With the winter shopping holidays now behind us, Forrester is wrapping up its annual qualitative exploration of US consumers’ perceptions of the holiday season, both for their own behavior as well as what they observed across retailers. The retail industry has seen an increase in consumer spending compared to last year — possibly due to savings from lower gas prices. Overall, we saw that consumers felt less compelled to go out and buy gifts on Black Friday itself, but they still love a good bargain. Some other insights we gathered:
Black Friday sales effectively crossed over from in-store to online. While in-store shopping dropped on Black Friday, online shopping sales rose, resulting in an overall increase in sales. Consumers were quite conscious of the fact that online deals appeared even before the Thanksgiving holiday (and therefore before Black Friday). This year, these sales also carried the “Black Friday” label — traditionally an in-store-specific event. By re-associating Black Friday with deals first and foremost, this could restore positive sentiment and downplay what has otherwise become a stressful shopping event.
Targeted outreach drives online sales — but retailers shouldn’t overdo it. A smaller number of targeted deals and offers will help reduce the overall volume of email that consumers receive. This will in turn minimize the chances of consumer recipients being overwhelmed by holiday communications.
We are notoriously bad at knowing ourselves. Science shows that we are not quite as beautiful, or smart, or ethical as we would like to think. As a result, our self-proclaimed beliefs do not always translate into action; often, we say we’ll do “the right thing” but (consciously or not) we’ll proceed to do the opposite. Are we really nothing more than delusional creatures of habit bound to repeat our mistakes? No – actually, far from it. Certain individuals are hyperaware of their values and follow through on decisions and actions accordingly. Although a small group, these consumers spark awareness, change their behavior, demand transparency, and inspire trends.
My latest report examines what, when, and why consumers buy, when values are central to their decision-making process. In my research, I found that, despite limited knowledge and patterns of self-deceit, consumers want to purchase from companies that embrace ethical practices. More broadly, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of company values and are opening their wallets when company values resonate with theirs:
Two weeks ago, I spoke at the Qual360 conference in Atlanta, hosted by the Merlien Institute. If you follow this blog, you’ll know that I typically fold qualitative insight into a diverse research mix, so I went to the conference with a broad view of market research methodologies. But after connecting with qualitative researchers, marketers, academics, and thought leaders from around the globe, I left Qual360 with a renewed appreciation for the fundamental importance of qualitative insight, its deep impact on key business decisions, and its differentiated value in today’s data-driven culture. Here are a few of my takeaways from Qual360:
In a world where everything is getting faster, qualitative research must go slower. As Anita Watkins from TNS and Emily Williams of Newell Rubbermaid put it, qualitative research is not about testing, it is about illuminating context and understanding evolving beliefs. That means qualitative insight can’t be commoditized and sold with the promise of fast, bite-size deliveries. The true value of qualitative insight lies not in the verbatim data but in the accurate analysis of those words in the context of social, environmental, psychological, and emotional depth.
The holiday season is one month behind us, and while the celebratory spirit has faded, the effects live on through the gifts we’ve exchanged. If you think the shiny new object you presented to your loved one had its greatest impact when she unwrapped its box, think again. Apart from the occasional toy tossed to the back of a closet, gifts may have a stronger influence on our long-term behavior and lifestyle than we might think —particularly when it comes to consumer electronics.
For example, according to Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data, consumers who have received a tablet computer as a gift end up using traditional devices like laptops, desktops, and digital cameras less often. Qualitative insight from our ConsumerVoices Market Research Online Community reveals that sentiments of surprise and delight characterize the experience of these tablet recipients; regardless of their initial technology attitudes, most community members find the devices exceed their expectations and inadvertently change their lifestyle:
According to the National Retail Federation, consumer electronics stores saw more than $23.4 million in holiday sales in 2013 and even more by the close of 2014. However, the more interesting story is unfolding now, as consumers who have leapfrogged the purchase experience begin experimenting with —and embracing —their new devices.
Around this time of year, one can’t help but become reflective. I know I’m not alone when I say that, on the one hand, this year somehow shot past faster than the last one, but on the other hand, it was jam-packed with new discoveries, fresh ideas, and memorable experiences. In particular, this has been a milestone year for the data insights innovation team here at Forrester, as we officially launched our Technographics 360 research approach, which synthesizes mobile behavioral, social listening, online qualitative, and survey data. As I think back on my experiences with the Technographics 360 initiative inside Forrester, paired with my industry learnings outside Forrester, a few key lessons come to mind that I will take into the new year:
1. Synthesis is “in.” In fact, I learned so much about this topic, I wrote a full blog post dedicated to it! In essence, we now live in a world where the truest insight is a product of synthesis – building knowledge up – rather than of analysis – breaking ideas down. I recently attended SSI’s seminar featuring Simon Chadwick, who proposed that data synthesis is “the next big thing” in insight skills. I agree: With so many diverse data sources at our fingertips that offer unique perspectives on consumers’ lives, researchers need to put the puzzle pieces together to construct a comprehensive understanding of consumer behavior.
