Retail, like any business, depends on forward planning and smart investment, which in turn relies on accurate information — such as consumer confidence.
Consumer confidence is something companies invest thousands of pounds and man hours into researching, and three separate and highly-regarded surveys relating to that research have already been released this month, with conflicting results.
Is this a product of a turbulent and confusing economic landscape or are the results simply inaccurate?
More importantly, what is the value of this information to retailers and what effect can it have on the industry?
What is consumer confidence?
Consumer confidence is a measure of optimism in the economy, calculated by measuring things like how much people are saving and spending.
A monthly survey is conducted by numerous companies including GfK, Nielsen, YouGov and British Retail Consortium (BRC) tracks the country’s inflation, unemployment, changes in personal finance, and rates of spending and saving.
Perhaps the most respected survey within the industry is GfK’s survey, which questions around 2000 consumers on their outlook for the coming 12 months. Each survey has its own varying methodology, but stick to this general format.
Despite these variables, they all work on the assumption that the more optimistic consumers are about the country’s economic climate, the more they are likely to spend. That’s where retailers come in.
Can retailers rely on it?
Surveys and polls have come under major scrutiny recently, as neither predicted with any measure of accuracy the Brexit referendum result in June nor the US presidential election result in November.
The conflicting results on consumer confidence from various sources has also thrown their reliability into question.
There is also a notable divergence between the sharp decline in consumer confidence since the Brexit vote, and consumer spending, which so far has stayed relatively unaffected.
“The surveys themselves reflect actual opinions, so in terms of accuracy they are all “accurate”. However, what is imprecise is consumer sentiment,” Enflux’s European vice president Philip Guarino said.
“This is an extraordinarily volatile time in the UK; the government has shown itself to have an unclear path with regards to Brexit and this has businesses and consumers nervous.
“The weak (and still volatile) pound is beginning to usher in inflationary pressures which consumers are starting to feel. The trouble is that these negative factors are not happening all at once or in a linear fashion- and this feeds uncertainty.
“Surveys are certainly useful as they do reflect sentiment. I wouldn’t say retailers should ignore them but they should take them in the current context, a context of volatility.”
KPMG partner David McCorquodale in a recent report said “measuring consumer confidence is an attempt to evaluate consumer mind-set and is not something that can be compared across other measures at an absolute level”.
Meanwhile, retail consultant Nick Bubb said “what a consumer says and what a consumer does are very different”.
Despite this, there is a long-standing correlation between consumer spendi