The proliferation of the Internet, social networks, smartphones, tablets and branded in-store and mobile contact points in Italy are presenting increased opportunities to build successful relationships with the consumer, and Italian consumers are increasingly taking advantage of their multi-channel options. Fully 44 percent (23 million people over 14 years) of Italians engage the buying process through several contact points – a year-over-year increase of 2.6 million individuals.
New findings from The Multichannel Survey, a four-year running joint project by Nielsen, Connexia and the Milan Polytechnic School of Management, show that more and more Italian consumers have a greater involvement in the purchasing process by using various channels and sources of information to support the purchase and post sales service – an increasingly necessary condition in the current climate of economic uncertainty and proliferated offerings.
Discussing multi-channel consumers in generic terms is no longer sufficient. In order to dig more deeply into buying behaviors, the Multichannel Survey grouped consumers into distinct segments to reveal a more accurate picture. An analysis of these segments from 2007 to 2010 revealed interesting migration trends. While the “Reloaded” and “Open Minded” clusters increased by 4.4 million people and 2.7 million, respectively, the “Indifferent” (-3 million), “Excluded” (-2.7 million) and “Engaged Traditional” (-0.7 million) segments all declined.
Involved and Engaged
The principle distinguishing feature of the Reloaded consumer is the degree of involvement in the purchasing process and the propensity to approach the company personally, either to suggest improvements to the offering or to become actively engaged in value creation processes like product development, marketing, communication and customer support.
Open-minded consumers, meanwhile, are multi-channel with respect to the number of devices they own and their use of media, but their value profile is strongly focused on self-actualization and individualism – even in their rapport with retailers. For example, if dissatisfied, Open-minded consumers will not email the retailer or spark off a debate on a blog, forum or social network. Rather, they will call the company directly to try and solve the problem immediately. The behavior of the Reloaded customer is diametrically opposite. With their knowledge of the various channels and the peculiarities of each, they will tend to report the problem on every available channel, triggering the viral potential social networks.
The study revealed a phenomenon that is partly unexpected: the rise in overall goodwill on the part of Italian consumers towards advertising in almost all media – in both traditional and more innovative channels. Particularly striking in absolute terms is the approval of initiatives at the point of sale (welcomed by 74% of Italians), a category that has topped the ranking for several years. The fastest growing approval ratings for communication and advertising go to social networks, whether for more specific and less invasive forms such as; company pages, profiles, groups etc., which scored a 24 percent approval (eight points higher than 2009), or the more conventional forms such as advertising banners, which scored 20 percent (increase of 5 points).
Among traditional media, there is a marked rise in approval of radio advertising (47 percent, +6 points vs. 2009), which is on par with the medium’s broad revitalization trend over the past several years and the importance of radio to advertising budgets. Additionally, the dynamics of radio allow listeners to use a multitude of devices such as television, the Internet and mobile phones to hear content.
When it comes to purchasing decisions, the study revealed that the physical retail outlets continue to be important sources of information. While more and more people say they inform themselves before they go to the store, once inside, they still want to learn more or receive reassurance on their choice. For example, when purchasing consumer electronics 47 percent of Italian consumers already know about the products, but they want further information once in the store.
At the same time, the Internet continues to play an increasingly important role as a source of information to support purchases. Fully 84 percent of consumers with Internet access (31 million individuals) search for information online and then buy at the store – an increase of two percentage points vs. 2009 and a rise of eight points vs. 2007. Seventy-four percent compare prices of products/services before buying (+3 p.p. vs. 2009, +9 p.p. vs. 2007) and 37 percent of Italian consumers order online and pick up later at the retailer (+2 p.p. vs. 2009, +5 p.p. vs. 2007).
User-generated content on the Internet and dialogue between peers is rising in importance as a credible form of support to the purchasing process. One-in-three (32%) consumers who use the Internet (42% of the Reloaded cluster) consider the opinions of others on forums, blogs and social networks as important and relevant input when deciding whether to buy a product or service. Additionally, perceived barriers to Internet shopping continue to decline. Thirty-one percent of Italians (+9 p.p. vs. 2009) believe the web meets their personal needs, while 26 percent of Internet users say they check out products in the store before buying online (+5 p.p. vs. 2009).
What emerges is an interesting consumer landscape that marketers can no longer ignore or view as marginal by responding with purely tactical, short-term strategies to ensure a presence in the most popular new channels. Instead, the new multi-media consumer requires a revolution of business models where the customer is at the center and the new channels are seen as a strategic asset – not simply an afterthought.