Thanksgiving weekend has traditionally been highly lucrative for retailers, but this year saw another drop in spending specifically on Black Friday. In the meantime, online shopping continues to soar, and the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving weekend provided consumers with deep-discount sales. In short, the weekend itself is becoming less valuable to the average consumer. But how does consumer sentiment match up with this shift in behavior? How do perceptions of the 2014 holiday season differ from those of years past and consumers’ initial expectations?
As part of our recent research efforts, we leveraged Forrester’s Technographics® 360 multimethodology research approach to gain a better understanding of consumers’ shopping habits (using our ConsumerVoices Market Research Online Community) and to track online conversation and sentiment relative to Black Friday and Cyber Monday leading up to the holidays and afterwards (using NetBase aggregated social listening data).
As researchers, we can’t underestimate the power of perspective. When the Eiffel Tower was erected 125 years ago, it became the tallest manmade structure in the world and, more importantly, allowed visitors to look down over Paris for the first time; perhaps it was the first real instance of a “birds-eye view.” At the same time, artists like Picasso and Stein were pushing the limits of perspective by portraying every angle of 3-dimensional concepts in one painting or poem. In many ways, the research world today is akin to this historical period of creativity. With more data at our fingertips than ever before, we are able to observe consumer behavior from new vantage points and produce a fresh understanding of customer trends by analyzing multiple angles at the same time.
Here on the data insights innovation team at Forrester, we’ve called our multiperspective research approach Technographics 360. Officially launched this year, Technographics 360 blends Consumer Technographics® survey output, ConsumerVoices Market Research Online Community insight, social listening data, and passive mobile behavioral tracking to synthesize a 360-degree view of consumer behavior. Instead of analyzing research questions by breaking them down, we can synthesize comprehensive solutions by building our knowledge up.
The unveiling of the Apple Watch in early September left consumers and industry analysts with more questions than answers. After the sluggish sales of smartwatch predecessors, what is the actual market opportunity for Apple’s wrist-based wearable? Will consumers’ perception of the technology motivate them to make a purchase? And what type of consumer is most receptive to this device?
In my recently published report, I leverage Forrester’s Technographics®360 multimethodology research approach to answer these questions. So far, reaction to the Apple Watch has ranged from skepticism to enthusiasm, and our data shows that the story of Apple Watch adoption is indeed two-sided. Our evaluation of consumer behavior and attitudes reveals an immediate market opportunity for the device as well as psychological barriers to adoption:
However, the story doesn’t end there. Between the advantages and challenges of Apple Watch adoption emerges a third reality, which synthesizes the two. Apple Watch uptake will evolve, with early adopters, motivated by excitement, biting first and a second wave of mainstream consumers – who can see and experience the benefits of the device – buying next.
If the healthcare industry exhibited symptoms of dysfunction, the US government administered a wave of treatment in the form of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. October 2013 marked the opening of online insurance marketplaces, and set the stage for the act's requirement that most US residents have health insurance coverage. As a result, the industry has witnessed cessations and regenerations, and the pulse of consumer sentiment has fluctuated. Now, one year on, we’re due for a checkup.
At a macro level, US online consumers’ perspectives on healthcare reform today are largely consistent with those immediately preceding open enrollment under the federal law: Individuals continue to be skeptical of policy changes. However, at a micro level, subtle yet fundamental shifts in the consumer mindset signal a gradual evolution in perceptions of healthcare.
Our Technographics 360 research approach, which synthesizes Forrester’s ConsumerVoices Market Research Online Community insight and aggregated social listening data, shows that the conversation about healthcare has shifted from politics to experience -- and, in particular, to a focus on cost:
Forrester has been analyzing device adoption since the launch of its Consumer Technographics® studies in 1997. Over the years, it has become evident that although demographics and attitudes influence technology adoption, these elements alone do not predict consumer behavior – subtle factors like context and psychological needs must be taken into account to piece together the technology adoption prediction puzzle. This is because of two essential contradictions that exist between:
What consumers say they will do and what they actually do: The concept of introspection illusion reveals the discrepancy between stated intent and subsequent behavior. Consumers are bad predictors of their own technology adoption patterns and are often conservative when estimating their own device usage.
What consumers say they want and what they really want: As Steve Jobs famously put it, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” And even then, consumers might not recognize the benefits of the product – needs are transient, circumstantial, and often conflicting.