Ignoring this trend can damage your customers' loyalty

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on January 1, 2002

Ignoring this trend can damage your customers' loyalty

Voluntary simplicity is a trend that has been around since Plato. It waxes and wanes, depending on circumstances. At the moment it's increasing.

It's tempting to believe the old adage: "Life goes on" and to assume that what held for yesterday will hold for today and tomorrow as well. But things do change - not always gradually - and marketers have to be aware of these trends in order to stay one step ahead. News is now in on some research that has been carried on a trend called voluntary simplicity.

Voluntary simplicity Voluntary simplicity has been around, as a movement, from the days of Plato. It has always been there to some degree but, from time to time, events cause it to emerge as a major trend. Researchers at the University of Arkansas (graduate student Hélène Cherrier along with members of the marketing faculty of the Sam M Walton College of Business, Jeff Murray and Norma Mendoza) have been tracking it.

Different focus Voluntary simplicity is a conscious choice made by a consumer. It could manifest as senior citizens selling their big homes and moving to smaller ones, or it could be young, wealthy professionals shedding possessions and opting for a simpler lifestyle. In the early days of the US it became prominent because groups like the Quakers were opposed to excessive consumption. During the Civil War, it was a political issue. It was promoted as a virtue by President Roosevelt before and during World War II. Consumers continue to purchase, but their focus is different. They focus on what is most important to them and become resistant to traditional forms of advertising and salesmanship.

Trend expanding This new research indicates that the trend towards voluntary simplicity has been expanding for more than a decade and that recent events (the attacks of September 11 and the economic downturn) have accelerated it. (And surprisingly, so has the internet: online communities and support groups have spread the trend among diverse people and cultures.) People have become more reflective and more focused on what really matters to them.

Emphasize human touch According to assistant professor of marketing, Norma Mendoza: "While value continues to be important, retailers should focus on the intangibles. If they emphasize service with a human touch and help consumers find the meaning behind the product or the purchase, they can capitalise on their relationship with the community and with their loyal customers."

Hard times Cherrier warns that this trend is a predictable consumer response to difficult and uncertain times, so it is unlikely to disappear soon. Faced with political uncertainty, security issues, privacy concerns, the explosion of technology and other complex issues, consumers are focusing on their core values and their consumption patterns reflect that identity.

Loyalty warning And something for loyalty programme operators to keep in mind: associate professor of marketing, Jeff Murray warns that "Although we have become accustomed to trivialising it, all consumption is about identity construction. If you chop this part off in the study of consumer behaviour, you may lose the most important part."

For more information:

Jeff Murray: jmurray@walton.uark.edu Hélène Cherrier: hcherrier@walton.uark.edu