FEATURE15 June 2009

‘2008 was Year Zero for consumer trends’

Features News

Paul Flatters is a forecaster – but one who is still smiling. He wouldn’t be, he admits, were he one of the countless numbers of economic forecasters who failed to spot the recession as it loomed.


Flatters is co-founder of Trajectory Partnership, a business he set up last August with ex-Future Foundation and Henley Centre colleagues Michael Willmott and Chris Farmelo. Despite the problems a recession brings for any new business, Flatters is adamant that the partners were right to launch when they did.

For starters, he says: “We do not have the baggage of a trends history that may now be out of date.”

“2008 was Year Zero for consumer trends,” Flatters says. “Most of the trends people were talking about up to that point were the product of 15 years of continuous economic growth.”

Trends that emerged during that period, such as a desire for authenticity or a focus on ethical consumption, have largely been sidelined now by that more pressing of consumer concerns – affordability.

Yet extraordinary circumstances breed extraordinary behaviours and weeding out the long-term changes from the short-term knee-jerk reactions is key to Trajectory’s role in its new joint venture with Ipsos Mori.

The two companies are working together on the latest wave of the Real Trends insight monitor, which aims to give a ‘state of the nation’ view on Britain today and gauge the attitudes and opinions of its citizens on a wide range of topics. The survey was first carried out in 1997 as Tony Blair and New Labour rose to power, and again 10 years’ later to provide a record of how times had changed.

Real Trends was updated last year, in partnership with Bob Tyrrell, the former Henley Centre chairman. Tyrrell returns to the project this year, joined by Trajectory, whose role Flatters describes as “volume control” – that is, distinguishing the noisy but ultimately short-lived trends from the more subtle, lasting changes.

“Its quite possible,” he says, “that we may see huge changes in some areas that will be quite fleeting, while in other areas the change may be less dramatic but it results in a fundamental shift.”

Take society’s new-found frugality as an example. With the days of cheap credit – at least temporarily – behind us, most people have taken to watching the pennies like never before. Flatters, though, is intrigued to know the extent to which this behaviour will last, and whether people will resume their over-spending ways as soon as they possibly can.

Real Trends will be fielded in July with results due back later in the year.


1 Comment

13 years ago

JGFR has been monitoring consumer confidence and savings, investment, borrowing and debt repayment activity for many years and our research in the first half of 2008 was conclusive that a recession was looming. Our financial wellbeing index (using GfK data base Jan 2001=100) fell off a cliff, down from +28 in January to -72 in June. Currently we are at -64. The confidence and financial activity data at the end of June will provide clues as to whether the green shoots appearing are likely to pull the economy out of recession.

Like Report