On my radar this week

Alain Giguère

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Will e-commerce end up killing traditional brick-and-mortar stores? When two out of three Canadians (68%) prefer to shop in physical stores! (And The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 04-04-18 at 3:28 p.m.

This question continues to haunt observers of the retail scene. In recent years, many familiar retail banners have disappeared, while online shopping has grown by leaps and bounds from one year to the next. One can only wonder what the future holds for us on this front.

Nonetheless, when we survey people about their preferences, we find it very interesting that, despite everything, the vast majority of consumers still prefer to shop in-store!

Indeed, the answers to the following question are very eloquent in this regard ...

Even when we offered them the choice of using the store to get a better feel for a product, then ordering exactly what they want online and having it delivered to their home, the full in-store experience is by far the most preferred. This certainly suggests that storefront merchants still have potential!

The inevitable growth of online shopping in the coming years

It is also interesting to note that these results are relatively constant across almost all subgroups of society, starting with the regions and provinces (no significant difference in Quebec or in the other provinces). On the other hand, big age-related differences show up.

Young people under 35 are by far the most enthusiastic online shoppers. While 19% of consumers overall prefer this mode of shopping, this proportion hits 30% among Millennials. However, a majority still prefer to shop in-store (55% of those under 35 years of age and 68% of the general Canadian population). Note that the proportion of consumers preferring in-store shopping rises to 80% for those aged 55 and over.

Consequently, if we project this data into the future, when the younger generations will become increasingly dominant in consumer markets, and factor in the continuous rise in online stores, we can be fairly certain that online shopping will rise significantly in the coming years.

The survival of the brick-and-mortar storefront

Even though we find a clear preference for in-store shopping, the proliferation of online stores is significantly eroding the market share and sales of traditional brick-and-mortar stores. In many cases, their very survival is at stake and the downward trend will only continue. More closures and exits from the marketplace can be expected.

In light of all this, retail businesses have no choice but transform their business models and the customer experience. Otherwise, they will perish. The status quo is no longer an option.

However, not everyone will go out of business. The success of their transformation will depend on how well they are able to incorporate into their storefront operations the lessons learned thus far from e-commerce and technology.

First, it is clear that merchants today must have an online distribution channel. Even for consumers who prefer to shop in physical stores, e-commerce is a necessity for reasons of convenience, speed, product availability and sometimes price.

The winning in-store combination will be the one offering an optimal mix of approaches combining high touch, where we can see, touch and try on products, AND technological interfaces that enrich the customer experience. This will help boost customer loyalty and the value of the brand.

There are many tech options available today that can enrich the in-store experience. Virtual shelves using tablets (iPad, Galaxy, etc.) can showcase an entire product line, along with complete information about each one. Real-time access to product reviews can help consumers make informed choices based on their purchase criteria, and so on. The possibilities are becoming more and more numerous and affordable.

Merchants need to adjust to the "journey" that customers are now taking before they make their final purchasing decision (web research, product comparisons, need considerations, etc.). Fortunately, they have an opportunity to facilitate this journey in-store.

Personalization to the rescue

Of all the tech possibility, the most promising for retail businesses is undoubtedly personalization (an area in which CROP is active, if you will forgive the plug!) This relatively new discipline lets merchants provide a unique experience, perfectly customized to each customer's individual needs by offering, in real time, a personalized assortment of products, promotions, experiences, loyalty rewards and content.

Such a high degree of personalization involves compiling and processing a vast amount of information on transactions, web behavior, customer needs and expectations (by electronic means).

Imagine entering a store and being recognized through geolocation. As soon as you arrive, the store would send you, on your smartphone, offers of products that perfectly match your needs, tastes and preferences, along with discounts to ensure your loyalty!

This is not science fiction. It is already available today and will become more widespread in the years to come.

The future of retail

Storefronts will undoubtedly continue to exist. The findings from our simple survey question clearly demonstrate that the need for stores is there, but they will need to transform themselves in order to respond to new customer expectations.

It will take detailed knowledge of these needs and expectations, along with an appropriate and personalized response, to ensure success. Data science will be increasingly used to get this right.

