The rise of the smart consumer

The managing director of Ripples, Paul Crow, hears from a ‘consumer futurist’ how best to appeal to the new generation of smart consumers

I remember when everything was much easier and simpler. And yet, just as we start to adjust to this very different world, I’m told that everything is about to change again.

In the early days, marketing was easy. We booked full-page Yellow Pages adverts in the regions where we had showrooms and then got on with the business of looking after the customers that visited them.

We knocked up a brochure, which was full of images supplied by our manufacturers, said “no” to any new suppliers that wanted space in our showrooms and rewarded those manufacturers who had helped us grow the business by simply selling more of their products. Retailing at its simplest, although, I don’t think we appreciated it at the time.


Nowadays, it’s a very different situation altogether. We have a full-time marketing manager, a multilevel website, online and off-line marketing campaigns, e-shots landing in thousands of mailboxes each month, a glossy new consumer Style Guide, etc.

It was only when we headed to the recent Hansgrohe ‘Listen, Learn, Grow’ conference that I realised there is so much more we could, and should, be doing.

I was particularly interested in the presentation from Will Higham, owner of Next Big Thing and a self-proclaimed ‘consumer futurist’.

The majority of the presentation, fundamentally about the modern-day smart consumer, focused on how our customers make decisions based on trust of their consumer peers and no longer on what they are told by companies or governments. In simple terms, people trust strangers more than companies or governments.

He called it horizontal marketing from fellow customers with reviews, comments, social media contact and general online feedback. Of course, with a room full of pretty smart consumers, this couldn’t be argued with and he knew without asking that we had all used Trip Advisor to research a restaurant, hotel or even tourist destination and that Amazon would be visited primarily as a product review site, with six orders placed at bricks and mortar businesses for every one placed on the Amazon site.

The smart consumer now accounts for 8% of the $70 billion (£54bn) online luxury-goods market in the USA. This is predicted to rise to a whopping 25% by 2025. That’s pretty frightening for everyone with a bricks-and-mortar business and, figuratively speaking, you could almost hear the rush of people deserting the conference to phone their IT supplier to develop their e-commerce site.

This led one delegate to ask if he would still have a business in 10 years’ time. This once stranger, with the poor one-liners, now held the future of most of the independent bathroom and kitchen industry in the palm of his hand as tightly as we all were holding our breath. Yes, was the answer. “Yes, because consumers are smart remember and buy on value and not price.”

Provide them with great value and they will reward you and tell their friends and, more importantly, the strangers that we now depend upon. Provide them with a great experience and we can not only be alive and kicking, but prospering against the nationals who so often struggle to deliver such a personal level of service. The smart consumer is great news for independents – so long as we are great news for smart consumers.


I’ll leave you to decide how good you are and what you think your future holds. But for Ripples, we are going to continue to have faith in the team of people we employ.

We will continue to tell our supply partners that they need to work hard to help us improve our business and we will continue to tell them that we need even more help than they currently provide to educate our customers and drive them into our showrooms.

To service the smart consumer, we all need to be smart retailers. I look forward to the day when we also have a consistent level of smart manufacturers.

  • For a full interview with Will Higham, see the August issue
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