Bernie Sanders knows it, Hillary Clinton is learning, and Donald Trump likely figured it out long ago in order to sell more stuff: Singles are a rising force in politics. They’re also a growing consumer group with significant buying power.
This year’s election cycle has a lot to teach politicians but marketers better be paying attention too, because single consumers wield roughly $600 billion in consumer spending annually. And they’re not shopping or voting like couples do.
The tide turned in 2014, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that single adults outnumbered married ones and in 2009 the number of unmarried single women fell below 50%.
These escalating numbers aren’t just because young people are waiting longer to get married thanks to the high debt burden and rising housing costs, as conventional wisdom goes.
In retail, consumers are mostly referred to by retailers as “she.” Listen to a conference call or 10, and you’ll hear CEOs, CFOs and marketing officers refer to their customer time and time again as a woman.
This is true of the biggest retailers including Walmart, Target, Kroger and Whole Foods. There are a couple of exceptions of course– home improvement chains and electronics or technology retailers tend to think of their shopper as male, even though that demographic has shifted as well.
This new and growing independent demographic busts quite a few myths, according to marketing agency TPN Retail, which identified four big ones that consumer brands should be aware of.
Singledom is not a burden and today’s singles aren’t alone, sad and trolling dating sites.
According to a study conducted for TPN by C+R Research, just 5% of singles said they were actively seeking a partner. Roughly 30% said they prefer their freedom and have no intention of coupling up.
Singles with their one income have less money to spend.
Singles do have just one income, but that means they are spending only on themselves. This group has more freedom to spend and does so at a higher rate than the general population, particularly on leisure and entertainment.
Singles spend without reason.
Au contraire, TPN found that this group is a bunch of savvy shoppers. More than 47% shop with a list, 36 percent shop based on sales and promotions, and nearly 42% stock up on products when on sale.
Singles don’t notice they live in a world were couples are the dominant demographic.
Not only do they notice, but they feel slighted. Often in real financial ways. Mobile phone ads and plans, for example, are targeted to families. Singles often end up paying more for the same items than do families. That’s true in car insurance and for consumer goods in smaller packages.
There’s plenty of opportunity for retailers to better understand and cater to this growing group. Single serve packages are one thing, but are grocers paying attention to new events such as Friendsgiving? What about expanded product registries for more than weddings and babies, such as birthdays, promotions and house warmings? Singles celebrate significant events in their lives and recognizing this with targeted products and services both secures their loyalty and their disposable income.
Some retailers are already doing a better job than others. Target, with its urban presence, polls well with young shoppers and singles and tends to use less traditional visuals in the store depicting families with children. But it’s still a family store and particularly focused on categories such as baby and kids.
Retailers tend to focus on what they know, what they do well. Venturing into the unknown and failing has serious consequences. Still a small effort can bring a big payoff, particularly if you’re talking to group used to being invisible, as this one is.
“New independents are a blind spot,” says TPN CEO Sharon Love. “The minute smart brands start to see this and get out in front, they will benefit.”
Not all singles are similar, they come in lots of subsets. Some are never married, some divorced. Some with children and some without. They are defying the stereotypes and perhaps now that they’re voting in meaningful numbers, retailers, marketers, brands will realize they are spending in big numbers too.