There has been a lot of talk about the new Amazon Go store in Seattle that lets customers shop and leave without paying, and praise for the convenience of this innovative service (customers' smartphones record their purchases). It is curious, however, that there has been little mention of the tremendous opportunity for Amazon to accumulate data on the shopping habits of its customers in order to offer them a personalized selection of products and content.

All merchants can now avail themselves of such tools, because they have become much more affordable than they were even a short time ago. They are no longer the sole preserve of giants like Amazon.

The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini

My musical clip of the week comes from Rossini's opera, The Barber of Seville.

Having to change in order to seize new market opportunities is nothing new. A good example of this kind of transformation is the history of the barber in the Middle Ages. At first, the barber's only function was shaving. He then added barber-wigmaker to his repertoire, exercising his talent only on princely heads (a forerunner to today's hairdresser), and later the expertise of barber-surgeon, handling small surgical procedures (teeth pulling, mainly, a precursor to modern dentistry).

In this production by the Metropolitan Opera, Figaro demonstrates his professional transformation, in addition to adding an itinerant service!

Gioachino Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Leonard, Brownlee, Maltman, Muraro, Burchuladze, Mariotti, The Metropolitan Opera, New York City, November 22, 2014 (streaming).

Controversy surrounding a CROP survey for AIMIA

Categories: CROP in the news

Posted on 04-03-18 at 2:41 p.m.

An unfortunate media and PR storm involving a CROP survey for AIMIA, Aeroplan's parent company, erupted last Thursday, forcing Aeroplan to apologize to its members.

As President of CROP, I feel it is my duty to respond to the misinformation surrounding this controversy.

The tempest began when an Aeroplan member took one of our surveys on the values of Canadian consumers and citizens and was "horrified" by a few of the questions we asked. She expressed her displeasure on Facebook and Twitter, and things quickly escalated from there.

A major part of our work is to understand the trends in the personal values of consumers and citizens. Experience has taught us that people's values are a much more reliable indicator of their choices of products, services and brands than their gender, age group or income, although we factor in these variables too. What upset this particular Aeroplan member were a few questions about personal values.

Even if the questions seem objectionable at first glance, they are used to measure fundamental societal issues that brands, institutions and society at large need to take into account when making important decisions. Furthermore, we do warn our survey respondents that they may find certain questions shocking and explain that their purpose is solely to help us understand people's personal values.

The first four statements in the table below are the specific questions that upset the complainant, along with the proportion of Canadians who agreed with these statements this year and a decade earlier. Balance is very important to us. That is why the last two statements in the table, also from the same survey, express the exact opposite sentiments and act as a counterbalance to the first four.

Our survey results indicate that Canadian society is in turmoil: neo-conservative values are on the rise while, at the same time, a push for self-expression running counter to traditional values is sharply rising too.

I believe that society needs to monitor these phenomena. Brands, companies and institutions have an obligation to understand where their stakeholders stand on such issues.

Our society seems to be in the process of fracturing. Some people feel that society is changing way too fast, prompting them to retrench, to seek comfort in traditional values. Others revel in the unprecedented possibilities for self-expression and fulfillment.

Brands, companies and institutions must keep up with these trends to ensure that their advertising, communications and social engagement policies are appropriate. Their future depends on their ability to engage their stakeholders in the best way possible, to share and express their values. To do so, they need to know them inside and out, warts and all!

CROP's goal is to understand how the values of Canadian consumers and citizens are evolving using the best means at our disposal. To do this, we have been asking probing and sometimes provocative questions for more than 50 years. Nevertheless, we are very sorry if our recent survey questions have offended some people. That was certainly not our intention.

Alain Giguère
President, CROP Inc.
April 3rd, 2018

Are you frightened or excited by change?

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 03-20-18 at 1:38 p.m.

Canadians are divided on this issue: 50% are afraid of change; 50% are excited by change (and the Air de la folie from Lucia di Lammermoor, as revisited by Luc Besson in The Fifth Element)

Change has become one of the most fundamental facts of modern societies. Technological evolution is undoubtedly one of the main drivers of the transformations we are experiencing, but it is certainly not the only one. Immigration, social diversity, personal mobility, market competition, financialization of the economy, climate, etc.: life is changing and becoming more complex from day to day. All these phenomena have a very real impact on people's daily lives.

