Back to basics Simplicity & minimalism
“Simplicity is in. Apple products are “beautiful” and “intuitive.” Google’s homepage is “clean.” Sam McNerney (February 10, 2014)
Recession has impacted consumers’ vision of life and led Western consumers in particular to think that there is too much information, too much work and too much technology. Many find the unprecedented volume of choice and an increasing range of communication channels overwhelming. Coupled with the emotional fallout of the recession and the stress inherent to modern lifestyles, this context makes people weary of overspending and over-consuming, who are openly rationalizing their behaviors. Many think they would be better off if they embraced the ideology of clutter-free living and are increasingly opting for a lifestyle of simplicity that involves eschewing consumerism: they are shifting from buying a lot with money that they don’t have, to consciously buying– and even using or doing– considerably less. They buy what they need, not what they want, in line with the growing resistance to mass-produced goods. Consumers want to feel good about themselves and their consumption choices, so are doing with less or simply “just enough”.
Many think they would be better off if they embraced the ideology of clutter-free living and are increasingly opting for a lifestyle of simplicity that involves eschewing consumerism: they are shifting from buying a lot with money that they don’t have, to consciously buying and even using or doing considerably less.
They believe that life really can be better with less, if it is the right less. It’s more than a lifestyle; it is about de-scheduling and big-picture awareness. Aspirations are changing: from supersized to right-sized, from fast fixes to timelessness. The rejection of consumerism is conspicuous through the selection of products and services showing sense and utility and not accumulation. Consumers are demanding more clarity, fluidity and intuition in all categories, from urban living to food to design and much more.
People spend more times in their homes as they embrace a more simple way of living, playing board games or hosting friends for dinner.
Consumers of all ages are increasingly turning to leisure activities that bring simple moments of joy and don’t cost a dime. In terms of urban living, smaller homes are gaining importance for consumers who seek a high-quality yet less complicated lifestyle. The prospect of easier cleaning and maintenance merges with aspiration to trim excesses and live well with only what they need. People spend more time in their homes as they embrace a more simple way of living, playing board games or hosting friends for dinner. Out of home, people are looking for easily accessible activities while replacing costly options such as spending a day at the spa, taking the family to the local theme park, or a splurge at the mall with simple outdoors pleasures. Festivals of all types are booming; barbecues are getting ever more sophisticated and high-end; citizens are being encouraged to walk or cycle to work; and camping and rambling have never been so popular. From gardening to picnics, to the concept of the “outdoor room”, consumers are looking for opportunities to live more simply. Driven by a ‘back to basics’ attitude, they highly enjoy staycations and day trips, from a walk on the beach to a day at the park. Also, young urban consumers in emerging markets are increasingly taking up cycling as a serious hobby; the bicycle seems to have made a comeback as a retro-chic urban trend, particularly for community and sharing reasons. Sports bikes are especially popular in China, with at least 8,000-10,000 points of sale for sports bikes in the country, according to data shared at the 2013 Asia Bike Trade Show.
An increasing number of services are offering a more comprehensive, simplified, and integrated experience in response to a high demand for more fluid, intuitive and rationalized processes. Google and Apple value design and user experience minimalism; fashion brands are adopting the young ‘normcore’ trend as the ultimate fashion statement while designers like Phoebe Philo or Jil Sander are bringing the minimalist style a step forward; restaurants get single- and dual-dish focused. In terms of services, car ridesharing service Uber streamlines the tasks to book car rides; Dropbox re-imagines how people access and share files; Square reinvents the payment process. In the retail space, a smooth path to purchase and an edited product offer is no longer the preserve of boutiques and niche brands. Now, global consumers expect that not only products but also purchasing processes will be stripped down to the basics. Keeping things simple helps consumers make decisions, as pointed out by Barry Schwartz in his TED talk “The Paradox of Choice” in 2004 and again by Sheena Iyengar in her “The Art of Choosing” (Twelve, 2011).
Now, global consumers expect that not only products but also purchasing processes will be stripped down to the basics.
Yet brands are still holding on to the dream that was choice: making consumers earn affordable goods by working through labyrinthine pricing policies, multi-layered product offers and fussy purchasing processes. Each click, each weighing-up of product options and prices takes time out of consumers’ days, and with a growing sense of their own time poverty (whether they really are super-busy or not), they expect every transaction to be faster and fuss-free. CEB’s latest research, The Effortless Experience, which explores drivers of loyalty in customer service, points out that four out of five triggers for disloyalty are about perceived effort on the part of the consumer, while those brands which have low-effort service interactions outperform the market by 31% when it comes to repurchase and positive word of mouth.
The restaurant industry has taken the trend literally with a flurry of single- and dual-dish restaurants opening lately across major cities. In London, Bubbledogs is an unorthodox marriage of hotdogs and champagne while The Tramshed offers a no-fuss menu of chicken and steak. Some restaurants go one step further and specialise in a single dish or ingredient. In Soho, Madd serves only mango-based dishes, along with the slightly less eccentric Meatballs in Clerkenwell, which obviously sells meatballs. Taking it to the extreme is Le Relais de Venise in Manchester or London, which has only one dish on the menu: steak and chips– as does L’Entrecôte in France. In Paris, La Maison du Croque Monsieur speaks for itself while My Crazy Pop offers many versions of popcorn.
