Matching market and brand strategy to changes in consumers’ habitual buying behaviour due to Covid-19

To the extent that the Covid-19 pandemic may change certain fundamental patterns of consumer behaviour, companies must carefully consider how to adjust their market strategies and tactics accordingly.

One classic pattern of consumer behaviour that seems to be subject to change due to Covid-19, is the so called habitual buying behaviour.

Under normal circumstances, one of the most defining patterns of consumer behaviour is indeed the fact that consumer behaviour is to a large extent based on habits. We buy and use the same products and services week after week, month after month, year after year. 

Most notably, a very high proportion of consumers’ shopping baskets at supermarkets remain the same week after week. This applies to both product categories purchased in the first place (what to buy?), and brands selected within product categories (which brand to pick?). It also very much applies to longer-term service subscriptions (e.g., banking services; media and home entertainment subscriptions) and seasonal purchases (e.g., gardening supplies purchased in spring; holiday purchases in November and December).

The main reason for habitual buying behaviour is that it allows consumers to save some of the mental and physical effort that reconsidering one’s shopping basket selections or brand choices tends to require. It is mentally and physically easier to simply shop your goods with an auto pilot on, relying on your established shopping habits – rather than every time reevaluate your needs and wants, and/or the benefits and costs of switching products and services or brands in your basket.

However, the repercussions caused by a crisis like Covid-19 may cause disruptions to such habits, shaking and waking up consumers from their conventions – disengaging their auto pilots.

Especially big brands and market-leading companies have to be alert with potential changes in consumers’ habitual behaviors. This is because it is especially the big brands and market leaders who have a large customer base – a large proportion of which is constituted precisely of such consumers who are normally just sticking to their habits and buying the same brand time after time. A non-negligible share of these habitual buyers is even likely to be rather dissatisfied with the brand or service-provider. They have just been sticking to the brand to save the trouble caused by switching brands or suppliers.

In this situation, the Covid-19 crisis may act as a wake-up call to many consumers. This is because consumers are in any case pressured to put some more careful thought and effort to their everyday shopping practices – and therefore to recognizing and reevaluating the appropriateness and rationality of their habits, too. If the consumer has to, in any case, much more carefully reconsider and plan when to shop, what to shop, and where to shop, it is not a big step or additional effort to also reconsider which  product categories and brands to select into one’s basket, when going shopping.

Big brands can fight this challenge in three ways. The brand can (1) identify such habitual buyers of the brand that are actually dissatisfied with the brand, and either contact them to ask what the brand can do better, or show them that the brand appreciates them by granting some extra regular customer reward to them. The brand can also (2) think of new ways through which consumers can access, purchase, and use its products and services, even if the habitual purchase channels and ways of use would become difficult or impossible due to restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Finally, brands can also (3) seize opportunities created by disruptions in habitual purchase and usage patterns. Under normal circumstances, brands often find it challenging to introduce new, innovative products and services – because consumers are so accustomed to their existing, familiar options. Nevertheless, when reconsidering their consumption habits under Covid-19, consumers may well become more open-minded towards new kinds of – non-habitual — products and services, too.

Jaakko Aspara
Grönroos Professor in Marketing

Photo: Unsplash

Marketing communication needs a new logic!

My doctoral dissertation originated in my desire to understand the effects of the cognitive turn in the field of marketing communication from the late 1950s. Cognitivism saw people as active, thinking, meaning-building subjects instead of as passive, receiving objects. The view of learning changed radically, and people came to be viewed increasingly as builders of understanding rather than mere recipients of information, knowledge and messages, as was earlier the case. A constructivist view of learning displaced the previous behaviouristic approach to learning and teaching. The field of education and the school world are still struggling to deal with the impact of this revised view of people. But progress is taking place.

As for marketing, the cognitive turn has become evident in the development of service management, service marketing, relationship marketing, service logic and consumer behaviour research, just to mention a few examples. The fundamental ideas of the Nordic School were also influenced by the cognitive approach. Hanken’s strikingly modern view of people and business was one of the main reasons I applied here. In fact, a professor at the Stockholm School of Economics suggested that I apply to Hanken, despite it being 300 kilometres from my home: “Apply to Hanken, they’re really onto something there”.

Discussions about the scholarly home and theoretical status of marketing research as well as other related topics have been going on since the 1980s. I will not address here whether they have adequately focused on relevant issues, but what is clear is that more and more attention is placed on the customer. Value (co-)creation and customer needs are examples of this. Brand heritage and the active customer in advertisements are other indicators of the modern view of people.

Silence in the field of marketing communication

Unfortunately, discussions have not focused on the premises and view of learning in marketing communication. My search of nearly 21,000 articles in the ten most cited international journals in the field indicates that silence reigns on this topic. An author here, another there may make an attempt, but everything soon peters out in the black space of marketing communication. In Sweden in 2019, investments in marketing communication exceeded those in defence by 50%, totalling some eight billion euros. Silence persists, nevertheless. Activities continue along the same path, without reflection or attentiveness to theory.

