As much as I might want to avoid the subject, it is impossible to look at retail predictions for 2019 without looking through the lens of Brexit. As the uncertainty continues over a possible deal, I want to try and think about the effect it will have on retailers in 2019, what is probably concerning them and what if anything we can do to brace ourselves.
I watched the fascinating Channel 4 live debate show, Brexit: What the Nation Really Thinks, which aired in November. Polling and market research agency, Survation interviewed 20,000 people online across the UK from 20 October to 2 November 2018 in the biggest ever independent Brexit opinion poll. If you didn’t see it, according to the poll if the referendum was re-run, there would be a swing toward remain at 53% to 47% - but that’s neither here nor there right now!
What was interesting, with my retail hat on, was how attitudes to the overall economic outlook of the country and people’s personal finances by age group would impact retail strategy planning their 2019. Overall, the study found that 44% think Brexit will be bad for the economy, versus 31% thinking it will be good. This deteriorating consumer confidence is already being played out on the high street where we are seeing a continuing stream of store closures – not just because of Brexit, but certainly not helped by it.
When you start to delve deeper into the demographics there is a clear picture emerging among the different age groups – as the age group increases attitude to Brexit, economic outlook and effect on personal finances get more positive. While 45 year olds and younger now overwhelmingly have a negative view of the economy post-Brexit, for 55-64 year olds it is much tighter (34% think it will be good, versus 40% bad) and for 65-74 year olds it swings to positive (42% think it will be good, versus 35% bad).
A clear majority of consumers aged 54+ also think Brexit will either be good or make no impact to their personal finances. There are two factors behind this. Firstly, they are after all ‘Generation Wealth’, with more assets and financial independence so therefore less likely to feel they will be adversely impacted. Additionally, as a majority wanted to vote leave anyway, they were clearly unimpressed by what they see as ‘project fear’ from the remain side about some of the reported negative financial impacts.
However, for worried millennials a far different picture emerges. Just 24% think Brexit will be good for the economy versus 50% bad. Meanwhile 44% think it will be bad for their finances, against 18% good. Not surprising when you consider their careers started after the financial crash and they are less secure in their jobs.
So, what does this mean for retailers in developing marketing strategy? Insulated from any of the more negative personal financial impact of Brexit and with more confidence in the country’s future could we see the baby boomers create a mini retail boom?
However, for millennials, worried about their personal financial security as well as the economy, retailers will need to entice them to shop. Millennials seek out experiences which also applies to the way they shop. Retailers need to engage with this audience through the customer journey making any purchase a positive experience. What is the USP versus Amazon for this digital, increasingly disenfranchised demographic?
Having a distinct strategy for the different demographics and understanding their mindset, spending power and intention will be key. Also, being agile and flexible and able to react quickly to the market and buying signals. Just as the outcome of the negotiation won’t satisfy all political parties or a now fractured population, neither will a one size fits all retail strategy. Start planning now to remain relevant to your customer base as we move into unpredictable 2019.
Daniel Todaro is managing director of Gekko