Roger Williams explores how the rapidly growing singles market could apply to the firearms trade and how internet giants are changing the way we buy and sell.
Social trends are as important to follow as markets; markets reflect society and the trends that result from the market participants’ actions. For example in micro-economic terms: the success of a new female steward in attracting new members at my local yacht club is reflected in the slight downturn in bar takings at the other local waterholes.
Today, there is one ‘trend’ of which I think you should be aware and take into account in your marketing: the rise of the single person, the solo consumer. We are a sociable species yet increasingly large numbers of us are setting up home alone. According to a recent article in Euromonitor and a follow up in Economia, 331 million people in the developed world will be living alone by 2020; up 20 per cent since 2011. This is a fast growing segment of our population.
Singles occupy 34 per cent of households in the UK. This statistic is 27 per cent for the USA and generally over 40 per cent for Scandinavian countries, reaching 60 per cent for the city of Stockholm. The trend has been described as “one of the most significant changes to take place in British society in decades”, according to the Institute of Public Policy Research. This trend has more importance for some than others. For food retailers, it has great importance, as shown by the numbers released by Waitrose in the UK where meals for one make up 80 per cent of the entire range of ready-made meals and showed eight per cent growth last year. Similarly, in the holiday market, single people travelling have increased by 60 per cent since 2009 and show no signs of declining. Today it is estimated 29.9 million holidays will be taken by single people and generate a total spend of £11.7 million.
Obviously, the growth of social media is, in part, due to this solo trend. However, I would submit that there is a feedback loop here that needs to be explored. In my younger days, I played a great deal of sport, especially rugby. Of necessity, I trained nearly every day and sought out ways to achieve fitness that were less lonely that training solo, less boring than running by one-self. I joined the Hash House Harriers. This club, I think, started in Hong Kong. Basically a hare-and-hound run where the hare, by setting false trails with chalk kept the fastest runners with the slowest, so that often we all met at the pub selected for the finish together. Talking recently to a software engineer that I had retained, I realised that many younger sportsmen and women get the same ‘group’ exercise, even though they run alone. Their personal wrist monitor logs their performance, posts their times and they are able to engage in competitive banter with a group he ‘runs with’ despite not seeing them or despite the fact that he is travelling on business.
In the gun business, we must take note of this trend. Sure, Umarex Boys Club and Field Target shooting still require a coming together, a physical meeting, but I’m sure it won’t always be this way. Furthermore, the days of justifying a purchase to one’s partner, wife or husband is becoming less of a purchasing barrier; no one to satisfy but yourself.
Keeping this trend in mind, I read some worrying numbers this week: Google recently up-dated its mobile search algorithm and this cut visitor numbers to a third of sites owned by UK small firms. It was reported in the Daily Telegraph that “39 per cent of small businesses owners reported a drop in Google rankings by three places or more. As a result traffic was down by as much as 50 per cent.” These numbers come from a survey of 1,000 SMEs by a digital marketing agency, Koozai. Changes by Google, by Amazon and eBay represent zero on the roulette wheel to those engaged in digital selling. There is now a potential, substantial loss of control for those in digital sales posed by these three companies. The size of the potential loss of control is large. Amazon recently revealed that its customers ordered 398 items per second when it launched its Prime Day, a day of deals exclusively for members of its loyalty scheme. Its retail power is huge, particularly for shooting accessories.
Here we are in the gun trade trying to stay ahead of the game, recognising that more than half of UK searches are done on a mobile phone; that we buy more online using a mobile phone than any country in the world and over a quarter of the households are single occupancy – what does that tell us to do? I would submit it still tells us to sell more and more of our products online and to use social media to expose and promote our products. But, the more we rely on the systems of the large players in online retailing, the greater the potential that for one small change for them can translate into one huge change for us, and we can’t even predict with any certainty that it will be good or bad.
Amazon recently closed down an associate of mine’s account. A competitor complained that this company had copied his product. As it turned out this was untrue. However, my friend’s business, employing six people and doing about £12,000 a month, was shut down completely from Amazon for 6 weeks. There are many examples of this. One $45 million sales enterprise was closed for three months in the USA. Appeal is lengthy and can be hugely frustrating. This USA business was eventually re-instated but the months of lost sales were just that, lost.
So, a word of caution: you can’t ignore the trends or the new routes to market, but do not rely on one route, on one of these behemoths. Spread your risk. Use eBay, use Amazon, promote your own site and make it mobile-friendly. Sponsor a shooting club – or how about creating a virtual one?