Suits The C-Suite

(First of two parts)

The emergence of disruptive technologies along with ongoing global crises are impacting the consumer product and retail (CPR) sector, and the consumer value proposition working today may not be successful tomorrow. With this in mind, regional and local business strategy, Climate Change and Sustainability Services, and CPR leaders from SGV and EY-Parthenon, along with distinguished industry leaders shared the latest insights on the CPR sector in a seminar on June 20, “Getting ahead of the changing consumer and disruption.”

Additional EY research has also found that consumers are attempting to maintain their resiliency in the face of ongoing economic concerns and cost-of-living pressures. This has led to them adopting new technologies more frequently, making changes in the way they purchase, live, and work with the goal of making daily life more affordable.

The most recent EY Future Consumer Index, which surveyed over 21,000 consumers in 27 countries, examines how consumers worldwide perceive the personal advantages of technology. Insights from the Index also show that the way people consume as well as what they consume is influenced by their experiences using digital tools. This provides opportunities for brands that comprehend and influence these shifting attitudes and foresee the potentially transformative changes these may bring. However, this goes beyond simply choosing appropriate technologies, overseeing their implementation, and developing the infrastructure necessary to support them.

Digital innovation must safeguard and promote the relationship with the customer. Trust, respect, and value in particular are the key factors. Companies must show they can be trusted to use technology securely and responsibly and utilize technology to benefit their consumers. Any innovation a company implements must provide fair value to its consumers. Being unable to strike the right balance between the three factors can result in hard-to-fix damage. However, striking that balance successfully can strengthen relationships with customers and gain their consent to expand and deepen that relationship when new technologies become more widely used.

The rate of digital innovation and adoption has become so rapid that users can easily become reliant on new tools without realizing how integrated they’ve become in daily life. Consumers are relying on digital technologies more and more to simplify their lives, save time and money, work from home, or lessen their environmental impact. According to Think With Google: Year in Search 2022, a report that shares insights and trends based on billions of Google searches, Filipino consumers are turning to digital services such as electronic payments to simplify offline in-store purchases, as well as online doctor consultations to save time.

Consumers use digital for a variety of purposes, including managing their finances, selecting what shows or music to enjoy, keeping in touch with friends, keeping track of their health, and many others. For instance, 42% of consumers use a smart device to measure their health and physical activity, and 33% of consumers use facial recognition on their mobile phones.

This disruption from technology presents business opportunities across real and digital worlds, such as providing a seamless consumer shopping experience through an omnichannel, orchestrating a digital ecosystem to best serve consumers along the consumer life journey, and designing a new meta-retail experience through the metaverse. Olivier Gergele, APAC Consumer Products & Retail Leader – EY Parthenon, said at the CPR seminar, “Though the metaverse isn’t ready, it will change the way we do business. It will be especially important to know its implications for us as retailers in the industry.”

People are also placing more importance on issues that directly affect them as individuals than those that feel like collective challenges, such as their concern for the environment. Many are trying to cut back on their expenditure, though how they handle their finances depends on where they reside. Consumers around the world are focusing even more on value, with 64% of consumers believing private-label products to be just as good as branded ones and 73% reporting shrinking pack sizes but unchanging prices.

The Index indicates that consumers have drastically boosted their use of both established and developing technologies at work and at home during a time when consumers are more concerned about a wide range of economic and personal problems. There is a significant pivot toward two concerns in particular: finances and health.

When using new technology to engage consumers, retailers and consumer product businesses should keep these financial and health concerns in mind. Digital innovation can play a significant role in enhancing organizational performance by maintaining competitive prices, identifying efficiencies, and enhancing marketing. Trendipedia 2023, a consumer behavior study conducted by Tetra Pak, identifies two new trends in the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia: “flexi-shopping” and “eatertainment.” In flexi-shopping, consumers adopt a flexible mindset and reduce spending when needed but indulge in additional benefits they deem valuable, such as those related to health. The eatertainment trend shows that consumers, particularly Gen-Zs, look to be entertained with new flavors and trends in the online space, which brands should explore to reach them.

However, it is important to weigh the need to address any ongoing business challenges against a longer-term strategy that already considers the benefits brought about by ongoing technological change. Companies also need to be careful not to take any actions that will prevent them from participating in long-term progress for the sake of short-term advantages. Brands that let their customers down run the danger of losing future digital relationships with them, and consumers will be more likely to reject digital innovations that don’t provide them with what they want. To understand how consumers feel about the digital advances that are permeating every area of their life today, it is crucial to pay attention to how consumers perceive these advances.

Customers and new technologies often have contradictory connections — consumers can become very dependent on a tool while also expressing concern about the risks it poses to their psychological and financial well-being. For instance, people take for granted that their mobile devices are always connected, but at the same time, they want to disable notifications and reminders because they can find continuous connectivity to be too much.

Familiarity by itself cannot establish trust. For example, the use of AI (artificial intelligence) is becoming increasingly popular in areas such as customer care and an increasingly common part of brand engagement for many consumers. Moreover, disruptive business models leverage AI capabilities for robust decision-making. For example, the CPR presentation at the SGV CPR event revealed that Amazon heavily relies on consumer data it obtains from its platform for marketing and personalization costs. These costs aim to attract a higher wallet share from consumers and increased consumer engagement. However, many consumers are apprehensive about how AI may be used, with 24% of respondents fearing it may fully replace their jobs.

Though the availability and accessibility of digital innovation continue to grow, the same cannot be said for trust in technology and its usage of personal data. Each annual release of the Index has seen no significant change in the willingness of consumers to share data with companies or brands. Consumers remain wary over how much data they provide — as much as 55% say they are very concerned about identity theft and fraud, 53% are very concerned about data security/breaches, and 53% are very concerned about companies selling their personal information to a third party. This shows how much consumers want to weigh the benefits of sharing data against the risks and the value they receive in exchange.

According to Ashish Midha, Managing Director and CEO of ZALORA Philippines and Indonesia, speaking at the CPR seminar, “What’s important is to show people what’s relevant to them. It is a very fine line to balance between personalization and privacy, and it should be value-adding to the customer. One can very easily do the wrong thing, so it’s better to err on the side of conservatism.”

In the second part of this article, we will discuss how technological innovations must prioritize providing tangible benefits to the consumer, how technology will redefine the consumer of tomorrow, and how companies must build trust with, earn the respect of, and provide value that consumers will appreciate.

This article is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of SGV & Co.


Maria Kathrina S. Macaisa-Peña is a business consulting partner and the consumer products and retail sector leader of SGV & Co.