Retail Reflections: Sleuthy Shoppers are ‘recent traitors to materialism’

Alan Monahan writes: Back in 2005 some bright spark decided that Blue Monday was the most depressing day on the calendar. Until then I had always regarded it as one of my favourite Fats Domino songs.

Anyway, apart from worrying about what I was going to write on Blue Monday – which fell on January 15 – it was like any other start to my week. Although I didn’t actually race to the computer, it didn’t bother me personally. I certainly wasn’t sad.

But I did wonder what retailers might make of it. What else could the world throw at them on this downer of a day after some pretty grim footfall and trading figures over the festive period and unexciting forecasts for 2018?

I pondered all the stuff that you resilient folk have to put up with – people like me telling you that technology can change your lives and how to create in-store experiences to achieve sales. Not to mention unfair business rates and unpunished stealing from shops. All this while trying to maintain margin and make those day-to-day decisions to keep on top of the job. And to think, the only thing you ever wanted to do was run a gift shop!

I’ve been writing about our industry for more than 20 years and I swear that something pops up in my inbox every week that takes me by surprise and makes me feel almost guilty for not knowing.

Ever heard of Sleuthy Shoppers? Me neither until last week when they were mentioned in a report by Alison Angus, head of lifestyle research at Euromonitor International. She describes them as investigative consumers.

‘Sceptical of mass-produced products and the motivations of the companies that create them, tired of empty rhetoric and soothing words of assurance, they are taking action to find out more, Now, if companies do not provide tangible proof of their practices, Sleuthy Shoppers will turn to independent online sources for information.’

Ms Angus says they are survivors of the recession and recent traitors to materialism.

‘Sleuthy Shoppers span from Gen X to Gen Z, but are serious about the causes in which they believe. This intensity extends to their view of the companies they buy from, or even work for, and every company is judged as either a friend or an enemy to their cause.

‘When every purchase is a statement, nobody is afforded the luxury of sitting on the fence. Today, it is no longer sufficient merely to respond to consumer feedback, or to take a stance on an issue: companies must provide proof.

‘Sleuthy Shoppers have unlimited information at their fingertips, and can effortlessly investigate companies of interest. To build trust, companies must offer detailed evidence, preferably with pictorial or video support, on their supply chain and labour practices. Accompanying third-part certification is even better.’

Did you find that unsettling? There’s more.

She says that consumers of all ages want and need less. Ownership is under question, and flexible, minimalist living is gaining popularity, with consumers sharing everything from clothing, household items and pets through to cars and living spaces.

And mentioning large companies that may have seen recent success with faux artisanal products, there’s a warning that Sleuthy Shoppers are ‘past this, and now conduct more prolonged investigations to unveil the full product journey’.

‘They look for evidence of Fair Trade procurement, environmentally-friendly production, fair wages, FSC-certified paper packaging and energy-efficient distribution.

‘They would ideally like to understand – preferably through video evidence – all the poignant, tangible steps of the product’s journey. Sleuthy Shoppers are no longer just buying a product, they are buying its entire history and everything that it represents.’

If you’re heading to one of the many great trade shows taking place around the UK, The Netherlands, France and Germany over the next few weeks I don’t know how many ‘investigative consumers’ you’ll find among the buyers and I can’t offer an identikit picture that will help you to spot a Sleuthy Shopper.

There may, though, be a clue in the report, Top 10 Global Consumer Trends for 2018, which also mentions Clean Lifers, 20-29-year-olds who have strong beliefs and ideals. ‘They are less tolerant, more sceptical. They feel they can make a difference, and this influences their spending choices. This means more saying no: no to alcohol; no to unhealthy habits; no to animal-based products; and, increasingly, not to unmeasured or uninformed spending. Their need to impress is less through ownership, and more through experiences they want to share.’

I will only venture to suggest that anyone enjoying a meat pie and a pint at a show probably won’t be a Sleuthy Shopper or a Clean Lifer.