Shopping for a better world

March 21, 2017

We are living in the information age. Consumers are making more informed decisions. Informed decisions take into account the consequences of consumption. The purchasing power of consumers brings social change that makes life more satisfying. For many of us material needs have been satisfied, therefore consumption is starting to focus more on purpose.

 

Informed purchase decisions can be seen as the search for satisfaction. Consumers are emphasising a sense of meaning and purpose. This became apparent in our survey in Sweden (n = 1005), carried out in summer 2016. Most participants felt they could make a difference: “Consumers have great power but we are not using it to that extent.”

79 % of citizens don’t normally buy a new product before the old one is worn out or broken
75 % of citizens think that responsibility is a requirement for quality
52 % of citizens will happily sacrifice their own comfort for the common good
48 % of citizens are worried about the state of the world and this guides their consumption choices.

Seven consumer segments in Sweden

We identified seven consumer segments (Figure 1). Considerations of individual virtue and value seem to be an essential motivator in purchase decisions. One can buy organic local products for supporting local well-being rather than for environmental reasons. Consumer behaviour is an expression of moral self-realisation.

Figure 1. Identified Swedish consumer segments according to the Theory of Basic Human Values by Shalom Schwartz.

 

THE INDEPENDENT are the biggest consumer segment in Sweden. They know what is important to them and what gives them life satisfaction. The Independent value being open to change. They have a strong inner need for pleasure, excitement and new experiences. It is based on a strong sense of efficacy – they feel they can make a difference.

They prefer ascetic and aesthetic surroundings. Even if they are looking for new experiences, they favour leasing and hiring instead of owning. They are ready to adopt mobility-as-a-service. One of them said: “Everybody drives their own car. That is insane.”

THE COMMITTED are strongly guided by their values. The gap between their thoughts and actions is narrow. They value independent thoughts and actions, as well as self-transcendence. They enjoy the simple life and a sense of community. They have recognised that a work-and-spend mentality alienates them from what really matters.

The Committed want to make a difference. They are worried about the world. It decreases their happiness but brings increased meaning to their lives. They demonstrate social compassion and are knowledgeable about environmental topics. They do what they can but they are not fanatical: “I pay pollution tax. We rent a car in summer, we take the train. You do what you can.”

THE CONSIDERATE are the oldest consumer segment (53 % of them are over 60 years old). Their behaviour is directed by security, conformity, tradition and benevolence. They value safety, harmony and stability of life. The Considerate are cautious and slow to adopt new habits. They value respect, commitment and acceptance of the customs and ideals that traditional culture or religion provide. The Considerate are motivated by their compassion for others.

Currently, 54 % of them are homeowners. This is the highest percentage amongst the seven consumer segments. In future, members of the Considerate with relatively small income may realise that they can make some extra money by renting out what they already own.

THE ACHIEVERS value hedonism, self-enhancement, achievement and power. They want to maximise their experiences so they don’t miss out on anything in life. Their everyday choices are linked to financial success and status. They value power because it helps manage other people and things.

The Achievers are not ready for the sharing economy: “There are a lot of people talking about the sharing economy, but it’s not something for us.” Despite this they could be the first consumer segment to adopt the concept of ‘wellbeing as a service.’ They are ready to utilise personalised online services, which help them understand who they are and what is best for them.

THE SMART have diverse values. None of their values stand out by comparison. The Smart are relatively young people (63 % under 50). They have the lowest income of the seven consumer segments. However, they have found their ways to enjoy life. They are happy with a frugal life.

The future of the Smart is difficult to predict because they are opportunists. They could completely withdraw from their current way of life. Some are ready for the sharing economy: “I’m using a tool pool in the housing community.” However, some show progression towards a money-is-everything attitude.

THE SEEKERS are looking to find themselves because they are young (86 % are under 50). Their purchase decisions are directed by stimulation, hedonism and achievement. The Seekers are also driven by social standards. What is not illegal is acceptable to them, they don’t question norms.

The Seekers are used to taking survival for granted. They are interested in moving from ownership to the use of services. 43 % of them already live in rented apartments. The sharing economy is apparent in their thinking: “I could share with someone I can trust.” 

