1. The rise of online shopping
The growth of e-commerce is gathering momentum, with the value of sales online in Italy growing at 17 percent a year, and e-commerce sales totalling €23.6 billion in 2017, according to online industry body Netcomm.
. Amazon is behind much of the shake-up; the company has invested over €550 million here since launching in Italy in 2010, and opened a new logistics center outside Rome in September 2017. The range of services has gradually increased; delivery is possible within two hours and, through an Amazon partnership with Fiat, Italians can even buy a car online. Amazon Pay became available in Italy in April 2017, enabling shoppers to use other online merchants and pay through their Amazon account – and giving local retailers an easier route to the online market. Tourism and online games are the biggest sellers online, but e-commerce is starting to transform the grocery sector. Cortilia has established a strong following with home delivery of boxed fresh food and household essentials, while online-only player Supermercato24 and newly launched Cicalia.com offer fresh and packaged goods, and delivery in as little as an hour. Online grocery is less than 1 percent of sales in Italy, lower than in other European countries, so there remains scope for further growth. The effect of e-commerce on physical retailers has been significant, and they continue to adapt their offer. Supermarket Esselunga launched online shopping – Esselunga a casa – back in 2001 and more recently started a click-and-collect service; Carrefour offers home delivery and delivery to customers’ parked car in a store car park.
2. Consumption with a conscience
Responsible consumption is no longer for a niche audience; buyers of everything from coffee to couture now expect and demand goods that are produced in an ethical and socially and environmentally responsible way. Almost all supermarket shoppers arrive with their own reusable bags, and there is strong support for an incoming European directive that biodegradable bags must be used for fruit and vegetables. The supermarkets Auchan, Esselunga and Coop have all pledged to stop selling eggs from caged hens, and Fairtrade chocolate and coffee ranges are expanding. The shift towards more considered consumption is also happening at the top end of the market; the inaugural Green Carpet Fashion Awards took place in late 2017 to recognize brands promoting sustainable fashion. The awards are backed by the Ministry for Economic Development and the Italian foreign trade agency ICE, and have been developed in partnership with Eco-Age, founded by the designer Livia Firth. Brands including Giorgio Armani, Fendi, Gucci, Prada and Valentino are all linked to the awards. This movement is also fuelling organizations such as Eleventy, which promotes artisanal clothing production and design as “responsible Italian elegance”.
3. The sharing economy is on the rise
The sharing of goods and services is proving popular Italy, and there is growing interest in crowdfunding for worthy causes and for up-and-coming businesses. Italy is the third-biggest Airbnb market in the world, after the US and France, used by 3.6 million travellers in 2015, and 83,000 property owners. Kantar TNS research shows that many more people use sharing services than offer them; among internet users, 53 percent of people have used at least one sharing service, compared to 44 percent in France and 39 percent in Germany. The main attraction is the ability to access goods and services in an easier way. Paying less – or nothing at all – is another big draw, and the possibility of finding new services. But there remains strong public concern about the safety of online transactions, and who to call if something goes wrong. Strong local crowdfunding platforms have emerged, including DeRev.com and ProduzionidalBasso.com, which link a donation with a reward, and Starteed.com, a more recent arrival, which introduced an equity stake as well. The growth of the sharing economy has not been without some pain; in April, Uber was banned from operating in Italy following a series of court actions led by the country’s taxi associations. Similarly, Airbnb is contesting a ruling that means people renting out homes through Airbnb are subject to laws governing short-term leases, data collection and taxes payable on rental fees.
4. Mind the generation gaps
The obvious differences in outlook and spending priorities that exist between young and old in many markets also apply here in Italy, but that’s not the only generation gap to be wary of. The difference in behavior and attitudes between the “quite young” and the “very young” in Italy has been described as comparing a giant hard drive with the power and agility of a supercomputer. The “centennials” or post-millennials tend to distrust brands, and expect conversation with businesses, not one-way communication. Media strategies for these young consumers must be mobile first, and messages that draw on humor and music are most likely to win their attention. And, while they’re always connected, they’re more aware than anyone of their rights to privacy – and how to install ad blockers. It’s important to remember that in Italy, adult children often live with their parents until well into their 30s, so while they may influence decisions in certain categories and make many of their own purchases, in other categories, it’s still older consumers actually paying for goods and therefore having the ultimate say.
5. Stick with tradition – except when it’s time to change
Innovation is not at odds with tradition; in fact, moving with the times is often the best way to ensure that tradition continues. Banks and telecommunications providers tend to be good at this; they offer security, help you save to fulfil your dreams, or give you the most reliable service – but the way they do that and the products they offer changes all the time. It’s the same with fashion and personal care; the promises don’t change a great deal, but the products on the shelves are quite different from year to year. Sometimes, evolution means stepping away from tradition, if only a small distance. Food and drink producers in particular should take note of demand for organic, “free from”, “superfoods” and meat-free protein products, and consider either parallel product lines or adapting existing formulations.