The conscious consumer
Eco awareness and other trends are reshaping consumer behaviour. Prepare now or be left behind.
By Vivienne O’Keeffe
Not all trends become permanent. But there is no better predictor of the future – nor better way to prepare your business for it – than identifying and understanding the most important and fastest-evolving trends in consumer behaviours today.
With its broad range of services from pure aesthetics to skin care and rejuvenation treatments, the spa industry is not immune to disruptions.
This is the Consumer Age, after all. Armed with their unlimited access to information and weapons of mass communication, consumers will be the drivers of the nine most important trends developing.
Sustainable, ethical product ingredients
In fact, eco-status and environmental sustainability are no longer just trends. Instead, according to a report by research giant Mintel Group Ltd., entitled Global Beauty and Personal Care Trends 2030, they have become a necessity.
“In 2030, the clean beauty industry will just be the beauty industry,” predicts the report.
In other words, thanks to today’s inexorable shift toward conscious consumerism, your customers will be demanding – and therefore getting – clean, healthy ingredients in all the products they buy. Customers will also want to know the provenance of those ingredients – if they were sourced, for example, using sustainable and ethical (fair trade) practices.
The Mintel report mentions UpCircle Beauty, a skincare manufacturer that uses leftover natural ingredients to formulate products.
“Coffee grounds and brewed tea are just a couple of examples of repurposed waste used to make cleansers, scrubs, and soaps, observes Mintel. “Customers will dictate what they want from beauty and personal care companies, and how they want to receive it.”
Today’s eco-demands will be tomorrow’s eco-shaming. Just a few weeks ago, Gucci boss Marco Bizzarri launched the CEO Carbon Neutral Challenge, calling on the fashion industry to commit to a carbon-neutral future. Those that don’t green up will be facing the collective wrath of the tightly-knit fashion texters and bloggers everywhere.
Nor is there any reason to expect the products and services of spas to be spared. The gauntlet has been dropped.
The images of seashores awash in waste plastic, floating islands of discarded water bottles and water fowl with plastic rings around their necks are hard to forget.
And yet there is no denying the guilty allure of cosmetic packaging – gift boxes containing the mysterious promise of excitement within. Marketers and merchandisers have been dolling up their goods in the prettiest means possible for years, irrespective of environmental ramifications.
Or maybe it’s human nature. In Japan the centuries-old tradition of tsutsumi – the art of packaging – required an abundance of materials (leaves, stones, terracotta, paper, etc.,) to wrap, protect or envelop gifts in exchange for good luck, health, wellbeing and favourable reception.
Packaging in Japan and elsewhere has evolved into today’s less eco-friendly materials including non-recyclable plastics. And today’s consumers are saying ‘no thanks.’ The adrenaline rush promised by excessive glitter and over-packaging is losing ground to the daunting spectre of non-recyclable material sitting for years in a landfill, or making microscopic inroads into the digestive systems of sea life.
Consumers want products encased in sustainable glass, bioplastics or paper cartons. No garish boxes, ribbons or plastic doodads. No more waste.
No animal testing
It’s already banned in the EU. One certifying body there, Leaping Bunny (started by Cruelty Free International in the 1990s in response to using the eyes of rabbits to test creams and facial products), processed more than 200 certification applications just in November – a huge spike propelled by the consumer’s growing need for a clear conscience, furthered by mistrust in the will of companies to discontinue the practice on their own.
In Canada, Bill S-214 – the Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act – is about to pass final reading to outlaw animal testing for cosmetics here as well, which, along with other advances, will make it very easy for you to confirm to your customers that most (if not all) your products will be cruelty-free.
The rise of the minimalist
You’re probably aware of bestselling author and TV host Marie Kondo and her “KonMari” methods of encouraging us to keep only those things which make us joyful.
Does your spa offer overly large treatment menus and arrays of product – some of which are no longer relevant to your clientele and could easily be discontinued to simplify your offering, bringing greater ease, clarity and joy to your team and clients?