THE BYSTANDERS form a consumer segment that prefers security, conformity and tradition. They prefer to sit back and see how things will work out before jumping on board. They feel they can’t make a difference in society.

The Bystanders are resilient citizens because they focus on essential matters in their lives and they desire to live in peace. They are so cautious and critical about new influences that they can be immune to the conflicts people face in a complex world.

Purpose-driven consumption is growing

In Sweden, people enjoy the egalitarian culture of the country. Consumers seem to be moving from a focus on economic and physical security to values emphasising self-expression and a sense of meaning and purpose. Sweden is a fascinating society to study because it’s a forerunner in the shift from materialism to post-materialism. In everyday life, this means that the importance of ownership has decreased, services are used instead of owning goods, and the renewal of goods is motivated by real needs. This enhances consumers’ life satisfaction and provides better opportunities for the next generation.

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Dr. Arto O. Salonen, Research Director (Metropolia), Adjunct Professor (University of Helsinki)

Are Swedish consumers no longer “lagom”?

March 6, 2017

Western consumer cultures produce social norms formerly created by the Church, the State or the class society. Norms produced on the market change rapidly and are created to increase production and consumption. In the Swedish setting market-based norm production is reflected in 3 themes; Significance, Self-importance and Moderation, which have implications for how Swedish consumers behave.

In Sweden consumption is Significant

In a world of mass-produced products and services we have a need for a personalized way of consuming. This is a reflection of an increasing individualized world where collective and stable norms of the past, based in religion and social class, have been replaced by fluid and ever-changing norms produced by dominant market actors. In the Swedish setting social democratic values are paired with very little religious influence on our moral stance. In such a context, the Swedish “folkrörelserna”, have had a big impact on norm production. As an example, in the Swedish food retail market, the cooperatively owned Coop (historically developed the cheap no-logo products called “Blå vita varor”) has taken the lead in developing and selling organic and fairly traded products and has influenced competitors in food retailing to take up the fight over the eco-conscious food consumer. Thus, in Sweden there is a very wide range of sustainable food items on sale and the competition between organic food items is fierce. All 3 dominant actors in food retailing have developed a large range of private label organic foods which are important marketing tools. In addition, Svenska Naturskyddsföreningen (runs the eco certification schemes “Bra Miljöval”), Fair Trade and KRAV (the Swedish certification schemes for organic food) have been very active on the Swedish food retail market. All these organizations are highly visible in the media and cooperate with the big food retailers. Given this background it is not surprising that Swedish consumers want to consume in a responsible and socially “good way”. In a market where sustainable goods are regarded as marketing tools and where certifications schemes as KRAV, Fair Trade and SNF are highly visible, Swedish consumers respond by increasingly want to buy products and services that reflect fairness, solidarity and sustainability. Buying eco-friendly and fairly traded goods is meaningful and authentic on an individual level in a world of abundance.

In Sweden poverty is fought, and equality is viewed, in terms of the ability to consume. The strong social democratic tradition in cooperation with the unions and the business community have fostered a view of the normal life – the so called “folkhemmet” – as one including specific products. Today, a in a middleclass Swedish household, everyone above the age of 6-8 yrs has a cell-phone (Sweden and Norway have most cellphones/capita in the world), large flat TV:s is the norms (everybody replaced the fat TV:s with flat ones half a decade ago), espresso machines, MacBooks and minimum one car (not in the city center).

Sweden is a very trend sensitive country and Swedes are very quick to pick up new products and trends. That is why P&G Nordics has its head office in Sweden – to be able to follow what products that succeed and what do not, in the Swedish setting. Maybe this is linked to Sweden being seemingly homogenous when it comes to style and design. Almost everyone have white walls indoor and if you walk the streets in Göteborg and Stockholm you see that all girls have the same haircut, same type of jacket, same jeans design etc.