The goal of marketing communication is to influence people in the market. Companies have long strived to influence behaviour. To date, the dominant view on influencing has been a behavioural kind: messages in the form of advertisements are expected to generate the desired behaviour. This approach continues in the vein of the stimulus-organism-response model, even though it was deemed outdated over 60 years ago. Perhaps not everywhere, but almost. However, in marketing communication, things continue as before. Nothing has happened. It is true that new channels have emerged, but the thinking nevertheless remains the same. Another aspect that has not changed is that half of the money put into marketing goes wasted. Which half is still unclear. 

My research shows that marketing communication is mainly carried out in the form of a message factory. Announcements are produced and published on the same bases as they were over 120 years ago. Behaviourism retains its grip on the theory and practice of marketing communication. The field follows a message logic, in which advertising agencies and the media jointly exert structural pressure over companies and organisations doing marketing. The agencies and media laugh all the way to the bank, and companies pay the price. This has been going on for a long time and it will continue to do so if the views and expectations placed on marketing communication do not change. The message logic and the dominance that behaviourism exerts over marketing communicators must be abandoned in favour of a more nuanced view of the communicating and learning person. It is by no means a controversial idea – it just needs to reach marketing communication as well.

From a message logic to a logic of learning

One of the questions is which view of influencing is relevant in this field. Marketing communication is part of marketing, the academic home of which has been placed within business economics, which in turn is an offspring of economics. This means that it is influenced by the natural scientific approach characteristic of economics as well as the strive in social sciences to find methods that are both specific to the field and meet the criteria of scientific investigation.

However, since the stimulus-response approach and behaviourism have, essentially, been abandoned, it is time for marketers to take into consideration that marketing communication may also belong to another academic field: that of the humanities. The constructivist view of people has shown us that behaviour cannot be triggered through stimuli alone – people are more complex than that. This complexity is something that the humanities strive to understand and deal with. What this entails is that marketing communication must nurture and master a simultaneous existence in three scientific paradigms: natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities. Paradoxically, this ought to make life easier, though not necessarily simpler.

During a single workday, we would speak the language of economics, business, management, marketing and influencing.

It would mean that during a single workday, we would speak the language of economics, business, management, marketing and influencing. This poses certain challenges, but it is fully possible. We just need to accept that we have learned a great deal about people and know that they are more complex than the former and present premises of behaviourism, scientific management and scientific marketing lead us to believe. We must also follow the cognitive approach, not only in marketing but also in marketing communication, which will consequently be imbued with a conscious view of influencing and learning. Management’s classic dream of an easy, simple solution to the question of influence in marketing communication will be replaced by a conscious understanding of the communicating, influencing and learning person as well as the implications and consequences of this. We will move from the dominant message logic to a revised logic of learning. The message factory can finally be closed down.

It would be fantastic if we at Hanken could help students, researchers and business through our research, methods and education and in this way help marketing communication benefit from the reform that it rightly deserves. This would also help avoid any more squandering of half the marketing investments.

Sigge Birkenfalk
Doctoral student

Biography

Sigge holds a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in economics from Stockholm University. He has also completed a degree in market economics at Berghs School of Communication, where he has taught subjects such as influencing studies, marketing communication and qualitative methodology for management and marketers for the past 25 years. Sigge worked at the SAS airline carrier for 12 years, as project manager in an advertising company for three years, and has together with his wife, Birgitta, run a company of their own, Communicans AB, since 1998.

Photo: Unsplash

Black Finland

Some time ago, even if the topic was not familiar to me, I always got all the Asian masters students to mentor. I asked why and the response was that “you are so good with Asians”.

Poor students! They did not get the person most knowledgeable with their thesis topic but a person who had lived in Asia. They were treated as if they needed special assistance because they were Asians. During the same time, professors were explaining that they cannot hire foreigners, as foreigners do not know how to write a Finnish application.

Not surprisingly, according to an EU survey two years ago Finland was the most racist country in the European Union. A survey from 2019 provides similar results. Participants of Hanken Business LEAD experienced discrimination both in working life and generally. All these participants are highly educated, have a lot of working experience internationally, and are flexible personalities given their multicultural background. Yet, they have hard to get employed, even job interviews. Other sources evidence that people who have generations after generations lived in Finland, like Romans, are as well discriminated to the extent that by changing their names they get better treatment in recruitment situations.

While writing an article about our findings from the survey, we, the team of four different nationalities, realised that so much focus is put into immigrant integration and in consequence training and schooling of “the others” in Finland. However, less effort is given to Finnish institutions like employing companies and their staff to train them to meet talents from other countries. Sometimes, taking an intern with other than Finnish background is only a corporate social responsibility gesture rather than a serious intention to really employ an immigrant, refugee or a person from an ethnic minority.

