In the last decade, retail channels and consumer engagement touchpoints have both mushroomed. But at the same time, digital and physical environments are converging. Shoppers may be using digital technology such as QR codes at shelf for price and product information in a physical store environment, for instance.
Touchpoints are also converging, with some previously predominantly used for consumer awareness and education now also becoming shoppable purchase channels. ‘Buy now’ buttons in social media, for instance, enable see-and-buy, one-click purchases. This means that in many cases there is now no actual pre-purchase ‘shopper journey’ per se; that the traditional plan, search and evaluate stages of shopper journeys have in some instances been severely curtailed.
‘Channel thinking’ in the sense of simply online and, or versus, offline, or has become redundant. Whilst the omnichannel concept of seamless customer experiences across touchpoints still applies, it is within the context of simultaneously converged and fragmented channels, environments and touchpoints. Convergent commerce, if you will.
Converging channels and touchpoints offer speed and convenience on the one hand, and for some of them discovery on the other. Some of the largest and fastest growing emerging commerce channels include Social commerce, Livestream commerce, Direct to Consumer (D2C), Voice commerce, and Qcommerce (on-demand delivery).
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BEYOND OMNICHANNEL RETAIL TO CONVERGENT COMMERCE
In the last decade, retail channels and consumer engagement touchpoints have mushroomed. There’s now a kind of “commerce” for most letters of the alphabet. Alongside the interchangeable eCommerce and m-commerce (mobile), there is q-commerce (quick commerce, under 30-minute deliveries), and v-commerce (voice). Then there is social commerce, contextual commerce (see-and-buy in an item’s organic environment), livestream commerce … the list goes on.
At the same time as purchase channels and touchpoints are increasing, digital and physical environments are converging. Shoppers may be using digital technology, such as QR codes, at the shelf for price and product information in a physical store environment or buying online while in the physical store from a curated collection. Touchpoints are also converging, with some previously predominantly used for consumer awareness, engagement and education now also becoming shoppable purchase channels. “Buy now” buttons on social media enable see-and-buy, one-click purchases. In many cases, there is now no actual pre-purchase shopper journey per se – the traditional plan, search and evaluate stages of shopper journeys have in some instances been severely curtailed.
Touchpoints are also converging, with some previously predominantly used for consumer awareness, engagement and education now also becoming shoppable purchase channels. ‘Buy now’ buttons in social media, for instance, enable see-and-buy, one-click purchases. This means that in many cases there is now no actual pre-purchase ‘shopper journey’ per se; that the traditional plan, search and evaluate stages of shopper journeys have in some instances been severely curtailed.
”Channel thinking” in the sense of simply online and, or versus, offline, has become redundant. While the omnichannel concept of seamless customer experiences across touchpoints still applies, it is within the context of simultaneously converged and fragmented channels, environments and touchpoints. Convergent Commerce, if you will. Apparel retailer Cue called it “commerce anywhere,” while others have branded it as new retail, future retail, smart retail or even retail 2.0.
In this paper, we’ll explore some of the emerging channels where convergence is evident, their impacts on shopper journeys and touchpoint use, and what it means for organizations to successfully navigate the increasingly fragmented world of channels, touchpoints, and environments.
At the same time as purchase channels and touchpoints are increasing, digital and physical environments are converging.”
THE NEW WORLD OF RETAIL
If convergent commerce is the blending of physical and digital environments, and of multiple concurrent shopper journey stage roles for a single touchpoint, most developing commerce channels involve at least one or the other. Several also involve peer-to-peer recommendations and selling and individuals selling to others. This means that retailers’ competitive sets are expanding, and their channels to market are becoming less centrally controlled. But for manufacturers, the increase in channels means more creative ways to get to market and the ability for challenger and new brands to build awareness quickly.
