Omni Consumer calls the shots

Trend predictions for 2008 are hitting the airwaves, but first things first. Let's reflect on the ramifications of last year's global trends, as defined by Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM's business think-tank, the Institute for Business Value. IBM's global research of more than 16,900 consumers, conducted throughout 2007, found consumers flexed their power and control over businesses and institutions in dramatic new ways and will continue to call the shots his year. Identified by IBM as the "Omni Consumer," they are skeptical, empowered and more connected than ever -- with sophisticated technologies at their fingertips. From shopping to healthcare, entertainment, personal finance or energy use, the Omni Consumer emerged as a force in 2007, demanding knowledge of products' impact on individuals, society and the environment. Findings include: Health Eroding trust in food safety -- Nearly 70 percent of consumers express low overall trust in the claims by branded food products regarding environmental impact, health and wellness. Nearly half of consumers are more concerned about food safety and nearly two of every five consumers say they buy different brands due to these concerns. Majority consider environmental impact of purchases -- Some 70 percent of respondents say environmental considerations are an important factor in choosing products other than energy. Canadians fearful poor air quality is affecting their health -- Forty percent of Canadians feel their health has been affected by poor air quality and most feel the government is not doing enough to fix the problem. They also think soil contamination (12 percent) and poor drinking water quality (11 percent) has negatively affected their health. Shopping Internet and social networks influence buying decisions -- Some 53 percent of consumers used the Internet to compare features and prices among retailers during the 2006 holiday season. Two-third of teens surveyed said they used cell phones to text friends for input while shopping, and 25 percent accessed the Internet from a mobile device while in a store. One in 10 consumers reached out to friends and family via text message for input while shopping. Increasing interest in doing it themselves -- A U.S. consumer survey showed 50 percent growth in the use of self-service technology in the past year, with 70 percent of respondents saying they expect businesses to offer more self-service options. Reasons for using self-service is access to information and services outside of normal business hours, less time standing in line, ease-of-use, and greater privacy for certain transactions. Entertainment Personal Internet time rivals TV time -- Sixty-six percent of global consumers view from one to four hours of TV per day, vs. 60 percent who report the same levels of personal Internet usage. In fact, 19 percent of consumers spend six hours or more per day of personal Internet time, vs. nine percent who report the same levels of TV viewing. Traditional TV is on the decline as consumers' primary media device as they turn to online destinations like YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, games, or mobile entertainment. Personal finance Americans don't feel valued by their banks -- Two-thirds of U.S. banking customers don't feel valued by their banks and are unwilling to commit to a deeper relationship. Only 36 percent of customers indicated bank employees listen to their needs and follow up with them. Insured Americans loyal to their insurance providers -- U.S. consumers want personalized service and human interaction from their insurance providers. Three-quarters of consumers are satisfied with their agent's service and remain committed to working with them in the future. Despite consumer loyalty, insurers fail to connect -- Less than half of U.S. insurance customers are informed about new products or services, and 57 percent say insurance policies are not tailored to meet their needs. Energy Consumers willing to pay more for environmentally friendly energy options -- Two-thirds of global consumers are willing to pay more for power sources that emit lower greenhouse gas emissions. Also, most consumers want the option to choose their electric or gas utility provider (83 percent), but the majority report either they cannot or do not know they can. "Looking ahead to 2008, businesses must restore consumer confidence and demonstrate their commitment to transparency," says Peter J. Korsten, vice president and global leader, IBM Institute of Business Value. "A one size fits all approach is history for those who want to emerge as winners in the minds and wallets of the Omni Consumer."