Meet the new e-commerce – empathy


The public’s shift towards a love of entertainment with empathy offers opportunity for savvy companies, says William Higham, founder and chief executive of consumer trends consultancy Next Big Thing

As I wrote in my November column on James Bond, popular culture can be a useful indicator of new trends. As a result, I always keep an eye on TV ratings.

The big success of last year was The Great British Bake Off. It took seven places in the 10 most watched shows of 2015, with the final proving the highest-rated programme of all. Another big winner was Strictly Come Dancing, with an average 10 million viewers per episode.

Their success came at the expense of The X Factor and Big Brother. The former didn’t even make the top 40, while the latter was at its lowest levels ever.

So why are the first two such a hit? Most likely their tone. In contrast to the likes of The X Factor and Big Brother, they accentuate the positive. They do not see the contestants as ‘freaks’ to be laughed at. Instead they are ‘people like us’, to be encouraged.

This chimes with a growing mood in the UK. As we share and collaborate more with our peers, so we are trusting and caring about them more.

According to Nielsen, peer-to-peer trust is growing at the expense of brand trust. Meanwhile, three-quarters of Britons now donate to charity, despite continuing concerns over their own financial future. Empathy is key.

A Red magazine article recently claimed ‘Empathy is the new key to happiness’. The Harvard Business Review ran a piece headlined ‘Empathy is key to a good meeting’.

As with any shift in public attitudes, the trend has commercial implications. Brands should be focusing on encouragement and collaboration in their product and marketing strategies, not just customers’ self-interest.

Tesco and Lidl, for instance, are exploring ways to make their stores a more useful part of their communities, offering space for get-togethers or donating to food banks.

Others are creating what I call a ‘brand family’, viewing customers not just as targets but as part of the company, and both helping and listening to them.

Companies today are rightly embracing M-commerce. But in 2016 they should start embracing empathy commerce, too.

William Higham is founder and chief executive of consumer trends consultancy Next Big Thing


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William Higham

William Higham

William Higham is the founder and CEO of consumer trends consultancy Next Big Thing.

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