In Sweden consumption is important for the Self

When norms are produced on the market (of which consumers are part) individuals face the challenge of finding out themselves the answers to existential questions like “who am I?”, “what is right and what is wrong?”, “what is the meaning of life?” etc. Thus, identity-making becomes individual, something that every one of us must deal with (as compared with the past when the church or stable social classes provided answers to these questions. In our consumer focused societies we undertake this identity work in the marketplace by reacting to products and product representations (advertisements, media dependent product accounts). In a secular country like Sweden, which is considered to be the most individualized country in the world consumers tend to be excited and are cheered up by consuming – style and creativity is important. Needless to say, we live in an experience marketing age, and from a Swedish perspective, consumers must be provided with emotional benefits in order to consume. Why? Because Sweden is one of the most affluent countries in the world on average and in order to convince people who already have everything, to buy something new or more, there must be a socially valued experience connected to the product or service. The work rich, time-poor Swedish middle class have little time for reflection and they tend to go with the flow – i.e. they consume according to the latest trend, a kind of existential quick-fix. Those people that oppose consumption norms have the time and ability to scrutinize market communications and ask themselves “do I really need this?”

But also Moderation matters

In an era of individual norm production the assurance of brands is important. Brands can be perceived as providing security when the world goes insane, they can make us feel at home, confident that we have and are what is considered normal. Brands have in a sense replaced social relations in the provision of security and togetherness, and this development is enforced and sustained by social media (brand communities etc). Swedish consumers need continuity and “tradition” in a Swedish society that quite fast has moved from a collective view on welfare (social democratic old school) to a highly neo-liberal and individualized political scene.

What about the future?

It is probable that in Sweden the market and its mass-produced offerings will cease being the main meaning-providers in the future. One reason behind this statement is the industrialization of for example ecological food which implies constant price-sustainability negotiations. As a consequence there will be debates like “can mass produced products be sustainable” and subsequent doubts among consumers. Hence it is probable that products produced in smaller quantities, in non-industrial settings, maybe to the advantage of local employment and environment will take on meaning producing qualities and gain significance among consumers. Collective social norms will gain importance as climate change, migration and other serious issues will become more threatening. We already see fast fashion turning into slow fashion and probably the market will take advantage of more collective moral understandings. Swedes will trust brands for many years to come but brands will have to change in terms of how they source their goods (sustainability!) and appearance.

Cecilia SolérSenior Lecturer Associate Professor,
Marketing, University of Gothenburg

30 homes – 3 insights that explain the success of informed consumption in Sweden

February 13, 2017

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Sweden is a forerunner in the shift from materialism to post-materialism and sustainable lifestyles. We have conducted a broad study of 1005 Swedish consumers and toured 2900 km around the country to conduct 30 interviews. Here are three important insights from the people we met.

1. No more extremes
The Swedish don’t aim for perfect ideals, they do their best and allow themselves guilty pleasures. You can be vegan for just one meal. This relaxed attitude has allowed sustainable lifestyle to become easy, mainstream and possible for anyone.

2. Media sensitivity
People are following the constant newsfeed provided by Omni on their phones. Rarely they read more than the headline but they do want to stay aware. The hot topic of last summer’s interviews was Danish meat. We met people from very different backgrounds but most of them were talking about antibiotics, hormones and bad treatment of animals. The Swedish are extremely sensitive to trends and media. Therefore such debates create big long-term effects in behaviour unlike neighbouring Finland, where people are more hesitant to react.

3. Hunger for meaning
People used to define themselves through religion and social classes. This is long gone in Sweden, but the need to understand where you belong and what your purpose is has not disappeared. Now significance is found in consumption choices, from ecological pantyhose to sustainable travel. The consumers are becoming more demanding and will not accept half-hearted sustainability that mass-market products often offer. And that’s great because we’ll be forced to design better things for them.

We think the future looks very bright. We are not doing this research to know how to manipulate people better. We want to serve the critical, informed consumer and understand what brings meaning and balance to their lives. That is also sustainable, successful business.


