Last week I had the painful, and for many people, familiar experience of trying to contact an airline to redeem evouchers. Mine was a simple request but not one I felt an online chat would resolve. After navigating a tortuous route through a myriad of menus, I was informed that they were too busy to talk and the call was ended.
I share that particular story because as the cost of virtually everything (including airline tickets) continues to rise, is our patience and tolerance of poor service going to wane rapidly along with a renewed predilection for everything we perceive offers good value?
Right now, as the cost of living squeeze becomes a deadly embrace and our household budgets are stretched beyond breaking point, a new kind of consumer is set to emerge.
Even with a fuel duty cut from Sunak, the days of spiralling petrol costs and energy bills are still ahead. All those savings, assiduously accumulated during multiple lockdowns and earmarked for a holiday we promised ourselves “when all this is over”, are now going to need to fund our everyday living costs.
And for any consumer facing business, this will have three significant implications.
The first is that as our disposal income dwindles, we will need to cut back. While the mobile and Sky subscription will likely remain, in virtually every other area of spending we will need to exercise prudence on a scale never before imagined.
Already we’ve heard it referred to as “heat or eat” and for many that will be the stark reality. For those a little more fortunate it will impact holidays, eating out, travel, clothes; plus of course food and heating.
We’ll be spending less, and for retail and hospitality especially it will be yet another challenge for an industry already struggling to survive.
The second will be a new wave of not just savvy but less tolerant consumers. The global financial crisis of 2008 saw the first generation and the 2022 cohort will in many respects be no different, but with one crucial difference.
Just like the airline experience, any current levels of tolerance and patience when it involves customer service will cease to exist as we adopt survival mode. Through necessity, value and service will govern all of our consumer behaviour.
Where once either the British stiff upper lip or our desire ‘not to make a fuss’ – something ingrained in our national psyche, prevailed, the consumer of tomorrow will care for none of those niceties.
And the third is that, somewhat perversely, we will be willing to barter service in return for value or price. We’re already beginning to see the popularity of rapid delivery companies wane. Aldi recently ended its relationship with Deliveroo as demand fell and we should expect this trend to continue as we increasingly seek out value, sometimes at the expense of convenience, because in the new world, it’s expedient and necessary to do so.
As if the challenges facing retailers and hospitality were hard enough, the new consumer, fed a diet of rising costs at every turn, will present something of an intransigent force when met with any compromise they have not consented to.
Satisfying the new expectant and demanding consumer will become the new battleground, and as always, there will be winners and losers.