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Consumers are increasingly aware of the monetary value of data but continue to give data away for ‘free’

2021 Digital Consumer Trends

Post pandemic: Fake news is considered a growing problem, however, online shopping, the use of social media and video streaming are here to stay.

Brussels, 3 December 2021

Today the Deloitte Digital Consumer Trends 2021 study reveals that consumers are increasingly aware of the monetary value of their data but are also willing to give it away for ‘free’ services. Furthermore, the pandemic was a catalyst for change in how we consume news and the need for qualitative information, realising that fake news is becoming a big problem. Some behaviours that arose during lockdown, such as online shopping for non-food (26%), the use of social networks (21%), and the use of film and TV streaming (20%) are clearly on the rise compared to pre-pandemic. Smartphones have won the space for online shopping with young adults, and the lockdown made consumers discover streaming services with 2 out of 10 paying for music streaming services.

“We see that some of the trends that arose during lockdown have strengthened and have clearly adapted to our digital behaviour for good. At the same time our digital consciousness is growing. Consumers are more aware of misinformation and increasingly know that their data is being used by service providers. Consciousness however is not enough, the legislative framework is evolving to further protect the consumer,” said Vincent Fosty, TMT Industry Lead Deloitte Belgium.

Data as means of payment

In 2021 36%, versus only 27% in 2018, of the Belgian respondents believe that their data is being used to interact with them. What is however alarming is that many digital services are offered for free and that consumers are willing to accept the constant use of their data by those providers in exchange for the ‘free’ service.

“People are aware of the monetary value of their data and that they indirectly ‘pay’ for the service provided. However, they don’t see the data in exchange for service as a ‘payment’, hence they tolerate the ongoing use of their data. New legislation has been adopted to strengthen consumers’ rights when it comes down to the usage of their data as means of payment. It is however not clear yet how these rules will be applied by the service providers,” said Fosty.

Moreover, concern around data usage has halved since 2018. All the default cookie settings are accepted by 76% of respondents when prompted, and only 18% use a specific browser that limits ad-tracking half of the time.

Fake news is generally considered a big problem

“News consumption has changed during the pandemic. There is a real need for qualitative and thrustworthy information. As a result, 14% of consumer choose to pay for a news service. Consumers are increasingly aware of fake news but they seem to have difficulty distinguishing the real from the fake,” explains Vincent Debusschere, TMT Consulting Partner Deloitte Belgium.
83% of the respondents say that fake news is a big problem, with 52% finding it is difficult to distinguish the real from the fake, while 56% disagreed with the statement that information on social media is trustworthy. TV remains strong as the preferred news source for 39%, followed by news websites and print (25%). Traditional media is also considered more trustworthy by 57%. However, there is a significant difference between age groups as about 70% of 65–75 compared to only 53% of 18–24-year-olds consider it trustworthy.

Social media is the preferred news source for 1 out of 5 respondents. The popularity however doubles among 18 to 24-year-olds. In that age group, 13% of the respondents also consider the news on social media trustworthy, compared to an average 8% across all age groups.

Streaming is leading in paid media subscriptions

Video-on-demand subscriptions continue to grow steadily. 53% of the respondents have access to a video service, up 13% compared to last year. However, the penetration of such services is still lagging compared to the UK at 76%. Growth in 2021 will decline since 2020 was a record year for most video platforms due to the global lockdown. Netflix is still the most popular service (47%) followed by Disney+ (16%).

Platform churn is increasingly prominent in the market with 7% of Belgian respondents saying that they have cancelled at least one service, compared to the prior year when 17% said that they had subscribed to a new service. In the US, a more mature market for video-on-demand services, the churn amounted to 37% in February 2021. The main reason for cancellation is that consumers are not using the platform enough, but the churn is also dependent on many variables such as renewal of content, controversies, and the promotions of video services.  

Of all the paid music subscriptions, streaming service still leads with cloud storage arriving in second place. These platforms also provide access to podcasts, of which the popularity has been multiplied by 7 since 2017.

Gaming remains huge with 5.3 million gamers in Belgium in 2020, a growth of 3.8% compared to 2019. Gamers are both male and female, though male players choose the console, whereas women tend to play on their smartphones. Of the 31% of the players who have access to a console, 31% play daily, whereas only 19% of the smartphone users play daily. Video games generated €662 million in revenue in 2020, a 22.7% increase compared to 2019 even though it is 16% smaller market than music, radio and podcast.

Smartphones are more often used for shopping while smart TVs remain the connected home device of choice

The smartphone was in 2020 the preferred device for media and entertainment activities. The 2021 data shows that online shopping, which was mostly done on a laptop, is now increasingly done on a smartphone by young adults. The age group 25-44 use their smartphone to browse shopping websites, whereas the 18–34-year-old smartphone users increasingly make online purchases on their devices.

Aside from the price, 45% of the respondents mentioned that battery life is the most important feature when choosing a smartphone. The use of recycled materials is only important to 2% of the respondents. In addition, the lifecycle of the smartphone is extending. In 2018, 55% of the smartphones were acquired within the last 18 months, compared to 48% in 2021.

In 2021, the use of smartphones continues to increase. It was already the preferred device for many media and entertainment activities. Smartphones are being used daily for social media and messaging (69%), consulting the news (39%), and watching videos/livestreams (31%). When it comes to watching video streaming services or television programmes, bigger screens are still preferred (TV in most cases and laptop for younger generations only).

The smart TV remains the connected home device of choice. Out of the 56% of respondents who have access to a smart TV, 81% say that they use it daily. Ownership of wireless speakers is also on the rise with 1 out of 4 respondents (31%) having access to one and almost 1 out of 2 (46%) using it daily. The same applies to video streaming devices, with only 19% having access to them but 46% using them daily. Ownership of voice assisted smart speakers is rising (10%), while the usage remains stable (46%).

More and more respondents (21%) now also own a smartwatch. Furthermore, 16% say they own a fitness tracker, of which 56% use it daily. Belgian consumers however don’t pay for fitness apps: only 3% of the respondents subscribe to mental health apps and 2% to fitness/lifestyle/workout apps.

Deloitte’s Digital Consumer Trends is a multi-country survey of digital services users around the world. The 2021 study comprises 30,150 respondents across 19 countries and five continents, including 2,000 Belgian consumers aged 18 to 75.

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