that have traditionally set their focus on selling products need to think beyond “things” – most consumers have enough stuff already – and look at what related services and experiences they can offer. The popularity of Airbnb and of eBay Kleinanzeigen (classifieds) in Germany signals demand for experiences, along with the rise of Jochen Schweizer, the business named after the stuntman-turned-entrepreneur who sells experiences ranging from skydiving to fondue tasting. Services can be literal, as in the case of Nike +, which offers a fitness partnership with consumers, or a more broad service, such as providing a sense of community. For retailers, this means offering more than an assortment of goods at competitive prices; buying is rarely about only what the shopper goes home with. It’s about the time they spend looking, and how they feel about it afterwards.
6. E-commerce is gradually on the rise
When Germans do need to shop, they’re increasingly doing it online, though they’re not switching to e-commerce at the pace that French and UK shoppers are, and they’re still mostly buying from desktop and laptop computers rather than smartphones. And while some consumers are perfectly at ease with buying certain categories online, those same people can be reluctant to shift to online buying when it comes to different kinds of products. While 70 percent of music is bought online, for instance, only 20 percent of cosmetics and 13 percent of skincare is an e-commerce purchase. People are happy to buy medicine online, but not spectacles, as they see a greater need for expert in-store advice. Gradually this is all changing – consumers are looking for ways to get better prices, good quality and secure ways of paying – and brands in all categories should prepare for online growth. They should also look at ways consumers can link digital browsing with the physical shopping experience to help hesitant shoppers make the jump. The most relaxed about e-commerce are looking to the future: 10 percent of adults under 50 say they’re interested in ordering groceries using voice-activated devices, and 13 percent are keen to explore self-ordering home appliances.