Saara Järvinen, Insight Specialist & Designer, Kuudes Stockholm

Sharing stories

January 12, 2017

theinformedconsumer_blog

Sharing economy is a phenomenon that has increasingly gained attention during the 21st century. It has been claimed to be a functional and effective way of using goods and decreasing the environmental impact of consumption and creating long craved social interactions and community into people’s lives. But as we have noticed through our Informed Consumer studies, not everybody are as excited about it as the experts. It seems that some people are even slightly afraid of sharing.

We just wonder why.

Because, to be honest, owning is a burden. Goods need to be purchased, maintained and taken care of. And storing all the owned goods require a lot of space and cause stress. Not to mention the stress the recycling causes.

Of course, there are many rational and practical reasons for owning. Sharing is very impractical if the good is in daily use or if it is personally modified. And all goods are not shareable for hygienic reasons.

But why do we want to own objects even if they would be totally suitable for sharing? People might say that they do not trust the platforms or the regulatory uncertainty worries but really one of the main concerns seems to be:

What happens to the stories?

Objects have a huge storytelling power. They tell stories to others and to us. They might take you back to the foreign city where you lived in your early twenties during your gap year. They might remind you of the love and care your grandmother gave you when you were a child. They might be symbols of the life you once left behind.

During our visits into people’s homes we have heard a few of these stories and they never stop surprising and fascinating us. It is truly exciting to learn how people build relationships with material goods. Some objects are meaningful and special, right from the start. Like the salad spin that matches the one Kaisa had in her childhood home. Some objects people become attached to slowly with time. Like the football t-shirts that Jonas wore when he met his wife.

Material goods have not only functional duties but also symbolic meanings. No matter how trivial or dysfunctional the good might seem, it still can have a huge value to the owner. People seem to have a habit of creating personal relationships and attaching various meanings to objects which they come in contact with. Objects are tangible memories which can bring comfort and joy to the owner.

It might be that people are not afraid of sharing. They are afraid of forgetting.

The reasons behind how and why people really attach to material goods might be out of our control, but as designers we can create opportunities for it. Our challenge is to design strong services and brands that inspire storytelling – not despite, but because – they are shared.

Because in the end it is the people who create memories and meanings. Like Kalle who isn’t attached to his country house because the building is beautiful. He is attached to it because it is a place which he has shared with his family and created beautiful and meaningful memories with. The country house is just a way of conveying these memories.

Roosa Luukkanen, Junior Insight Specialist, Kuudes Helsinki

Five Strange Findings from Swedish Homes

September 5, 2016

How do Swedish people live, think and consume? During the summer of 2016 we covered 2900 km around Sweden, visiting 30 different homes to gather insights for our Informed Consumer study.

Here we’d like to share the first five surprise discoveries we found in Swedish homes.

1. Sweden is also nervous. We had a naive prejudice that Swedish people live in their happy bubble, protected from the big political and economical threats that are strongly influencing Finnish values and attitudes right now. But the Swedes are equally scared. The difference is their reaction to it. We didn’t find big growth in the stagnant group like in Finland, instead we found people willing to look to the future.

2. Swedes stock their freezers with chicken filé and other meats. The frozen pack is a kitchen essential to most of the informants we met. We haven’t seen this behaviour before. Why here? Does this reveal something about Swedish attitudes towards price-awareness, meat-eating or food waste? Or is it just a consequence of the Swedish supermarket selection, package-sizes and pricing?

3. Swedes love sparkling water. We found a Soda Stream in half of the homes that we visited. What’s up with the fizzy drinks? Maybe the Swedes are just this one machine ahead of Finnish consumers. What is seen as a luxury on one side of the bay is a necessity on the other.

4. Finnish products are the choice of a quality-conscious Swede. We found Fazer, Valio and Iittala in a few homes, and Finnish food was described as clean. In terms of quality and locality they were comparable to local Swedish products, while Danish food raised strong suspicions. On the other hand Finnish products don’t seem to be very distinguishable or emotional in Sweden.

5. The Swedes don’t stress about being sustainable. Most of the people we met were perfectly satisfied with their consumption habits. They didn’t expect to be perfect but were proud of the good actions they are already taking. Sustainability had become a part of their ordinary life. We think Finland should follow Sweden, since happiness is a far better motivator than a guilty conscience.

