The newer breed of consumer is not prepared to put up with stress when shopping. Complacent retailers will lose out, warns David Lewis With his racing heart and rocketing blood pressure, he could have been a fighter pilot flying into combat or a riot policeman confronting a missile hurling mob. In fact 35 year old Steve was suffering from soaring stress simply by doing the family's weekly shopping in a busy London street. He is not alone in finding shopping stressful. Our research has found similarly high levels of stress in shoppers ranging from teenagers to pensioners in all types of shopping environments. The fact so many people find grocery shopping stressful is no surprise. Experienced retailers acknowledge the irritation caused by peak time checkout queues, and may well have witnessed outbursts of "trolley rage". Yet the extent of such stress and its impact on customer loyalty as well as profitability is seldom fully appreciated. "Grocery store stressors have hitherto been overlooked, despite the fact unprompted responses from shoppers indicate grocery shopping is perceived as the most distressing form of shopping," say psychologists Russell Aylott from the University of Sunderland Business School and Vincent-Wayne Mitchell of the University of Manchester School of Management. Stress can be an important factor in decisions to switch stores. But the two different types of consumer react to stress in different ways. Old Consumers have had their attitudes and aspirations shaped by the effects of mass production, mass marketing and mass consumption. Conformist and poorly informed, they are strongly influenced by big brands and prefer to buy what everyone else is buying. But New Consumers are characterised by individualism, independence and greater product knowledge. While scarcities for Old Consumers are largely those of cash, choice and availability, the most crucial shortages for New Consumers are time, attention and trust. Whereas Old Consumers are largely motivated by a desire for convenience, New Consumers ­ despite frequently being time poor ­ are prepared to invest time and effort in a quest for products or services perceived as being truly "authentic". They are more likely to think it worthwhile driving to a farmers' market to buy organic food than purchase apparently identical foodstuffs from their local supermarket. New Consumers transcend all ages, gender, ethnic and even social groups. You will find them as often among affluent over 50s as ambitious under 30s. Living as they do in economies where their basic needs are quickly and easily met, New Consumers are far more concerned with satisfying wants which frequently focus on original, innovative and distinctive products and services. For retailers, even more important than the causes of stress during the shopping expedition are the very different ways in which New and Old Consumers respond to them. Because New Consumers are frequently time poor, delays tend to be a greater source of stress for them than for the often less pressured Old Consumer. Faced with a lengthy wait at the checkout or problems in locating a particular product, New Consumers are far more likely than Old to abandon their purchases and leave the store. In our survey, seven out of 10 of New Consumers told researchers they had done so on at least one occasion, compared with just one in five Old Consumers. "Often the cost of waiting exceeds the cost of goods or amounts to a substantial proportion of a total journey's total time," says Peter Cochrane, head of research at British Telecom. It is not just the delays, frustrations or the physically hard work involved in many types of shopping that stress New Consumers, but the threat to their self esteem caused by being treated with indifference or even discourtesy by staff. Not that such discourtesy necessarily involves anything said. A bored or irritated expression, a refusal to make eye contact or an impatient expression can all convey the impression that consumers are irritants rather than valued customers. Because Old Consumers are more inclined to trust familiar brands, they feel less stressed when purchasing products and services consumed by the majority of other people. As a result they tend to feel reassured rather than resentful when part of a crowd. Congested aisles and checkout queues are far more stressful to New Consumers, not only due to the delay caused but also because their strong sense of individuality and independence makes them less happy at being part of a crowd. They feel their control over the situation is being dictated not by their actions but by those of others. As a result, Old Consumers, even while acknowledging they often find supermarket shopping tiring and stressful, are reluctant to give up the "convenience" and price savings, regarding their stress as a price they have no choice but to continue paying. New Consumers, despite the higher costs and reduced choice involved, are increasingly switching either to smaller stores, where they can develop a closer relationship with staff, or buying their groceries over the internet. "We want control and we want speed and ease of service," comments Larry Hochman, director of people and culture at Air Miles. "We want to deal with individuals who can answer our questions, and who have the confidence to make their own decisions. We want service at the speed of life." Those views were confirmed in our major survey of consumers conducted on behalf of ICL. Among grassroots recommendations for reducing stress that emerged on both sides of the Atlantic was the need for greater use of instore technology to speed shopping Seven out of 10 consumers in both the US (71%) and UK (69%) believe technology can make shopping easier, quicker and less stressful. Around one third of Americans (31%) and four out of 10 UK shoppers (42%) rated queues as their number one shopping stressor. Ways of preventing queues ranged from employing more staff and opening more checkouts, to barcode readers to avoid waiting at checkouts. Longer opening hours were also popular. Approximately three quarters agreed with the statement I find it useful being able to shop outside normal opening hours' (77%: USA; 73%: UK). New ways of shopping are gaining ground. Four out of 10 (41%) UK consumers agreed with the statement I would be interested in a weekly food shopping service that delivered to my home or workplace, or prepared it for me to collect.' Even more worryingly, a quarter of UK shoppers (24%) would be willing to give up doing the shopping entirely provided they were offered a viable alternative. In my view the best answer to the stress issue lies in a combination of high tech and high touch ­ using technology to make shopping faster and more efficient for time poor and attention poor New Consumers, while at the same improving still further staff training so as to ensure every customer feels special, valued and important. Certainly no retailer can afford to ignore the danger posed by stress to the modern shopper. For unless the problem is urgently addressed, more and more of them, especially the high spending New Consumers, will simply take their stresses ­ and their custom ­ elsewhere. n Dr David Lewis is chairman of the David Lewis Consultancy, a market research organisation and co-author (with Darren Bridger) of The Soul of the New Consumer: Authenticity ­ What we Buy and Why in the New Economy. Nicholas Brealey Publishing. For further information on New Consumers visit {{MANAGEMENT FEATURE }}