Amid ongoing concern about inflation, the number of consumers pointing to corporate greed as the cause rose 8% from a year ago, according to new research from Catalyst, a Horizon Media group. The findings suggest brands will need to put in extra effort to maintain consumer trust and interest in the months ahead.
Corporate greed was only one of two categories that saw an increase in blame from a year ago, according to the report “Inflation Nation: One Year Later.” Government spending as the perceived culprit behind inflation rose from 39% to 42%.
The shifting of blame has dramatically changed the way consumers interact with brands. “Deinfluncers,” those on social media who encourage consumers not to buy something, have skyrocketed in popularity while the wealthy are increasingly viewed as people to be ridiculed, not admired, per the report. The report is based on a survey of 900 adults and analysis of online conversation, content and financial reports.
“The overall eight percent increase in corporate greed blame among all respondents means brands are not immune from having to clearly demonstrate their value through increased transparency… as well as through contributions to causes important to their audiences, programs that reward people for their increased spending and more,” said Maxine Gurevich, senior vice president, cultural Intelligence, Horizon Media’s Why Group in emailed remarks to Marketing Dive.
Even as inflation rates have fallen from their peak of 9.1% to 6.4% as of January 2023, rates remain 2.5 times higher than pre-COVID-19 levels. Consumers are beginning to spend the money they saved during the pandemic, and while this has provided the economy with a temporary reprieve, that doesn’t mean wallet tightening won’t return as the money dries up.
With consumers still worried about the economy, inflation blame has shifted. In 2022, 44% of consumers said corporate greed was responsible for the crisis, with that number rising to 52% this year. Corporate greed was the second most cited cause, only behind supply chain issues. However, the percentage of consumers who saw supply chain issues as driving inflation fell from 72% to 69%. Those who blamed the Russian invasion of Ukraine fell from 53% to 44%, and those who blamed labor shortages fell from 50% to 42%.
A key takeaway from the analysis is that that while brand trust is eroding, there are steps marketers can take to protect consumer loyalty along with the bottom line. Strategies that were cited as particularly successful across multiple consumer groups include returning money back to the consumer, putting money into charitable initiatives, matching donations and promising not to raise prices.
Facing financial strain, consumers are increasingly using a buy now, pay later method (BNPL) of purchasing, the report also noted. In 2023, the total monetary amount of goods and services purchased using this method is expected to increase 19% from 2022 to $112 million. BNPL isn’t just being used to buy things such as furniture and electronics, but also grocery payments. This can lead to worsening credit scores, and other issues.
The analysis shows consumers are still struggling to balance spending and saving amid economic uncertainty despite lower rates of inflation compared to 2022. Additionally, growing anti-corporate sentiment and allegations of “shrinkflation” and “greedflation” have caused a headache for many brands who are attempting to recover pandemic-era losses while also building consumer loyalty.