Pietro Giarrizzo: How will the German stationery industry develop in the future and which purchasing criteria will be particularly important?
Sonja Koschel: The future is determined by a wealth of imponderables. A lot depends on how the invasion of Ukraine develops. However, the low growth rates currently forecast by the economic institutes are also based on deeper political and social problems, including the so far inadequate ecological transformation, excessive bureaucracy, state underinvestment, and the increasing shortage of skilled workers.
That’s why it’s advisable not to be too optimistic in the medium term. This also applies to the specific challenges for the future of paper, stationery and office supplies. The changes in the world of office work – i. e. working from home and the demands of Generation Z, digitalisation as a central task as well as sustainability and climate protection all force consequences and strategic changes on the product, logistics and distribution level. In addition, further increases in prices must be expected. Both the future scenarios up to 2030 contained in the new “Industry REPORT Paper, Office Supplies and Stationery 2023” and the answers from research conducted among representative samples of consumers, performed exclusively for this study, furnish many approaches for corporate planning in the short and longer term. With regard to office and school supplies, for example, the issue of sustainability is of greater importance. There is consensus on this across almost all income classes, and among top earners even 100% of them plump for sustainability. Trailing behind sustainability, the European provenance of the products also finds broad approval. This is an argument that appeals to Germans as a whole and – when differentiated according to target groups – more to men than to women and more to target groups over the age of 50 than to younger people. A low price inevitably wins over the lowest income groups completely. But even where more money is available, price certainly plays a role at second glance, too. There is little willingness to compromise on the availability or deliverability of products.
Pietro Giarrizzo: What are the results of representative consumer research regarding the preferred advertising channels of the target groups, particularly among younger consumers? And what significance do social media channels have for the paper, stationery and office supplies industry?
Sonja Koschel: If you want to be seen and sought out by young target groups, you can’t avoid social media channels. This is just as true for stationery and office supplies as for all consumer goods industries. Even though it’s still early days, our latest consumer research underlines this trend. However, around 58% of the survey participants state that advertising brochures are either “very important” or “important” sources of information for them. This includes 41% of the mid-agers (25 to 49 years) and still 45% of the youngsters (up to 24 years). Even more important for the two target groups mentioned are the experiences and recommendations of friends, family members, colleagues and fellow students. High earners like to get their information from search engines such as Google, Bing etc. One clear topic of the future, however, is social media, since almost 47% of the youngsters mention TikTok as an example of a (very) important source of information.
Pietro Giarrizzo: To what extent does the increased interest of the “youngsters” in sustainable products influence the development of the specialised retail trade in the stationery sector?
Sonja Koschel: The specialist retail trade does indeed have a very good reputation among youngsters right now. While a good 50% of all respondents buy paper, 62% office and school supplies and another 60% stationery from specialist retailers, the corresponding answers among young customers are significantly higher. A good 76% of them buy their office and school supplies from specialised retailers. That means that if you conform to the values, trends and shopping wishes of this target group, you will have a good chance of turning first-time buyers into regular customers – especially since sustainability is a key issue for the next generation and will become even more significant for them. However, just offering a few “green” articles in a corner barely cuts it.
Sonja Koschel: So that we can take a peek into the future, the new stationery study anticipates alternative trends in various scenarios based on the experiences of the recent past. It illustrates what could be in store for the industry in the area of office and school supplies, for example. The turnover of this product group increased slightly in the years 2012 to 2019, but then crashed to around €3.3bn in the three years of the pandemic. If this trend were to continue unchanged, sales in 2030 would be roughly at today’s level again. Things look better in the best-case scenario where sales of office and school supplies in 2030 are at least at the 2019 level, the year before the pandemic started.
Pietro Giarrizzo: How can foreign companies and exhibitors use the findings from your consumer research in Germany to strengthen their market position and successfully enter the German market?
Sonja Koschel: The consumer research provides precise data about the stationery buying habits of Germans. Our study answers such questions as the reason for purchases, the frequency of purchases as well as brand awareness of consumers. More detailed information on the strategic orientation for foreign companies is provided by the evaluations per target group. They distinguish between men and women, four generations, nine income groups as well as between households with and without children. The data on the key purchase criteria, the preferred source of information - i.e. advertising channels – as well as the most popular shopping channels should be particularly enlightening when it comes to gaining a foothold in the German market.
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