The Changing Face of Consumerism and Technology: Disruption, Diminishment and Disappearance

 

mini-wheats

Linda and I were talking two days ago about losing our Saturday morning delivery of the national newspaper. For all the comfort of having it in your hand and sipping coffee while outside its storming, more likely than not I’ve already read the articles online and the paper moves from front door to recycling. I think the bigger issue is a business model that is falling by the wayside and the effective diminishment of the very thing that newspapers are all about, the newsroom, while the organizations struggle to continue to offer a product that fewer and fewer of us care about. Is the cancellation of our home delivery merely one more sign of a troubled company?

One of my favorite Sunday morning recreations is walking up and down Queen Street West counting the number of stores and restaurants that have gone out of business. Rent is often blamed for the demise of many of these businesses, some open for little more than weeks, but in my opinion it has more to do with relevance in the online age. After all ordering on Amazon is far more convenient and more price competitive. When I go into one of these retailers my experience had better be superlative given the options available to me, and all too often it falls short of even adequate. More importantly, in a rapidly changing landscape, evolve or perish, and many of them are fixed in their perception of what the market is rather than letting the market dictate what they should be.

Changing buying habits of the millennials are also held up as a reason for the rapid shifts in our consumer society. If anything they’ve taught me to be more astute and demanding; all my habits and preconceptions about how my world works have been turned on its head as I’ve looked more closely about how shifts in consumerism have affected everything from media to retailing, manufacturing to logistics. I am not sure it is the generation itself or the fact that they are more closely allied to technology driving the change.

Vegas

I didn’t realize how significant my urban lifestyle has informed me until a recent trip to Las Vegas for the Life is Beautiful Music Festival. Over the course of six days I grew more and more frustrated looking for a satisfying foodie experience (funny how fast foodie has entered my MS Word dictionary). Our experience on Fremont Street was something generationally challenging – often heard was how cheap the food was (it wasn’t) and how large the portions were (I’m sure I could have fed a family of six on what would appear on one plate), as if my physique which is more akin to Humpty Dumpty than Adonis and white hair meant that I was generally interested in trough feeding. We did find some King Street West experiences to satisfy our palate and conscience but frankly would have ranked the fare bottom tier compared to what I’m used to. We also heard from many about the great food on the strip but frankly for the price point versus offerings, I would rather wander around my city. I didn’t go there to eat.

A couple of road trips during our stay meant a ubiquitous trip to Walmart to buy a cooler and food and frankly as disconcerting as the shopping experience was at least we were able to cherry pick some decent and healthy options. The bigger shock was the plethora of convenience single serving foods we saw and how the price points were more amenable to budgets than was healthy eating.

Consumer Spending

Consumers are responsible for the majority of economic spending and growth. Leaving aside the obvious excesses, there is little doubt in my mind that the competition now is not amongst companies in the same industry fighting over a slowly growing market share, but rather new competition for the aggregate consumer dollar.

I will admit to spending on convenience. We have a cleaning service come in once a week to do our condo. I like to be able to order my groceries online. And who likes laundering sheets and comforter covers – we send those out at the same time our dry cleaning is picked up. On those occasions we haven’t planned the night’s meal we’re as likely as anyone in our neighborhood to go out and either buy take out or eat in at one of the local restaurants.

What dictates how we spend our discretionary dollar now has everything to do with the duality of convenience and excellence. And we grumble every time one of those two dimensions fail; as soon as a better opportunity presents itself we’ll embrace it. And if that opportunity is online (like our groceries or dry cleaners) then that will be our preference.

On Sugar and Cereal

I recently made the weekly trip to our local Shopper’s Drug Mart to pick up some staples – milk, bananas, etc. I snagged a box of sugar cereal and without thinking boldly carried it to the cash. Lots of yoga-wear sweaty people were in the store that Saturday morning and the looks I received left me feeling sheepish, until, that is, I looked behind me and saw several of them with the same box of sugar carefully hidden in their arms.

I have no doubt that a smaller market will exist for these former stalwarts of the weekday breakfast table, but more as a guilty pleasure than as a significant staple. And as the next generation comes of age never having known the ubiquitous presence of some crisp or pop, even that diminishing market will disappear.

Bringing it Home

Technology makes embracing a new way of living easier and the adoption faster. It also creates a new definition of what a market is. In business school I learned about both the economics of substitution and competition, but I have never seen how pervasive the competition is for the consumer dollar. It is no longer from competitors in the same industry.

What I know for sure is how to spot companies that are going to excel – those that focus on speed of convenience, price and excellence are going to win. The rest are merely grist for disruption, diminishment and ultimately disappearance.

Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. (IAS) is a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF) and the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC). iA Securities is a trademark and business name under which Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. operates.

This information has been prepared by David Chellew, Portfolio Manager for Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. (IAS) and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of IAS. For more information about IAS, please consult the official website at www.iasecurities.ca. David Chellew can open accounts only in the provinces where he is registered.