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Rethinking value: The evolution of consumer spending

(First of three parts)

Consumer spending serves as the cornerstone of the world economy and society, and both businesses and governments depend on it. It currently accounts for more than half (60%) of the world’s GDP, according to the Global Economy, an online database that compiles over 500 indicators for more than 200 countries since 1960. In the Philippines, private consumption accounted for 75.4% of nominal GDP in December 2022.

When consumers spend, the economy grows; when they do not, the economy shrinks — showing us how the consumer is truly king. Even during a recession, consumers always manage to find a way to spend their way back to growth, with methods employed for recovery nearly always centering on getting consumers to spend more money by lowering debt payments and raising wages.

Two years of lockdowns in particular have left a lasting impression on consumer preferences. As much as 54% of consumers have noticed changes in their values and outlook on life, according to the EY Future Consumer Index, which surveys over 21,000 consumers in 27 countries. Many consumers have developed simpler, less consumerist values as a result of learning to live with less. An increasing number of reselling, renting, and repair services made possible by technological platforms and new business models also enable consumers to restrict their consumption without affecting their lives.

The pursuit of economic growth is also receiving more criticism, with questions raised about the potential social and environmental consequences of economic expansion. Consumption is under pressure due to current macroeconomic instability, rising interest rates and continuously higher than average inflation rates. This in turn is reducing the appetite for consumers to spend their way out of a crisis, possibly redefining the concept of growth and how to measure it.

For many years, encouraging people to consume more has been the source of growth. The introduction of new products, seasonal fashion, bigger portions, and an abundance of options have previously increased consumer spending. However, with increasing signs of consumption fatigue, brands must reevaluate their value proposition to motivate consumers to consume better instead of consuming more.

At the same time, consumption is not going anywhere; people still need to eat and drink, although they may purchase food and drink in various ways. Clothing and other necessities will still be in demand, though perhaps in less quantity. Even though consumer aspirations may be less centered on tangible objects, they will still have goals that depend on products and services.

The Future Consumer Index identified five drivers that could reshape consumption patterns:

Household evolution. With the increasing number of single-person and single-parent homes, household sizes are decreasing. According to a study funded by the World Health Organization and conducted by the Department of Health (DoH) and the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health, the number of solo parents in the Philippines is currently estimated at 14 million to 15 million. Longer life expectancies, falling fertility rates, and children staying at home longer also contribute to evolving household compositions, creating new consumption patterns in the types and volumes of products purchased.

Experiences over products. Spending on material things will reach a saturation point as consumption rises, lowering the value of tangible commodities. Instead, consumers will start to spend their discretionary income on activities that enrich their lifestyles through experiences.

Extended product lifecycles. Companies and customers are under increasing pressure to improve and repair items instead of replacing them. The frequency of new product introductions will decline as the concept of “planned obsolescence” gives way to the “right to repair,” and repair or enhancement services will create new revenue streams.

Digital goods and services. With more time spent online, consumers find less need to own or use physical goods and services. While many essential needs will continue to be met physically, the growth of digital goods and services is expanding consumer spending and opening up new possibilities for innovation and value creation.

Impact transparency. Consumer awareness of the broader effects of the goods and services they use — on both people and the planet — will only continue to increase. More readily available product information will affect the decisions they make.

Significant changes in consumption patterns are predicted to occur over the next few years, according to learnings from the EY Future Consumer Index.

Consumption of physical goods as a percentage of total consumption will drop. Less tangible consumables are seeing an increase in consumer preference. In particular, the total amount of physical products will decline as a result of consumers choosing experiences, digital products, and longer product life cycles.

Asset-light lifestyles will change basket and product sizes. In a future world when being frugal is commended, less will be more. Everything will be available for rent or subscription, and fluctuating household sizes will determine how much people buy. Bulk purchasing will decline as the number of one-person homes rises, while the practice of purchasing better quality items instead of more and renting the remainder will increase as consumers reevaluate whether they really need certain products.

Simplicity and transparency will enable consumer choices. Consumers will be able to cut through complexity with the help of artificial intelligence (AI), enabling purchase decisions to be defined by seamless convenience as much as price. However, consumers will also make decisions that consider the impact of those decisions on their values. They might not give as much thought to daily essentials as long as the items meet expectations in terms of price and use, but consumers will prefer to invest their time and money in the goods and services they genuinely value.

In the second part of this article, we discuss the factors affecting drivers of growth and their implications for consumer companies.

This article is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of SGV & Co.


Maria Kathrina S. Macaisa-Peña is a business consulting partner and the consumer products and retail sector leader of SGV & Co.

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