Not only are we living in a unique period of change, but the pace of this change continues to accelerate. The law coined by Intel's Greg Moore (referred to in one of my previous posts) posits that microprocessor capacity doubles every two years, thus paving the way for a potentially exponential development of techno applications!

From the first traces of stone tools about 2.5 million years ago and the mastery of fire 450,000 years before our time, to the start of agriculture about 10,000 years ago and the invention of the wheel 5,500 years ago, we can see that technological progress was much slower historically than it is now.

And this is equally true of information dissemination. After the arrival of the Gutenberg press and its movable metal type in 1452, we had to wait until 1894 for the invention of the radio, 1926 for television, 1938 for the computer, 1981 for the PC (IBM) and 1989 for the Internet (world wide web).

Since then, however, technological "progress" has obviously picked up speed. In the very near future, we expect a widespread Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, blockchains and quantum cryptography (ouch)! And the pace of innovation will only accelerate (Moore's law again).

In parallel with technology, the social fabric is also radically changing before our eyes. Wars, endemic poverty and climate change are driving populations in many parts of the world to migrate to Western countries where life is easier. This migratory burden creates identity problems for local populations, thus feeding the rise of populist movements.

All this, let's not forget, is compounded by the destruction caused by climate change.

The purpose here is not to enumerate all the challenges facing us today, but to present the context in which to interpret the results of this week's survey question.

This week's topic addresses people's attitudes towards change. With we present them with the statement "Change is part of the problem. It's very hard to keep up with," one in two Canadians agree (50%) with it, while one in two disagrees. The Canadian population is surprisingly divided on this issue, and the reality it describes, Thus, half of us "suffer" change as casualties of our era, while the other half see the opportunities for society and for themselves, personally, multiplying into the future.

Note that there is very little regional variation on this issue, with the exception of Quebec. Given the province's legendary "joie de vivre," Quebecers are almost ten points more enthusiastic about change than people in the rest of the country (57% of Quebecers disagree with the statement versus 48% who agree).

Significant variation on almost every socio-demographic and socio-economic characteristic

In a very pronounced way, this question and the issues it raises splits people by age group, income, education, occupation and market size!

Younger people, people with higher incomes and education, professionals, as well as those living in our largest urban centres are those most in favour of change. By contrast, older people, those with the lowest levels of income and education, skilled and unskilled labourers, and people living in smaller municipalities feel more threatened by change.

Socio-economic vulnerability makes people more anxious about today's world, while those who are better off see the benefits.

A rising trend

A threatening vision of change seems to on the rise in today's society. The feeling of being overwhelmed by all the change has been rising in linear fashion since 2014 (the first year this question was asked). The growth is not huge, rising from 45% to 50%, from 2014 to 2017 in the entire country, but the linearity of this growth appears quite significant to us (being highly unlikely that the statistical variability in the samples would err in the same direction three years in a row).

The world is changing too fast; people are having a harder time keeping up. This does not bode very well for the future, if the pace of change continues to accelerate!

Feeling in control of one's life and an ability to handle uncertainty

While socio-economic and sociodemographic characteristics provide some insight into people's attitudes to change (in particular, vulnerability versus being well-off), personal values and hot buttons explain the deep-seated motivations and mentalities underlying the measured attitudes.

Basically, the most determining factor is the feeling of control that people have over their lives generally. Some people feel they have control over their lives and their destiny; that they are able to accomplish what they want to achieve and master the necessary levers to do that. This "mentality," this confidence in oneself and in life in general, predisposes people to welcome change more enthusiastically, as a bearer of opportunities, both for themselves and for society at large. They feel just as capable of handling the uncertainty of modern life, since they are able to maneuver in dangerous waters, in the belief that there are always solutions to whatever unforeseen situations may arise.