Our own perceived superiority makes us teachers rather than learners.

The world is more global today than probably ever before given that we can be global even digitally. We travel more and have information available 24/7 on our devices. However, we still tend to stay in our own villages of similarity unable to learn from our experiences of others.  Our own perceived superiority makes us teachers rather than learners.

The anecdote of Asian students from my personal life just illustrates how well-meaning intentions can be discriminating or how structures prevent entry of the other. Such cultural and structural inequalities go unnoticed most of the times. “Black lives matter” demonstrations are good ways to remind us all that the world still needs improvement; however, it is not enough. Political leaders need to unfold structures that prevent inequality like some American universities that started recruiting anonymously and increased female recruitments to about 50% of all employments. Extra training and support programs only remind the minorities that they needed to change. However, the majority can learn as well, and many times it also should.

Pia Polsa
Associate Professor in marketing

Sources:

EU (2018) Being Black in the EU. Second European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Business LEAD program: https://www.hankensse.fi/programmes/integration-program-business-lead

Photo: Pia Polsa

The rise of Femtech in a gender biased technology sector – cure or symptom?

Our culture puts high hopes on the role of technology in improving our lives. New solutions, devices and applications enter the market constantly, and many of their creators are seen as trailblazers, paving the way to a better future, with more well-being. The development and emergence of new technologies is almost seen as a force of nature – it’s coming, and it will make everything better.

We might think that technology is neutral, that it’s neither good nor bad, because it doesn’t have a will of its own. This is true to a certain extent, but it omits the human element. As Marshall McLuhan famously said, first we shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.

A lot of research has been dedicated to this question of how technology is shaped by society, and how it in turn shapes society. In the age of Silicon Valley and amidst general techno-optimism, it’s good to remember that technology is always a reflection of its creators, and the culture they are part of. Technology is designed by specific groups of people, in order to serve interests of specific groups, as the organization scholar Wanda Orlikowski argued already back in 1992.

With this realisation in mind, it’s good to stop and think about two questions: who are the ones developing tech products, and what problems are they solving? Once these questions are asked, we can start to think about the follow-up question: what’s being left out? The structures of society have led to a skewed gender divide in the technology sector, on two fronts. While women account for only less than 25 percent of tech jobs in the U.S., the small but growing amount of female entrepreneurs face also greater challenges in obtaining funding.

A couple of years ago The New Yorker wrote about an American start-up that had designed a smart breast pump. It could measure the milk nutrients, was comfortable to wear, and had a huge market potential. When the founder of the company met with venture capitalists for funding, the response surprised her: the men sitting in the board room didn’t even want to touch the device, calling it ”disgusting”.

In the end this device, with a huge market potential, got only a fraction of the funding that for example the infamous Juicero received from enthusiastic VCs. (For those unfamiliar with Juicero, it was a juice press that used pre-juiced fruit packets sold by subscription. The catch – the packets could just as easily be pressed by hand, with the same result).

A study made in Sweden showed that venture capitalists talk very differently about female entrepreneurs than male ones.

This story is not unique. It’s an example of the gendered nature of the tech industry. A study made in Sweden showed that venture capitalists talk very differently about female entrepreneurs than male ones. The study showed that when investors talked about women, they used language with qualities opposite to those that are valued in entrepreneurs. As a result, female entrepreneurs risk receiving less venture capital.

But many entrepreneurs and investors are now telling us not to despair. During the past couple of years, there has for instance been a huge surge in interest towards Femtech, i.e. technologies that focus specifically on female health. Femtech appears now more often in media than before, and there are even dedicated venture capital companies that focus solely on femtech solutions.

Clearly, progress is being made. This is all good and well, but, perhaps ironically, the term Femtech as such tells us a lot about the biased nature of the technology and innovation landscape. It implies two categories of technology: the Common, and the Other, echoing the thoughts of Simone de Beauvoir.

Femtech is an important first step towards more equal technology, but we could ask ourselves if just Tech without gender descriptors would be better. In the end, it’s questionable whether Silicon Valley can solve this gender divide by itself. The business and technology world is only a product of our society at large. This is where change needs to happen.

Hannu Tikkanen

Hannu Tikkanen is a doctoral candidate in marketing at Hanken. He is interested in understanding the roles of technology and societal norms in management of well-being.

References

Malmström, M., Johansson, J. & Wincent, J. (2017) Gender Stereotypes and Venture Support Decisions: How Governmental Venture Capitalists Socially Construct Entrepreneurs’ Potential. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, vol. 41, no. 5, pp. 833-860

Orlikowski, W. (1992) The Duality of Technology: Rethinking the Concept of Technology in Organizations. Organization Science, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 398-427

The New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/why-arent-mothers-worth-anything-to-venture-capitalists

Statista: https://www.statista.com/chart/4467/female-employees-at-tech-companies/

Photo: Unsplash

The many faces of customer orientation

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the role of customers in business. It has become dramatically clear to many that without customers there is no business. Now when everything is upside down it is timely and relevant to reflect on this old but fundamental issue. Not that managers would not know it, in principle.