The point is consumers today have little or no appetite to listen to or review endless details, such as verbose descriptions of treatments. Remember that today’s selfcare and skincare rituals are moments of solace – counterbalances to the pernicious erosion of personal time from too many emails, beeps, texts and other alerts. Not unlike the ‘slow food’ movement, I believe ‘slow’ beauty/self-care rituals and simplified approaches to product use at home will recapture lost time and peace of mind for more and more consumers, adding to the appeal of skin care and wellness products in the future.
So, keep it simple.
The need for authenticity
The quest for authenticity which started a few years ago is becoming ingrained. Start by making sure you portray your facility accurately online. Don’t show a serene-faced spa goer in a beautifully themed pool sculpted in tranquil tones of dove-gray and blue if your actual place is two-tone cream and brown and wedged between Burger King and Mr. Lube. Use a good (and recent) photo, and don’t embellish.
Describe and promote all aspects of your business in realistic terms – online and on-site. Keep it real.
The future will belong to brands that can offer congruency – a complete online-to-offline customer journey.
Disenchanted and disappointed customers don’t come back.
Rising consumer unpredictability
With brand loyalty in sharp decline, the only thing predictable about consumer behaviour going forward will be its unpredictability. According to Mintel, seemingly similar consumers will move in opposite directions.
“Behaviour is not binary, and demographics will become increasingly unreliable,” predicts the research firm. “Consumers will fluctuate across a spectrum of behaviour driven by both information and emotion.”
They will also continue to identify strongly with their peer group.
“While toggling between connection and disconnection, consumers will seek out their tribe, with beauty and personal care brands serving as a facilitator,” says Mintel.
What can spas do? Keep abreast of changing customer expectations, deliver the products, services and experiences they want, and address issues promptly when they arise. Remember, your relationship with your client is based on trust – they hunger to be heard, responded to and respected.
More products for older adults
Mintel believes beauty products will gain importance among older adults.
“The ageing global population will create new standards of what it means to age. As life expectancy improves, growth in the beauty industry will be accelerated, and skincare/cosmetics will become an essential item for social survival,” says their report.
I’m not sure I would use the word ‘survival.’ But there’s no denying that as customers get older, products will be developed to help preserve their youthful appearance. And formulated with ingredients that enhance their personal sense and experience of wellbeing. Get ready to stock up.
More machines replacing humans
Automated receptionists using NFC (near field communications) technology will soon be able to greet arriving customers by name. There is the real possibility, as world populations age and recruits become scarcer, that some elder care – and maybe some spa functions – may also be carried out by robots. It’s vital that we in the spa industry remain aware that technology isolates humans from each other, and that those who cross our threshold are generally looking for some form of human contact.
The successful spa will continue to evolve by, for example, interspersing human touch with water journeys and other experiences.
In the future, premiumization of human touch will figure in all aspects of our lives. The Conscious Consumer will appreciate the value of such interactions. And smart spa brands will encode them in their customer journey to ensure memorable, habituating enrichment for their clients.
Technology and scientific breakthroughs
In previous articles I have written on the significant impact of the gut microbiome on the gut-brain axis, and its implications for our mental wellbeing. Now researchers are understanding the vital role played by microbiomes in the body’s largest organ – our skin. Probiotics and prebiotics could soon be widely accepted as vital to the wellbeing of our skin.
New trends and discoveries seem to be arriving virtually every day. And while some will pass by the wayside, no one can predict what amazing breakthroughs will permanently disrupt everything we thought we knew.
So be sure to stay receptive and informed.
Businesses that prepare and adapt will thrive.
Published as “The Conscious Consumer” in Spa Canada January/February 2020
Vivienne O’Keeffe, AAD, PEA, CIBTAC, is President of Spa Profits Consulting Inc., and an expert in designing successful spa concepts. She is also an international consultant in developing product lines, treatment plans and training programs, a member of ISPA and a recipient of the Spa Industry Association of Canada Outstanding Industry Service Award in 2001, 2005 and 2012.