Other people display the opposite "mentality." They feel that their lives are determined by forces beyond their control, over which they are powerless. Globalized markets, the limitations of companies and institutions, a certain fatalism toward life, a defeatist vision: all this leads them to see change as a threat. They aspire to stability and balance against the "forces" in today's world. These individuals see change as a disruptive force that upsets this balance, plunging them into uncertainty (which they have trouble handling).

A need for education to deal with modern life and the increasing complexity of today's world

With such a high proportion of our citizens struggling with change and given the anticipated acceleration of its pace in the coming years, social projects to help people adapt would not go amiss. Whether through projects of social engagement by companies as part of their community involvement or government programs designed to tackle the impact of social change (from innovation, increasing diversity, climate-induced disasters, etc.), a pedagogy of adaptation to modern life is required in our increasingly "disrupted' world.

Social harmony over the next few years depends on it!

The Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor in The Fifth Element by Luc Besson

What could be more appropriate for my operatic nod of the week than a leap into science fiction, fantasizing a scenario of what society might look like in the future if we continue along the same path we are on now. In his film The Fifth Element, Luc Besson plunges us into a futuristic, dystopian world in which we can, nevertheless, still appreciate opera!

In a famous scene from this film, an alien sings the mad scene aria, Air de la folie, from the opera, Lucia di Lammermoor, by Gaetano Donizetti. The aria is sung by Albanian soprano Inva Mula. Everything suggests that her voice has been remixed for the film, since certain notes and especially their sequence seem humanly impossible.

Luc Besson: The Fifth Element, Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, etc., Columbia Pictures, 1997.

Local products – as much a social as a consumption phenomenon! Would you pay more for locally produced products? 24% of Canadians say they would (and L’Elisir d’Amore by Gaetano Donizetti)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 03-06-18 at 11:45 a.m.

Of all the phenomena that we examine in our various market studies, the attraction of local products is certainly one of the most interesting. On a marketing level, one in four consumers in the country indicates great demand, as well as serious competition for the national brands of industrialized products. But the cultural significance of local products seems even more significant to us (in the anthropological sense).

Planned obsolescence has become a common theme on consumer news feeds (especially since the hue and cry about the latest updates to Apple's iOS operating system). Consumers are looking for what's real, what's authentic. They are trying to avoid overly industrialized products of questionable durability and longevity. This kind of unequivocal value judgment is spurring interest in local products.

More specifically, 24% of Canadians are in total agreement with the statement "I believe it is essential to support local products & brands, even if it means paying a little extra." (We normally consider only those who "totally agree" with such a question because when we ask people if they would be willing to pay "a little extra," we are only interested in the most committed.)

What's more, no socio-economic or sociodemographic group or segment significantly stands out on this issue. Interest in local products is not the sole purview only of the wealthy, the educated, the urban Millennials, or anyone else. This interest is essentially a social phenomenon that transcends traditional social categories. What underlies the attraction to local product is a specific set of personal values; in other words, cultural motivations.

A rising trend

This desire for local products seems to be part of a growing motivational movement within society. This pursuit of authenticity and products of "substance" has been rising in linear fashion since 2014 (the first year we measured this phenomenon). The growth is not huge: from 2014 to 2017, it rose from 19% to 23%, but the linearity of this growth seems quite significant to us. (It is highly unlikely that the statistical variability in the samples has erred in the same direction three years in a row).

A society in search of myths, meaning

If socio-economic and sociodemographic characteristics do not account for this interest in local products, the key to understanding the underlying motivations lies in the values and hot buttons of these aficionados! For them, local products perform a highly symbolic function. They embody the "meaning" that they seek in life, in the society around them.

For them, local products have a soul. They express the passion of their producers. These products have founding myths, a mythology, stories of visionaries toiling away in their garages or in remote pastures to create singular, unique, and totally authentic products. Local products offer a compelling contrast, an irresistible alternative, to what many perceive as the excessive industrialization (and suspected planned obsolescence) of consumer products. They represent a kind of nostalgic "remembrance of things past" within a glut of throw-away disposables.