It has for decades been suggested and widely accepted that companies and other organisations should be customer oriented in order to be successful. But what does it really mean to be customer oriented and how is it visible to customers? Is it easier said than done? And what is customer orientation, by the way, in times of change like the extreme disruptive pandemic we are experiencing? Let us imagine three faces or mindsets of customer orientation.

1. Customer orientation as rain dance

Most companies claim to be customer oriented. It is clear that it is supposed to be a mindset applied throughout the organisation that is implemented in actions. What it means in practice is not always clear inside the company, or outside of it. But it sounds good and feels mandatory to say.

Customer orientation is like a rain dance. Rain dance is an ancient practice in hope of inducing rain. Whether it solves the draught problem or not is not the issue, the actors tend to really believe that it helps and is worth the effort. Or perhaps a more relevant metaphor in these times, customer orientation is like a face mask. The real face remains hidden to the customer.

2. Customer orientation as collecting data

Often customer orientation is explained as knowing the customer and staying close to the customer to stand out as different, compared to competitors in the industry. This means collecting data about customers’ needs and wants and monitoring their satisfaction with the company. Listening to the customer is obviously not always easy or successful which is demonstrated by even big companies losing customers and going bankrupt. Not to talk about start-ups that never get flying.

On the other hand, there are those that claim that you should not rely too much on what customers say in your attempts to be customer oriented. There is a danger in being customer-led, it is argued – customers do not know what they need – instead you should be guided by your own visions. As evidence, there is a famous quote attributed to Henry Ford saying, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

In fact, it has not been verified that he actually said that, but he could have. He created the successful Ford Model T, and the rest is history – in terms of car production processes. But perhaps he was no visionary in terms of putting customers first. Asking customers, he might have discovered that they did not long for faster horses as he presumed but to get rid of the daily chores of keeping a workhorse. What he created was a mechanical horse that you do not need to attend to many hours a day – unless it is your hobby.

Anyway, data is not enough, not even big data unless it can be interpreted and converted into understanding and actions. This puts the stress on asking the right questions – those that reveal customers’ logics rather than enforce the company logic.

3. Customer orientation as customer orienteering

In times of change and disruption, customer orientation becomes a different challenge. Instead of thinking about customer orientation as a characteristic of a company, it might be better to focus on what it might be as an activity. In the Swedish language “kundorientering” (customer orientation) has both meanings. But as an activity “orientering” (orientation) has also another meaning, it refers to a sport that in English is called orienteering.

Orienteering stems from 1886 in Sweden where it was used in the military with the meaning of crossing of unknown land with the aid of a map and a compass. It later became a competitive sport for military officers and civilians. Customer orienteering could be used as a metaphor for finding the direction or location of customers in dynamic and emerging markets. The manager’s mindset is the map and the compass is a set of tools and methods that indicate the direction. Both need to be reviewed and reflected on, in times of change. Mindsets are, however, not easy to change.

Customer orienteering could be seen as finding new ways to understand customers’ changing logics and position oneself in the pattern of customer activities and aspirations. Rather than focusing on industry issues and differentiation in relation to competitors, the issue is to be relevant to customers, whatever that is in changing business landscapes. The pandemic is an extreme example of that. To navigate forward it might help to think about customer orientation as customer and market orienteering.

Tore Strandvik

Tore Strandvik is Professor Emeritus of Marketing at Hanken. He has in his research over the years focussed on managers’ and customers’ mindsets. 

Is the human service employee really human?

All of us have heard this several times: robots and artificial intelligence (AI) will replace many of us, and this also goes for service employees who used to have face-to-face interaction with customers. Much research has already been carried out on what the new interfaces should be like to make us humans feel comfortable in our roles as customers. So far, one result is particularly dominant: the more the interface can be made to resemble a human, the more comfortable we feel.

Such results stem from studies in which researchers have measured customers’ perceptions of humanness of robots and other agents as well as customers’ evaluations of them. And the typical result, “what-is-humanlike-is-good”, is one main reason why most AI-powered virtual agents are designed so that they have a humanlike face, a name and a gender, and that they can talk to us in a conversation mode. In other words, human attributes have become a gold standard for what the new, virtual entities should be like.

If real humans are assessed in the same way as robots and virtual agents, in terms of perceived humanness, one may perhaps think that humans would receive “full” humanness scores. A human is a human, right? However, after having seen the results of copious studies in which participants were asked about how they perceive various humans in terms of humanness, and after having made some studies on this issue myself, I have so far not found one single study in which real humans received full humanness scores. In other words, perceived humanness is a variable, not a dichotomy, and it rarely reaches its highest possible value when people are asked about the humanness of other people.

Perceived humanness is a variable, not a dichotomy, and it rarely reaches its highest possible value when people are asked about the humanness of other people.

