Consumer Behaviour Retail Research Report

Trends in an age of austerity: society of sobriety, cheap treats and de-globalisation

By Karen Canty | Head of News

December 10, 2012 | 7 min read

With the Autumn Statement revealing further public spending cuts and austerity set to continue until 2018, Karen Canty, head of news at Future Foundation, takes a look at ten consumer trends for 2013 based on research conducted by the consumer futures business.

2012 has been a big year for British consumers – from the highs of the Olympics, to the lows of a double dip recession and a renewed focus on austerity. As a result, consumers of 2013 are set to be cautious and focused, reconciled to the realities of a flagging economy for some time to come, but still determined not to forego small indulgences and treats. They are getting smarter all the time, digitally empowered, savvy and ready to use all the tools at their disposal to get the best deal. They still care but, for the time being at least, are not fully activating all consumerist agendas.Here are our predictions for 2013’s hottest trends.Ish!We have been tracking the rise of the non-committal consumer, ever more hesitant to enter into long-term contracts, both commercial and personal, in an age where there are fewer pressures on us to stay with brands which are no longer giving satisfaction or with contracts that last forever. In 2013, consumers will more than ever be asking just what does my loyalty to my mobile supplier/insurance company/utility actually bring me? Should I start to de-clutter my lifestyle and stay free of commercial entanglements? And brands will be asking just what their “relationships” with customers will look like. Key facts:
  • 3 in 10 claim to regularly switch between different financial products and providers
  • 77 per cent want to be switched automatically to the cheapest utility tariff
Society of SobrietyIt is not just austerity that is influencing consumers to lead more sober lifestyles. As we are increasingly bombarded with health information, advice and regulation, there is evidence of a growing preference for moderate living and a gradual self-disciplining against excessive indulgence and ‘bad fun’. It is these days barely realistic to claim that one does not know how many calories are in a hamburger or how may alcohol units spell binge. Excess is just not funny anymore, not attractive, not conducive to social success.Key facts:
  • The banning of cigarette displays in all shops is to be complete by 2013
  • A majority of people now agree it is responsible to limit Christmas gifts for kids
Cheap TreatsTimes are austere and consumers are cost-conscious – but no amount of belt-tightening is going to eradicate our desire for the occasional treat. Thus we anticipate that while consumers might delay spend on luxury/ big-ticket items, not all indulgences will be banned. Instead, inexpensive products will be redefined as agents of luxury and pleasure, and there will be more trading across and within categories rather than mere trading down. The creative re-positioning of seemingly unexceptional products will stimulate innovation and offer consumers ever more opportunities to find day-to-day moments of fun.Key facts:
  • 6 in 10 agree “It's really important that I can treat myself when I want”
  • 40+ per cent are buying cheaper groceries as a result of the downturn
New Cult of The HomeA man’s home remains his castle, rich in cultural, social and psychological meaning. It is an investment, leisure venue, familial cocoon, network hub. 2013 will see this trend energised in many ways: doing things at home is cheaper than going out; the numbers of young people unable or unwilling to leave the family home is a significant social phenomenon now with teenage bedrooms morphing into adult pods; and the family is becoming an ever more vital source of financial solidarity as pensions weaken and tertiary education stays expensive.Key facts:
  • Today a first-time buyer can be asked for an advance 3.2 times their income
  • Over 80 per cent of ABs agree it is important they own their own home, cf 55 per cent of Des
The Hyper IndividualThe Hyper Individual is in control. Armed with efficient, intelligent data monitoring services, 4G internet access and programmed algorithms, they are driven to live their lives ever more purposefully and with relentlessly upgraded professionalism. This is the ‘New Maximising’: a super trend by which tools of self-reliance and household management are sharpened in every direction. This is a powerful, super-charged consumer who recognises the value of freely available information and uses it to regain control in the marketplace. Key facts:
  • 4 in 10 GB consumers check and compare prices on a weekly basis
  • Hukkster notifies its users when garments they want to purchase fall in price
Gen Y4GWe are seeing a shift to an ever more entrepreneurial, do-not-wait-for-nice-things-to-happen lifestyle among the under-30s. An extremely techno literate tribe, Gen Y4G are tackling the unique challenges of their times – more living at home, a still vexed entry into career markets, delayed household formation and home ownership, debt accumulation – with an equally unique toolkit. 2013 will see the under-30s increasingly spurred to utilise digital resources, personal initiative and peer- and family-networks to win in an austere climate. Key facts:
  • 6 in 10 Gen Ys agree they are prepared to take risks to get what they want in life
  • 70 per cent of over-30s say Gen Y faces more financial challenges than previous ones
Native MarketingBrands are making psychologically rich journeys for/with their customers, narrating their presence into the heart of their social spaces and engaging with intelligent, shareable content and creative distraction. In this world, there is no vulgar discussion about price and value-for-money; the brand is no longer a product in any 20th century sense. Looking to 2013, greater access to 4G networks will widen consumers’ access to high-level content on-the-go, leaving the platform for Native Marketing wider and more accessible. Key facts:
  • Coca-Cola’s Facebook page has over 53 million likes
  • As 2012 closes, around six in 10 16-24s in Britain follow a brand on a social network
Graphene NationObjects and the processes which create them are almost completely unstable now. The evolution of 3D printing is paving new forms of product personalisation, while providing fresh invitations to individual creativity. Meanwhile, the revolutionary nano-chemistry of graphene promises radical improvements to touch screens and liquid crystal displays – as well as making everything bendable/foldable. In 2013, this trend will become as much a social as a technological dream, with consumers effectively designing and using their own products in ways which both stretch their personal creativity and re-order relationships with companies. Key facts:
  • 70 per cent of under-24s agree that it is important to be able to express personal creativity
  • The developers of graphene are Nobel Prize winners
De-globalisationUK Plc is seeing a growing consumer insistence that domestic producers/suppliers are protected from – and favoured over – more remote alternatives. Even moderate voices express concern over the scale of foreign ownership of much loved UK brands and the encroachment of corporate acquisition from overseas. Will ‘Buy British’ flourish beyond recession? We believe the answer is yes.Key facts:
  • Only around 20 per cent of Britons have a positive image of the EU
  • Around 50 per cent agree they are keener now to buy locally produced goods
Pension Half-BoardSociety is set to become ageless in new, dramatic ways. As the pension-age population rises, so the stock of pension finance declines: thus we foresee many working beyond 70 with depleting legacy assets and potentially drawing finance from younger family members. In 2013, there will be topical debate about the special costs of living (eg utility bills, withdrawal of allowances) for those on fixed incomes. HMG’s state pension reforms (via the Hutton Report) will further stimulate the realisation that only dedicated lifelong saving will protect late-age living standards. Slow-burn so far, the issue is now explosive as those in their 20s are educated to save for their 70s while the whole notion of retirement dies. Key facts:
  • 1.4 million people are still in the labour market beyond state pension age
  • A majority now expect to work longer to fund old age
Consumer Behaviour Retail Research Report

Content created with:

Future Foundation

Find out more

More from Consumer Behaviour

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +