E-commerce still has room to grow
The number of Italians doing their shopping via a screen rather than a store is still rising – and just over half the population does at least some of the spending online. But what’s most exciting to brands and retailers is the potential that still remains for further growth, particularly in specific categories. Online grocery shopping, for instance, has a very low take-up by world standards, but while only 5 percent currently buy food online, a further 64 percent say they’re interested and could be convinced to start. What needs to happen in order for them to switch – at least for some of their grocery shopping missions – is for delivery to be faster, easier and ideally free of charge. They’re also looking for a better selection of products, coupled with easier online navigation. Clothing is another sector ripe for growth, with 40 percent of shoppers saying they’d consider buying online if the terms and choices were right. Personal care, pet food and household care items also have a large proportion of people we call e-commerce prospects.
Circles of influence are changing
The role of influential individuals in giving brands visibility and credibility among their target audience is well understood by most brands, which are seeking out stars of social media in addition to more traditional celebrity endorsement. But it’s not just the people with the greatest number of Facebook or Instagram followers who are shifting consumer perceptions; in fact, it’s often people with smaller headline figures online who can make a deeper impression on their fans. These “micro-influencers” have a closeness to their audience that online megastars tend to lack, and are seen as having real expertise – therefore views that count and can be trusted – in a certain area, whether that’s fashion, haircare, baking or travel. What matters is depth of engagement with an online influencer, not just the size of the fan base.
Voice tech promises to shift the conversation
The launch in late 2018 of Amazon’s voice-activated, Alexa-powered devices in Italy is likely to change the way consumers search for information and do their shopping – just as they have in other markets. The Echo devices understand and speak Italian, and already feature “skills” enabling users to converse with leading brands including Rai, Giallo Zafferano, Giunti and BTicino. Voice enables consumers and brands to have a different kind of relationship – brands can project their personality and have a more natural conversation – a deeper, more human interaction. Brands can go beyond answering questions via voice (store opening hours and the like), providing information about promotions and new products, and tailoring information and entertainment to what it knows about the user. There’s also an opportunity for brands to lock in consumer loyalty by becoming the default brand in a category when a user says “add juice to my next supermarket order”.
A mission must be more than a mission statement
Consumers in mature markets like Italy take certain things for granted when they make a purchase – it will be safe, and it will do the job for which it was created. All brands are expected to provide this as a bare minimum. Now, sophisticated consumers are differentiating between brands not just based on what their products do, and on the price, but also on how the business behaves and the values the brand represents. In Italy, 41 percent of people believe brands should take a stand on issues. Consumers want to associate themselves with brands that support the same good causes that they do, and this is particularly important to younger people. Environmental concerns are an obvious area where many brands can take an appealing position, but there are wider consumer interests in issues such as fairness in the workplace, and support for social and humanitarian causes. Promises must be real and transparent; if they are found to be faking their goodness, they should expect a backlash.
Going green is becoming the norm
Linked to the need to stand for something good is the need to do good things, especially regarding the environment. Global brands are heeding the consumer call to reduce packaging, industrial waste, the miles involved in transporting goods from source to shopper, and Italian brands are increasingly doing the same. Globally, adidas are making 1 million shoes from recycled ocean plastic, and Procter & Gamble have pledged to use 25 percent recycled plastic in its haircare product packaging. Closer to home, Negozio Leggero has 13 stores stocking more than 1,500 package-free products across Italy and Switzerland. And the supermarket Conad has made environmental advances behind the scenes, with its “green” lightweight pallets made from recyclable plastic, which promise to reduce CO2 emissions during transport by lightening loads. Look at ways a brand’s range – and its supply chain – could be greener.