The main reason is probably that being human means having many characteristics related to an inner life – such as having agency, an ability to experience emotions, and having a feeling for what is right and wrong – and these characteristics will never be fully accessible to others. So, no one can know for sure what it is to be me, and I cannot fully know what it is to be someone else. This is indeed an essential part of being human – and a timeless source of pleasant surprises and disappointments.  

In any event, studies showing that real humans are typically denied full humanness by others are often made under the label of dehumanization. This is a malicious form of perceptual bias because it can lead to many horrible outcomes – such as genocide, torture, slavery, rape, and various forms of other anti-social behaviors. The main idea is something like this: if another person is not a full human, well, then we have a green light to do whatever we want with this person.

Lately, I have had a chance to see what happens if you move beyond those groups that are studied in the dehumanization literature (homeless, migrants, drug addicts etc.). More specifically, my idea was to examine customers’ interactions with service employees through the lens of perceived humanness, and I wanted to know what would happen when customers are explicitly asked to assess service employees in term of perceived humanness.

So, for example, in one experiment I was inspired by the current corona pandemic and the new norms for behavior it has generated. The design was such that the participants were encountering a female grocery store employee who existed in two versions. In one version, she violated the norms for what is appropriate social behavior during a pandemic by coughing into the air and by neglecting social distancing; in the other version, she followed the norms. With this design, then, the participants were randomly allocated to encountering one of the two employee versions, and after the encounter I asked questions about their reactions.

Not so surprising, the norm-violating employee was dehumanized – in the same way as migrants, garbage collectors, and homeless people have been in other studies. This part of the results should be seen in the light of people’s general sensitivity to whatever is signaling disease; if there is a suspicion that someone is infected, we typically react with avoidance and disgust (and dehumanization). More surprising, however, is what happened to the participants who were exposed to the norm-complying employee – because this employee was dehumanized, too. Presumably, one reason is that decades of exposure to the idea that “the customer is king” can devaluate those who have a service role.

The take-away, I believe, is this: So much attention has been devoted to making non-human entities more humanlike that we may have forgotten that we humans typically are subject to a humanness deficit in the eyes of others. And this is far from optimal when a “what-is-humanlike-is-good” mechanism is operating. The service firm in which human employees will still interact with (human) customers, then, should be mindful of what is boosting the perceived humanness of human employees.  

Magnus Söderlund
Professor of Marketing and Head of the Center for Consumer Marketing (CCM), Stockholm School of Economics
Senior Fellow Researcher at CERS, Hanken

Photo: Unsplash

Reality of social distancing and lockdown in low-income settings

The only known planet for human to survive naturally is experiencing a huge challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the challenge is still far away from similar past challenges in terms of its effect on human survival, it has already made considerable damages in terms of loss of lives, and deceleration in economic and societal progresses.

As a creatively adaptive species, we human beings have responded to this challenge by taking measures such as social distancing and lockdown. These are not something new as nations and societies during past pandemics applied these measures to prevent the spread of a pandemic of such a massive scale. However, population density and divide between various income segments within and between countries have increased substantially since the last known pandemic.

While most of the high-income countries have the advantages of low population density and high support from social and governmental institutions to cope with current pandemic, the reality is completely different for low-income countries that are blessed(!) with large populations. The reality for a large section of people in these low-income countries is such that they must make a choice between dying of the disease or hunger. Why is the situation like this?

The reality for a large section of people in these low-income countries is such that they must make a choice between dying of the disease or hunger.

One of the key reasons is the inadequacy or absence of safety net programs for supporting low-income or vulnerable groups in this exceptional period. Though the governments of these low-income countries are trying to provide relief to these large population segments, the one-off assistances do not reach them in many cases due to the presence of corruption at the operational or field level. These factors together force low-income people to go out of their homes to earn something for their survival. This also means that social distancing is practically impossible in an already densely populated country.

Typically, low-income settings are associated with low education profiles of the inhabitants. This means that the lexicons such as social distancing and lockdown, and their meaning and gravity are profoundly fuzzy to these segments of the population. So, they go out and flock together in public places with the main motive to earn their livelihood.

Another very interesting paradox that has caught my attention is that in some cases factories in low-income countries have resumed their operations suddenly in the midst of government-declared lockdown or restrictions. Consequently, workers are forced to march back in thousands to the industrial parks or cities to join their workplace in the fear of losing their jobs. While factory owners and industry associations in these low-income countries are trying to save their foreign customer base, the workers are being exposed to life-threatening practices and conditions. In these cases, too, essentiality of earning livelihood dominates social distancing and lockdown.

