By Aimee Chanthadavong

Trust was the key theme highlighted in IBM’s 2012 Smarter Consumer Study.

The study, which looks at the purchasing trends, habits and expectations of more than 28,000 consumers globally, including more than 1800 from Australia indicated that technology is changing the consumption behaviour of the consumer and there’s been a clear evolution of the ‘empowered consumer’.

It’s indicated that retailers need to continue to work on gaining the trust of consumers and there is some progress being made in the right direction. In 2011, respondents said they trusted friends and family the most when making a purchasing decision (51%) and trusted retailers the least (3%). But in 2012, trust in retailers more than tripled to 10 per cent, indicating that a small but rapidly growing number of retailers are successfully engaging with consumers in a more proactive and transparent way.

Ian Wong, retail and consumer products industry lead for IBM Global Business Services A/NZ, said consumers are spending with only a few selected retailers they trust.

“It’s about understanding the trust factor of the ‘empowered consumer’,” he said.

“The correlation between trust and spending in Australia is that to build trust, retailers need to do two things. First, they need to be clear in their communication and then deliver on the promise. ”

The study also showed that Australian consumers are leading the way in adopting new ways of buying online, with 17 per cent saying they are willing to use three or more technologies in the shopping process. The study found that 90 per cent of Australians believe that social networks save them time in shopping compared to 85 per cent of consumers worldwide, while 40 per cent of Australians want to use websites for comparative shopping.

Margy Omsond, Australian National Retailers Association (ANRA) CEO, said as technology – more specifically mobile adoption – is at the forefront of driving retail change, it is expected for retailers to become more innovative to help drive business.

“In terms of Australia’s willingness to use technology it is without a doubt would know the question of technology and where it will take us is certainly one of the biggest issues of the retail market,” she said. “The next 12 to 18 months there will be considerable innovation from retailers.”

However, Australians still value the ‘touch and feel’ element of the shopping experience and say that the store is still the preferred channel to make a purchase. For instance, two thirds of respondents said why they willingly research online they still make the trip in-store to complete the transaction and for one third the reason why they are willing to purchase is because of the lack of information available that is available to them.

Additionally, this year the study shows Australian consumers are ambivalent about their financial outlook, with only 56 per cent citing they are positive about their income situation, and therefore still exercising frugality in their purchasing decisions. The study revealed that attitudes towards discretionary spending remain largely conservative with 47 per cent of Australians searching for items which are on sale and only 10 per cent indicating they will spend more in general.

“In terms of the upper end of the spectrum and the loosening of the purse strings that’s certainly what we’re hearing anecdotally in fashion. At the top end of the marketplace who happily by Jimmy Choo shoes don’t miss a beat. It’s the larger middle sector who is still feeling this closed down willingness to spend and is ‘nesting’ impulse in terms of their home environment. But they are Still willing to spend on experiences, still willing to spend on going to experience something but are much more reluctant to spend on an item or if they are prepared to spend it has to be very cheap,” Osmond said.

“I think one of the things that Australian retailers are feeling the grunt of at the moment is that while transactions are up, the prices are down. As a consequence they have to work much harder to make a bottom line.”