We need a profound understanding of what drives people’s efforts towards sustainability. We aim to be a Nordic expert on consumer values and attitudes and how they conflict with people’s daily routines. This is the key to meaningful concepts and design that actually function in real life.

Even small, repeat behavioural patterns might be the key to an important discovery, some might just be random coincidences. We will continue to analyse our findings and compare it to the extensive data of our nation-wide quantitative study conducted in Sweden this summer. We have already learned a great deal – also about the Finns.

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Saara Järvinen, Insight Specialist & Designer, Kuudes Stockholm

In search of significance

June 1, 2016

We live in interesting times. We are more prosperous than ever before in human history, but we increasingly feel that we must run harder and harder even to stay in one place – let alone making any headway.

In all of this haste we are becoming estranged from ourselves and from one another. Life is fragmenting into small pieces and we are plagued by a lack of prospects. There is no time to recognise who we really are and what we are ultimately looking for in life. Some people hold that we are heading the right way, but just need to go faster, perhaps by prolonging our working hours. Others even think that we could afford to slow down if only we could be sure about our choice of direction.

It’s time for the big questions. What is progress? What makes life worth having? What do we ultimately need more of, and what should we cut back on to live a good life?

The average person in Finland owns 10,000 commodities. Would our lives be any better if we owned 20,000? What objective is sufficiently deserving of the best efforts of our unique lives? Is progress best represented by bigger display screens, smarter phones and faster computers? What can we learn from the fact that the sense of wellbeing among citizens of developed industrialised countries has not increased since the 1960s?

Advanced design is all about the quest for successful living. It does not relapse to the style of the early 2000s as a mere provider of experiences, but advances to the next level of seeking significance, thereby responding to the shift that has replaced money with time as the determiner of adequacy and opportunity. This engages with the customer not merely as a passive consumer, but as an active stakeholder.

A successfully designed product or service will open new horizons of significance in life that enable users to connect their own lives to a greater whole. For example the customer experience of café service will be increasingly determined by knowledge of where the coffee beans were grown, who was involved in the work, and what the cultivation conditions were.

The products and services of the future will benefit business owners, their employees and the surrounding community. They will combine self-interest and the common good, because they will be based on shared value creation. They will give future generations a reason to be proud of us.

Progress will be anything that maximises hope for the future and that unleashes the full potential of people and human excellence. It will be experienced as a thoroughgoing zest for life that makes us feel more worthy as people and ready to face each new day.

Life will be enjoyable in a society where people trust one another, work in harmony and take care of each other. A climate of progress will enable us to be everything that people can be at their best.

Dr. Arto O. Salonen is an adjunct professor at the University of Helsinki. The title of his doctoral dissertation is Sustainable Development and its Promotion in a Welfare Society in a Global Age. He is currently researching sustainable consumption and societal change for successful living. http://artosalonen.com

Finnish consumers changed the name of the game

May 27, 2016

In 2014, Kuudes Kerros released the findings of a nation-wide study about what motivates conscious consumption. This year it was time for an update. Even though future forecasting is very much a part of our daily work routine, the dramatic change we’ve discovered during the survey conducted, has been remarkable and surprising.

Predictable trends from 2014 have largely been realized, but the economic and social situation has resulted in a surprisingly steep polarization.

Some consumer groups have been consistent in their uncompromising standards when it comes to responsible consumption, demanding perhaps even a little bit more from brands and themselves.

At the same time others have been feeling inconsolable insecurity, which has been steering consumer behavior into a collective resistance of change, extreme price-awareness, digital resistance, and ultimately direct stagnation.

The perception of price and quality is also changing. New features have been  added to the concept of premium and consumers have become skeptical of the traditional symbols of quality. People are also finding amazing and creative ways to combine collective efforts of responsibility.

The rules of the game have changed. On the 2nd of June 2016 we will be releasing the results of our latest study, and share with you the part consumers are expecting you to play.

Saara Järvinen, Insight Specialist & Designer, Kuudes Helsinki