Pack design prompts consumers to ‘trade up’

Packaging designers may be tempting UK shoppers into “trading up” to more expensive goods by wrapping them more attractively, according to a new report.

Shoppers are spending more money than before, but on more expensive, rather than more numerous, products, says the report from retail industry body the British Retail Consortium.

Retail sales have increased by 7 per cent over the past two years, even though prices have only increased by 2.8 per cent – a figure which is half the rate of underlying inflation.

The survey, part of the BRC’s quarterly economic monitor, has established that the majority of consumers who are spending more have traded up to more expensive brands or products. Examples given by the BRC include buying fresh orange juice or pasta, designer jeans and more expensive kitchen appliances.

Although most prominent in the 18-24 age range, trading up is evident in all age, gender and social groups, says the BRC Trading Up Survey. Many of the consumers who are trading up have been promoted or gained a new job, the survey finds.

Although large items such as electrical equipment or furniture are cited by many consumers as areas where they have traded up, around half also spend more on food and clothes than they did two years ago.

“Consumers’ basic needs have been met. It’s not about needs any more, but about wants,” says Coley Porter Bell managing director Amanda Connolly. “Consumers are looking for an experience.”

BRC economist Pamela Webber says design and branding is certainly a factor in customer behaviour, especially in retail categories such as jeans and sports shoes.

But other factors, including wider travel and the popularity of cookery programmes, could have an influence on food sales, she says. The survey notices a considerable increase in the sale of pre-prepared salad products, such as pre-washed lettuce leaves in favour of whole lettuce. “New” types of bread, such as ciabatta, are also seeing growing sales.

But designers should be wary of emphasising brands too heavily, say industry experts. Kevin Vyse of branding consultancy Brand Matters says younger consumers are favouring quality goods, but that branding is less obviously important than before.

“We are seeing a return to value rather than name… They don’t want to be fobbed off with the latest fad,” he says.

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