Is there any way out from this scenario? Well, if challenges are there, so are their solutions. It applies not just to the ongoing pandemic, but also to the current realities in low-income settings. It may be a high ask to instantly bury the deep-seated bureaucratic controls and corruptions prevailing in these settings. What is more needed now is the coordination among public, private, and non-governmental institutions to develop sustainable assistance programs and implement those programs with compassion and responsibility. People living in low-income segments will follow social distancing and lockdown only if they know what these really mean, and more importantly, if they receive some form of financial assistance from the social and governmental institutions.    

Arafat Rahman
Doctoral Student

Photo: The Daily Star

Pandemics, environmental crises and consumption: Lessons to learn

In Finland, we consume on average almost four times the amount that is environmentally sustainable. Calls for changing our consumption patterns in response to the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and other environmental problems have for years resulted in only little change. The current global pandemic appears to have succeeded where threats of environmental crises have so far failed.

An old car in the middle of a corn field, a very dark sky above

Our consumption patterns have changed drastically almost overnight and are currently quite radically different than just a few short weeks ago. Our consumption spendings have decreased by a quarter, flights in Europe have decreased by 85%, and the demand for oil is plummeting as mobility decreases. These changes are already having positive environmental impacts, showing in reduced pollution and expected to reduce global CO2 emissions.

The current consumption changes are of course likely to be only temporary, as most of us are eagerly awaiting to get back to normal. Unfortunately,  the climate crisis is here to stay and requires a more permanent change to our consumption patterns. In our efforts to mitigate climate change and other environmental problems, can we learn something from the current crisis?

If the current crisis has taught us one thing, it is that waiting until we are in the middle of a crisis to make changes is not a good strategy. The drastic reductions in consumption that we are seeing at the moment are neither socially nor economically sustainable. Many are losing their jobs, companies are struggling to stay afloat, and the national debt is expected to skyrocket. Since our economies and societies are built around high levels of consumption, sudden disruptions to this trajectory are disastrous.

Changes to our consumption patterns require accompanying changes to how our societies are structured. It requires rethinking and restructuring of the economic system. The current pandemic has shown us that, in the face of crisis, political decisions that dramatically change our everyday lives can happen very quickly when needed. But it would be in all of our best interests not to wait for environmental problems to keep worsening and instead make efforts to tackle them before we are in the midst of the crisis. Acting before the storm hits.

Maria Sandberg
Doctoral Student

Photo: Willgard Krause, Pixabay

Muovipussit minimiin – mitä teki kuluttaja, hyötyivätkö yritykset?

Olemme hukkua muoviin! Sosiaalinen media on täynnä kuvia muovilautoista valtamerissä ja muoviin sotkeutuneista linnuista. Silti jokapäiväinen elämämme on täynnä muovia pakkausten sekä muovipussien ja -kassien muodossa. Jotain tulisi tehdä, ajattelemme.

Maailmassa kulutetaan 500 miljardista biljoonaan muovipussia vuosittain, mikä tarkoittaa 1,4–2,7 miljardia muovipussia joka päivä tai miljoona muovipussia minuutissa. Luvut ovat pöyristyttäviä, ja siksi eri toimijat ovat tehneet aloitteita muovipussien kulutuksen vähentämiseksi. Eri valtiot ovat reagoineet tähän globaaliin ongelmaan joko kieltämällä muovikassit täysin, tekemällä niistä maksullisia, solmimalla yksityisiä sopimuksia tai käyttämällä kaikkia näitä keinoja. Suomessa toimiin on ryhdytty vapaaehtoisten Green Deal -sopimusten kautta (ks. Kuva 1).

Kuva 1: Kansalliset toimet muovikasseja vastaan

Ympäristöministeriö toteaa sivuillaan, että ”Green deal on vapaaehtoinen sopimus valtion ja elinkeinoelämän välillä. Tavoitteena on yhdessä edistää kestävän kehityksen tavoitteita etsimällä ratkaisuja ilmastonmuutoksen hillitsemiseksi ja kiertotalouden edistämiseksi.” Muovikassisopimus on ratkaisuista ensimmäinen ja solmittu Suomen ympäristöministeriön ja Kaupan liiton kanssa vuonna 2016.

Vuonna 2018 suomalaiset kuluttivat vuosittain 68 muovikassia henkeä kohti. Tavoitteena on, että Suomessa käytettäisiin vuosittain enintään 40 kassia henkeä kohti vuoden 2025 loppuun mennessä. Tähän mennessä 27 yritystä on sitoutunut sopimukseen; mukana on suuria vähittäiskauppoja, kuten Kesko ja S-ketju.

Jo nyt media on raportoinut hienoista tuloksista muovikassien ja -pussien vähentämisessä. Mutta mitä hyötyä yritykset kokevat saavansa tällaisesta sopimuksesta ja miten kuluttaja reagoi, kun hänen kassinsa maksaa tai sitä ei olekaan saatavilla? Tästä ottivat selvää Hankenin gradunkirjoittajat Daniela Karjalainen ja Theresia Lundberg.