"Local" also takes on a very "open" meaning. The basic meaning refers to something produced in the consumer's own region. Proximity and its ties to the land guarantee its uniqueness and the authenticity. But when we analyze the structure of the personal identities of these local aficionados, we find that they have remarkably multidimensional personalities!

They derive their identity from multiple sources - from their connection to their network of friends, their community, their locality, their region, their province, their country. They even consider themselves to be citizens of the world! They belong to the so-called "glocal" phenomenon: their identities extend from the "global" (worldwide) to the local. They subscribe to the major progressive trends happening around the globe, but they act at a local level (by buying local products): they "think globally, act locally".

By carefully studying the values profile of these aficionados, we also find that the authenticity of the product, its "soul," is even more important to them than its "localism." They can be as enthusiastic about products from other regions of the world, as long as they are authentic, have a story to tell, and are based on founding myths.

Finally, it should be noted that these "local" product lovers aspire to sustainable, environmentally and socially responsible consumption and lifestyles. The passion and care evinced by local producers belong to an ethical movement of responsibility, on the part of both the producers and their customers equally.

A social change, a business opportunity

A local product is like no other. Buying local "almost" represents a lifestyle choice. Almost, because the supply is still limited compared to the more common industrialized products. On the other hand, given the motivational support for and the cultural relevance of local products, we can only conclude that there is potential for considerable growth in the marketplace for these products in the coming years.

Let's hope that distributors give these products the prominence they deserve!

L'Elisir d'Amore by Gaetano Donizetti

My musical nod of the week is from L'Elisir d'Amore (The Elixir of Love), a comic opera by Donizetti. The elixir in question is supposed to be an authentic product of the land that helps its user win the heart of his beloved. (In fact, the elixir is nothing more than Bordeaux wine.) As the lover prepares to leave with the troop of soldiers with whom he has enlisted, he finally spots "a furtive tear" in the eyes of his beloved, which proves her love. They end up believing that this fake love potion really works!

The music clip - "Una furtiva lagrima" - is arguably one of opera's most beautiful arias, performed here by the incomparable Luciano Pavarotti!

Gaetano Donizetti: L’Elisir d’amore, Luciano Pavarotti, Kathleen Battle, Juan Pons, Enzo Dara, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, James Levine (Dir.), John Copley (Prod.), New York, 1992.

Do you believe the world is heading for disaster? 61% of Canadians think so (and Parsifal by Richard Wagner)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 02-20-18 at 1:56 p.m.

Apocalyptic themes have always been common in cultural creations and popular tales, from the earliest biblical texts to the most recent Hollywood blockbusters. From Noah's ark to the Apocalypse in the Gospel According to St. John, from fears of nuclear catastrophe to Mad Max, The Walking Dead and The Handmaid's Tale, the threat of a world-destroying cataclysm has always been a pervasive motif in our culture, as a potential expiation for the trespasses of mankind.

The etymology of the word "apocalypse" is quite interesting. Its original meaning, from both the Greek and the Latin, is revelation: a vision, a promise of a better world once our sins have been purged. A salvation but one that can only come to pass after a cathartic catastrophe washes away the iniquities of Man.

In Western countries, as well as in other countries where religious ideology no longer predominates, the notion of apocalypse is still present. It continues to play the same role, but in a secular way. Today, our "sins" involve our lack of respect for the planet, climate change caused by human activity, the destabilization of democracies by the rise of the Extreme Right, terrorism, the "financialization" of the economy at the expense of "real" production, the staggering and widening gap between rich and poor, etc. (and I'm sure there's more I've left out!).

And so, even if "apocalypse" no longer bears its earlier religious connotation, it performs the same function: the threat of cathartic disaster if we do not mend our ways.

In fact, the apocalypse is a project: to change the world in the face of the threatened extinction of mankind and society. The threat justifies the project to transform our way of life.

The apocalypse in Canadian public opinion

It is fascinating to observe that a large majority of Canadians entertain this kind of apocalyptic view of life today. Presented in a secular way, as climate change and social change, three out of five people in the country share this vision (61%).

Our way of measuring this phenomenon is a bit peculiar. Respondents to our surveys are presented with a question with two opposing ideas and are asked to choose the one that best reflects their opinion. In this case, the exercise was as follows ...