United Kingdom & France, 2013
British low-cost airline company Ryanair has simplified its website and online booking process as part of an ongoing campaign to improve its public image. The old process had previously been criticised for requiring users to opt-out of purchasing priority boarding, text message confirmation, sightseeing bus tours, airport transfers, Ryanair-branded cabin bags, RyanairTalk phone cards, and car hire. They also had to manually decline the opportunity to take part in the airline’s “Play to win your trip for free” game. In total, 20 clicks were required to book a flight. The new site’s process now takes a minimum of ten clicks from the first “book now” button and an average time of 5 minutes. The homepage has a smarter, pared-down look, with the garish yellow replaced by plain white. The flashing banners of the previous site have also been banished and the “Recapture” code had already been scrapped.
United Kingdom, November 2013
Orbitz is attempting to give travel consumers what they’ve been wanting: a loyalty program with a simple and flexible route to redemption. Orbitz Rewards is not based on traditional program models (there are no points, blackout dates, etc), which gives travelers the freedom to “earn and burn instantly.” Every “Orbuck” is equivalent to one dollar (not points) and earned through hotels, flights and vacation packages. Earned Orbucks are applied to a user’s account without delay and are available to be used for travel arrangements anytime — even within the same travel itinerary, so consumers can enjoy immediate benefits. That’s good news for travel-minded Millennials who value flexibility and practical, tangible benefits. Mobile users get extra bucks for booking through apps, and frequent travelers get add-on perks like free upgrades, priority customer service and a personal concierge.
United States, October 2013
Abercrombie & Fitch
Abercrombie & Fitch has announced it will remove all logos from its apparel by spring 2015. The goal is actually to recapture the teen market, which is no longer attracted by ostentatious brand names but rather goes for unmarked gear that they can use to put together their own individual styles. “In the spring season, we’re looking to take the North American logo business to practically nothing,” Chief Executive Mike Jeffries said on a conference call to discuss the company’s quarterly results.
United States, August 2014
Coin is an electronic device in a plastic case the size of a credit card that will contain all of the consumers’ credit card information. The aim is to declutter their wallets and pockets by eliminating the need to carry all their credit and ATM cards. More, the device can not only hold credit cards, but can also be used as one. Then, when it is time to pay, they just have to scroll through and choose which card they want to use – and swipe the Coin in the card machine just like a regular card.
United States, December 2013
Craft Camera by Coralie Gourguechon
Promoting the idea that the devices we own “are too complicated considering the way we really use them,” French designer Coralie Gourguechon has created a series of paper electronics—an amplifier, speaker and radio, which she has stripped down to their most basic components and fitted onto a single sheet of paper. “The idea was that the sheet of paper becomes the object, with no complicated assembly needed,” she says. Also at the origin of the Craft Camera, she believes that in order to understand our electronics, they need to be vastly simpler and more transparent than they currently are.
France, January 2014
Casa del Agua
Casa del Agua is an artisan bar concept in Mexico City where customers can drink rainwater and only rainwater (“el Agua Local”). First filtered through a gigantic green roof, water is then distilled and purified on-site, under the eyes of customers, before being put in reusable glass bottles. The concept answers the trend around single-product offerings, a new way for brands or retailers to assert their expertise, increase their visibility and add some value in products that are often trivialized.
Mexico, January 2013
Business & Marketing guidelines
|Grasp the phenomenon and explore new, more creative ways, to take the stage, including in response to fatigue vis-à-vis logos – a “logo tiredness” present for years in the West but also in expanding in emerging markets.|
|Multi-task products are smart, useful and often convenient, yet it is often better to focus on developing only one characteristic of a product, be it a functionality or design. First, it will increase the chances of getting people’s attention. Second, since buyers are more drawn specialists in a field, focusing on one specific characteristic will make it stronger and grant more credibility to the product.|
|Keep your brand message simple. Products must exude a compelling, immediate purchase justification. This requires simple packaging and simple brand messages that clearly identify a unique product benefit. Moreover, for global product or service launches, communication is likely to play out in different ways around the world, so messages must be easily understandable by everyone.|
|Consumers have also learned to tune out brand messages, and the challenge is to compete for increasingly fractured audience attention. So don’t make your messages too subtle or hard to read, rather use few but striking words that strongly impact people’s minds.|
|When launching a product, build a narrative that emphasizes values of heritage, transmission, and authenticity. Consumers are highly sensitive to values that bring them back to tradition and basics.|
- Many think they would be better off if they embraced the ideology of clutter-free living and are increasingly opting for a lifestyle of simplicity that involves eschewing consumerism.
- Consumers of all ages are increasingly turning to leisure activities that bring simple moments of joy and don’t cost a dime.
- A growing number of services is offering a more comprehensive, simplified, and integrated experience in response to a high demand for more fluid, intuitive and rationalized processes.
- CEB’s latest research, The Effortless Experience, which explores drivers of loyalty in customer service, points out that four out of five triggers for disloyalty are about perceived effort on the part of the consumer, while brands which have low-effort service interactions outperform the market by 31% when it comes to repurchase and positive word of mouth.
Experts that we recommend
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