Yritykset, jotka osallistuivat Karjalaisen ja Lundbergin tutkimuskyselyyn, olivat sitä mieltä, että muovikassisopimuksen tekemisestä oli enemmän hyötyä kuin haittaa. Kauppojen sitoumukset ovat kuitenkin hyvin erilaisia vaihdellen työntekijöiden koulutuksesta muovikassien hinnoitteluun tai niiden poistamiseen valikoimista kokonaan. Kaupat kokivat vapaaehtoisen sitoumuksen joustavuuden merkittäväksi hyödyksi, ja sen avulla ne voivat välttää tiukempia lakeja.

Toinen tärkeä etu oli, että tiukan paikan tullen sitoumukseen voitiin vedota. Osa yrityksistä oli saanut sitoumuksen myötä myönteistä julkisuutta, osa taas ei. Muovikassien maksullisuus ei ollut niinkään tuonut taloudellisia etuja vaan vähentänyt kassien sisäänostoja. Sitoumuksesta koettiin saatavan hyötyä lähinnä asennemuutoksen myötä sekä madaltuneena kynnyksenä tehdä vastaavia sitoumuksia myöhemminkin.

Green Dealin haitoiksi yritykset kokivat neuvotteluiden ja raportoinnin kustannukset. Koska kilpailijatkin lähtivät mukaan, sopimuksen allekirjoittamattomuus koettiin riskinä, samoin kuin se, että jos mukaan ei lähdetä vapaaehtoisesti, viranomaiset voivat säätää tiukempia lakeja. Vähemmän merkittävinä haittoina koettiin liian matalat tavoitteet, tietovuotojen mahdollisuus sekä pitkäaikaisten kannustinten puute. Yritysten ehdottomasti suurin huolenaihe oli asiakkaiden mahdollinen kielteinen reaktio. Yritysten kokemat hyödyt ja riskit näkyvät koottuna kuvassa 2.

Kuva 2: Yritysten hyödyt ja riskit vapaaehtoisesta muovipussisopimuksesta

 

Miten kuluttajat sitten kokevat muovikassien ja -pussien puuttumisen kaupoista? Eivät aina positiivisesti. Kuluttaja on tapojensa orja ja hakee helppoa arkea usein unohtaen hyvät aikeensa. Kuluttajan sosiaalinen ympäristö ja hänen identiteettinsä vaikuttavat siihen, poimiiko hän muovipussin käteensä vai ei. Vierailla ihmisillä ei ole hänen valintaansa suurtakaan merkitystä, mutta myyjät voivat vaikuttaa. Siksi on ollut tärkeää, että vähittäiskaupat ovat kouluttaneet työntekijöitään kertomaan asiakkailleen muovipussien haitoista.

Tutuilla ihmisillä, kuten ystävillä, sukulaisilla ja perheellä, on huomattavasti suurempi merkitys kuluttajan valintoihin kuin täysin vierailla ihmisillä. Sosiaalinen ympäristö ja sen osa-alueet vaikuttavat kuluttajan valintoihin, mutta on myös muita tekijöitä: tavat, tunteet ja konkreettinen tieto. Muovikassin hinnalla voidaan vaikuttaa sekä tapoihin että tunteisiin, mutta hinnalla saattaa olla myös negatiivinen vaikutus. Kuluttaja kokee, että jos hän ostaa tuhannella eurolla tuotteita, hän on oikeutettu ilmaiseen muovikassiin, on se sitten ympäristöystävällistä tai ei.

Toisaalta muovikassi voisi olla niin ruma, ettei kuluttaja kehtaisi ottaa sitä edes ilmaiseksi. Vaikka tietoa muovikassien haitallisuudesta on ja internet pursuaa kuvia muovikasseihin kuolleista merenelävistä, kuluttaja on tapojensa orja. Kassi tulee otettua mukaan kaupasta ja kestokassi tai vanhanajan kauppakassi jää usein kotiin odottaman tapojen muuttumista. Näitä kuluttajan kokemuksia kuvataan alla kuvassa 3.

Kuva 3: Tekijät, jotka vaikuttavat kuluttajan muovikassipäätökseen   

Pia Polsa
Apulaisprofessori


Lähteet

Karjalainen, D. (2020) Vilka är fördelarna och riskerna för finska företag med frivilliga miljöavtal? Pro gradu. Svenska handelshögskolan.

Lundberg, T. (2020) Hur kunde konsumenter motiveras att använda färre plastpåsar? Pro gradu. Svenska handelshögskolan.

Roach, J. (2003) Are Plastic Grocery Bags Sacking the Environment? National Geographic. Osoitteessa: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/09/0902_030902_plasticbags.html. Haettu: 11.10.2019.

Spokas, K.A. (2008) Plastics: still young, but having a mature impact. Waste Manage 28 (3), 473–474.

Clean Up Australia (2015). Report on actions to reduce circulation of single-use plastic bags around the world: August 2015. Clean Up Australia, Sydney.