Which of these statements do you feel closer to ...?

The world is heading for disaster: within the next 10 to 20 years there will be a major upheaval


The world is evolving and moving forward: within the next 10 or 20 years we will see the establishment of a more humane and happier society

In Canada, it's the first statement that takes the prize, at 61%, compared to 39% for the second statement.

Very little variation at a socio-demographic level!

It is interesting to note that on a socio-demographic and socio-economic level, there is not much variation. The less fortunate, the less educated, as well as residents of smaller communities are a little more likely to entertain this vision of disaster, but the differences are small, in the order of 3% to 5%.

Even on a regional level, in Quebec, the least "catastrophic" province, we find that 57% of the population agree with statement number one. This agreement climbs to 66% in the Maritimes, while the other provinces hover around the national average.

Thus, given variations of around five percentage points, majorities of about 60% of Canadians share this apocalyptic view of our modern world, believing that we are heading for disaster!

A rising apocalyptic vision

It is also fascinating to observe that this apocalyptic view of the world has been systematically on the rise in Canada since 2008. While our "disaster" statement garnered the agreement of 61% of the population in 2017, it was at 49% in 2008, an almost perfectly linear rise of 12 points over nine years.

It is interesting to note that it was the 2008 crisis that triggered this upward momentum (previously, our data was flat on this indicator). Since 2008, despite the subsequent economic recovery, an apocalyptic view of life has continued to rise, as if people feel increasingly threatened by all the uncertainties burdening society and their lives.

A dystopian view of society

When we look at the values and mentalities of people who share this apocalyptic view of life today, we are well aware of the depth of their judgment. They see the big issues in an almost holistic way and are very pessimistic about the outcome.

Topping the list are obviously the planet's ecological problems, climate change and all the natural disasters associated with them. To which is added a completely Darwinist view of our social model, where they see only the strong surviving, the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and governments in the pocket of the rich and powerful! Feeding this world view is a dash of cynicism and populism - no one cares about the public good.

These "dystopians" feel personally threatened by all these social issues. Life has become risky in every way. They feel that they are not in charge of their own lives, that they ae at the mercy of societal forces.

Finally, people with an apocalyptic viewpoint tend to be very socially engaged. They embrace ethical, ecological and socially responsible lifestyles - all in an attempt to change the world (whence the idea that staving off disaster is a project!).

An appeal to business, institutions and governments

We interpret the fact that three out of five people share such an apocalyptic view of life in Canada as a heartfelt cry for help, a search for hope! Politicians are less and less credible. Business is perceived as having very little social conscience. The world is falling apart and no one seems to give a damn.

This situation represents an opportunity for organizations, brands and business to give back to the community, to launch initiatives that make a difference in this context. Finally, those who succeed in making a credible mark with such projects stand to win points from citizens and consumers.

Parsifal by Richard Wagner

For my operatic nod of the week, I had to look no further than the current production of Parsifal at the Met in New York, where two famous Quebecers, François Girard and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, are currently winning plaudits.

The staging by François Girard plunges us into an ageless post-apocalyptic world. The mission of the Knights of the Holy Grail is to protect the spear that pierced the right flank of Christ on the cross, along with the cup (the Grail) that collected Christ's blood. The king has failed in his mission: while falling under the spell of an evil seductress, he was robbed of the Holy Spear and wounded with it! After this moment of weakness and the theft of the Holy Spear (the original sin in this opera), the king's wound never heals and the world of the Grail Knights sinks into an unending apocalypse, until a saviour - Parsifal - arrives to redeem them.

In this music clip, a Knight recounts the story of the theft of the Holy Spear.

Richard Wagner: Parsifal - Jonas Kaufmann (Parsifal), Katarina Dalayman (Kundry), Peter Mattei (Amfortas), René Pape (Gurnemanz), Evgeny Nikitin (Klingsor), Rúni Brattaberg (Titurel), Maria Zifchak (Stimme) Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, Daniele Gatti (dir.), François Girard (prod.), New York, Sony Classical, 2014.