Local Consumers Getting Tougher to Please
'Expectation Economy' Defines Shoppers' Rising Anticipation for 'Only the Best'
By Jane Han
We all know that once expectations go up, it's hard to bring them back down. And in this respect, marketers say Korean consumers' anticipation for quality products have shot up so much that it makes it harder and harder to satisfy their oh-so-picky needs.
``Local consumers are dancing on top of the heads of these product makers,'' said Kim Bo-kyung, the trend forum chairman of the Samsung Economic Research Institute. ``They know exactly which products are poor, satisfactory, good and excellent. So, basically, makers can understand that they're not fooling anyone here.''
According to trendwatching.com, a Netherlands-based trend consultancy, what's being noticed here is an ``expectation economy.''
This new type of shopper economy ``is one that is inhabited by experienced, well-informed consumers from Canada to South Korea who have a long list of high expectations that they apply to each and every product, service and experience on offer.''
It details that ``their expectations are based on years of self-training in hyper consumption, and on the biblical flood of new-style, readily available information sources, curators and BS filters'' ― all of which help them expect not just basic standards of quality, but the ``best of the best.''
``Korean buyers are famous for their pickiness,'' said Roh Suk-ji, the executive director of marketing at The Face Shop, a domestic cosmetic brand that recently started active international expansion. ``They not only look at the product alone, but are very careful and precise in reading through the description pamphlet, which details the ingredients used.''
Foreign car makers have readily noticed the rising expectations of Koreans, which even made the local market as a test bed for many leading makers, including the New Infiniti GS35 and Lexus ES350.
In the cyber world, homegrown sites like Danawa, Enuri and Best Buyer ― equivalent to overseas information sharing sites, such as PriceGrabber, Gizmodo, FlyerTalk and Autoblog ― allow quality and price comparison at the user's fingertip that only fuels the intelligence of these eager-to-learn consumers.
``Korean customers always seem to be one step ahead,'' said Choi Hyun-joon, a spokesman at Danawa, a leading online shopping mall that provides price comparison and consumer reviews, as he added that before products are released here, some manage to purchase them from the U.S., Japan or other locations. ``These consumers, then, bring back reviews for the others awaiting the local release.''
Danawa, which deals with goods ranging from refrigerators, cosmetics to apparel, organized them into some 10,000 categories so that shoppers can easily go to their very specific needs, said Choi.
``General review and feedback discussion boards are particularly very active, as people seem to be eager to share their experience with others,'' he said.
Along with this and many other info-sharing methods, the expectation economy has two main effects on consumers' moods, says trendwatching.com.
First, indifference will hit those brands that consumers know are underperforming, and that they can avoid due to sufficient availability of the best of the best, it said.
``If you're working for one of those underperforming brands, the scary thing is not just selling less (or nothing),'' the firm stressed. ``It's that indifferent consumers will stop being forgiving, they will stop being cooperative and giving you feedback on how to be more like other, better performing competitors. They'll just leave and never return, without telling you why.''
Another reaction of the newly dubbed economy is perpetual irritation.
Trend experts say that this will occur when consumers are forced to buy from an underperforming brand, due to limited or no availability of what they already know is the best.
And such irritation spurs one or two behaviors: fake loyalty or postponing purchases.
Phony loyal consumers will continue to purchase these not-good-enough brands if the ``real thing'' isn't available, which might make everything seem peaceful, but when the ``best of the best'' pops us, things change, it says.
An example of fake loyalty would be found in the airline industry, where countless users know that Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines and Emirates offer an incomparable experience, but they still fly on others ― only because these superior airlines aren't available on all routes.
If consumers don't choose the second best, they can also postpone their purchase.
``Some best of the best brands like Apple actually manage to indirectly convince consumers to postpone certain purchases,'' it said, adding that many consumers would still prefer waiting for the iPhone or MacBook Air than to settling for something less.
With these various causes and effects in mind, the trend agency stresses that business professionals should think and look cross-country, instead of focusing narrow-mindedly into their own industries.
European trend study agency, trendwatching.com stresses that, in order to steal the loyalty of picky shoppers, business professionals should think and look cross-country, instead of focusing narrowmindedly into their own industries.
1. Your competition could be anyone.
Instead of paying attention only to your own industry, observe others, too, because they can also be your very strong opponent, it says.
``In economies of abundance, consumers are increasingly spending their `play money' on goods and services that net them the experience, the indulgence, the excitement, the satisfaction they're looking for at a specific moment,'' it explained.
And the provider of such pleasure could be new sneakers, a new cell phone, a long vacation or a new outfit ― which makes all of these seemingly unrelated makers compete against each other.
``So, if you're Nike, you're definitely competing with Reebok and Adidas once a consumer has made up his or her mind that it's sneakers he or she wants, but before minds are made up, it may as well be Nokia or Starwoods Hotel,'' says the trend watcher.
2. Expectations are often set outside your industry.
Limiting yourself to your own industry will result in missing important changes in consumer expectations, it said, adding that this will ultimately disappoint or annoy consumers.
The trend agency said every industry has its own `innovation competence,' and these innovations not only excite their own customers, but also raise the bar for other industries.
``This can be either the Singapore Airlines' sense of status, Starbucks' understanding of indulgence and rituals, H&M's obsession with making up-to-the-minute- fashion affordable, or Apple's prowess in design and usability,'' the agency explained.
And because consumers know this very well, the lack of maintaining their competitiveness may easily lead to disappointment.
3. Just copying competitors is a race to the bottom.
Don't be obsessed over your competitors' every move, says the trend analyst, explaining that this results in ``always copying'' new concepts in your industry.
While this doesn't mean don't track what others are doing, it advises to constantly ask questions to yourself, including ``Who are our other competitors? What experiences could our product or service be traded for? And what can we learn from other industries setting consumer expectations across the board?''