Ympäristöministeriön Green deal -sopimukset (2019) Osoitteessa: https://www.ym.fi/fi-FI/Lainsaadanto/Green_deal_sopimukset. Haettu: 7.4.2020.

Sitoumus 2050. Osoitteessa: https://sitoumus2050.fi/#/. Haettu: 7.4.2020. Osoitteessa: https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-10972737. Haettu: 7.4.2020.

How will the COVID-19 impact consumer behavior in the long term?

Research institutions are proactively conducting research to inform us of fast-changing trends due to the pandemic. Research results confirm that people have already changed their shopping behavior in fundamental ways: stocking up on products they wouldn’t otherwise stock up on, purchasing products they wouldn’t otherwise have purchased, shopping online when they would usually shop in store, and shopping in new stores.

During the crisis, we do our best to stay healthy, keep the social distance instructed by the authorities, adapt our shopping habits and may try new brands, services and products that are available in stock out situations. How lasting will this change be? Are consumers going to go back to their normal routines after the crisis, or will this have a permanent effect on purchase patterns and behavior overall? Let’s see what information is available today to ease our headache!

What do sales data tell?

The immediate short term changes in consumer behavior are evident, based on sales statistics, and even visible to the eye while observing the empty shelves in the grocery stores: People are stocking up on rice, pasta, porridge, bread, soap, minced meat and toilet paper. In an uncertain situation facing social pressure, it is understandable to buy larger amounts of groceries in preparation for home quarantine. According to AppAnnie statistics, there has been strong growth in downloads of games, as consumers turn to mobile to stay entertained and pass the time while under quarantine.   

What do consumers say?

There are already national research results describing early signs how the shopping behavior has changed and will change in the future. In China, consumers have reported that their purchase of the following items has increased and will increase even after the corona virus outbreak is over: epidemic prevention (air purifier, disinfectant, and masks), cosmetics, drugs, food and beverage, household cleaning, medical/ life insurance, and nutritional supplements.

Consumption of the following items is estimated to increase after the outbreak: gym, hair salon/manicure, personal care, out of home dining, out of home entertainment, travel, wealth management and stocks. In contrast, after the outbreak consumption of luxury items and online entertainment will decrease. New phenomena found were that people have taken collaborative initiatives making group orders with neighbors. On the positive side, 84% of respondents have tried at least one new service for the first time during the outbreak. These results are based on 1.000 respondents nationwide in China, including 200 responses from the worst-hit Hubei Province in February 2020 (Kantar[i]).

What do researchers predict?

Harvard Business School published some predictions on the 16th of March[ii]. Researchers are experts in their own fields and predictions of the impacts of COVID-19 vary. As experts in the public health and finance fields, Dr. Macomber and Dr. Allen predict that in the long term more money will be spent on fans, filters, ductwork, chillers, heat exchangers, and dehumidifiers—and on the energy to run them. He also thinks that information who enters the building and when is collected in the future with facial recognition and infrared cameras. He speculates further that time series data will be collected from your temperature and what was in the breaths you exhaled, captured over weeks and years. Air quality data is collected collectively from handheld sensors and sent to third-party rating databases via mobile phones. Sure, but if consumers know that this type of biometric data is collected automatically e.g. in certain hospitals, housing or even elevators in the future, it surely affects where consumers choose to go and not to go.

What do simulations tell?

Simulations on how viruses spread provide estimates and visualizations that help us get a grasp of how quickly the health situation can change affecting the whole society. Similar simulations regarding changes in consumer behavior haven’t been published yet. It may be difficult to build reliable predictive models or simulations due to many uncertain factors as well as the fact that there is no historical data on a global level of similar situations in the past. However, germ games or other types of visualizations help us to discuss alternative futures. In these uncertain times, scenarios can elicit imagination and may help us be proactive.  

Keep your eyes and ears open!

We can all help by observing and documenting weak signals of peculiar changes in the market. Now, people are e.g. posting pictures of their toilet paper mountains in the social media and creating new networks to support others. What do you think will be the next thing or a change in human behavior that will have an impact when we look back a few years from now? Hopefully understanding the reasons behind conscious and even subconscious behavior will help us survive, support each other, and become more robust to similar crisis situations, in the future.

Minna Pura
PhD


[i] Kantar (2020). Coronavirus. In: https://www.kantar.com/inspiration/coronavirus?utm_campaign=Profiles%20%2F%20Research%20Services%20-%20Other&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=84705822&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_lUnzZUsZ5nQ_qvvlk0rvUwQo_oIPGAykuqokiFBZSz1s2GcATWzR5QlPtO9tLxYGvGjPr4yCt4hGF08UWS7vI8aw3fA&_hsmi=84705822. Retrieved 16.3.2020.

[ii] Harvard Business School (2020). How the Coronavirus Is Already Rewriting the Future of Business. In: https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/how-the-coronavirus-is-already-rewriting-the-future-of-business. Retrieved 13.3.2020.

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