Here is a selection of some of the largest or fastest-growing emerging commerce channels:
Countries with the highest incidence rates are also those with the highest frequencies of using various types of digital commerce. Countries using newer commerce types most frequently - such as social commerce, voice commerce, livestream and quick commerce - are China, India, Mexico and Brazil. In these markets, frequent and regular use of these commerce channels number between 25% and 45%. Countries ranking lowest in frequent or regular, at under 10%, are consistently the UK, Canada, Russia and Japan.
Given social media is where many consumers spend their time, selling via social media is one of the fastest growing types of retail commerce.
China currently leads the globe not only in forecast social commerce sales, but in its sophistication and uptake of this offer at nearly half (47%) of total Chinese internet users.1 But it’s not just about China. As far back as May 2020, an Ipsos study2 indicated that two-thirds of Americans were buying directly on, or discovering products through, social media - with apparel, beauty, health & wellness and media subscriptions as the biggest beneficiaries. Social commerce sales in the United States were estimated at nearly 51.8 billion U.S. dollars in 20223.
Facebook has ambitions to build the world’s largest shoppable social media platform by bringing shops to WhatsApp and Facebook Marketplace, visual search to Instagram, and targeted ads to take shoppers to Facebook Shops, third party marketplaces, and retailer websites. Twitter announced it will follow suit allowing businesses to showcase products for sale, similar to the Facebook Shops feature.
TikTok features “Shop Now” buttons for brands’ video ads via Shopify or Instagram, and the “Hashtag Challenge Plus” feature enables users to shop for products associated with a sponsored hashtag. But more than just “buy” and “shop” buttons, social commerce takes multiple forms.
But more than just ‘buy’ and ‘shop’ buttons, social commerce takes multiple forms.
Creating impulse and unplanned ‘one-click’ purchases: Brands have long struggled with how to create impulse shopping occasions online. Social commerce is delivering it through TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, WeChat and their ilk. It also means that everyone is a content creator, and therefore possibly a retailer. In China, shoppers may look at their retail moments in WeChat and see information about a new product type with a buy button, and also see in their news feed friends’ posts about products they like which include links to buy them: converged touchpoints. This is generating unplanned or impulse “one-click” purchases; see-and-buy transactions without a shopping journey per se.
Creating discovery, and the power of peers: Shoppers may be watching another consumer’s TikTokor YouTube video and see a product or service featured that they’re interested in. Sales of Ocean Spray saw a significant sales increase (and Fleetwood Mac’s 1970s song ‘Dreams’ reentered the Billboard Top 100) after 61 million views in four weeks of a TikTok user skateboarding while drinking Ocean Spray, with that song as the sound track. The hashtag #tiktokmademebuyit sat at 54 billion views as of May 2023.4 . Shoppers may directly ask their peers for product or brand recommendations, which may be linked to buy buttons. On WeChat, shoppers can see product ratings and obtain real-time advice from their friends. In Singapore, people living in the same apartment building have created community Facebook accounts and perform group buys, discovering products that others in their building are buying. “Word of mouth” has moved from being influential to commercial.
Used for delivery: In LATAM, WhatsApp is used to buy fruit and vegetables from “mom and pop” stores, fruit & vegetable chain stores and goods from pharmacies. In other markets such as Southeast Asia, WhatsApp is increasingly being used by individuals with selling “side hustles” as a sales platform as well as a delivery mechanism.
Like an online interactive TV shopping channel, livestream shows are typically one to two hours long and showcase a number of products, led by key opinion leaders and influencers who present various goods and services. Shoppers are able to chat with other shoppers and the host about the products showcased.
Livestream retail first appeared in China in 2017 using platforms such as Taobao, Weibo and WeChat. Since then, companies and brands around the world, ranging from Sephora to Walmart to Kit Kat, have used social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok to host livestream selling events. Others such as Bloomingdale’s are using Zoom. Amazon got in on the act, and dedicated livestream retail platforms such as TalkShopLive and BuyWith have emerged. Department store Nordstrom went so far as to build its own livestream platform.
Livestreaming is estimated to represent 20% of China’s total online commerce GMV in 2022 and be worth $25 billion in the USA in 2023.5 In Southeast Asia, across six countries Ipsos surveyed in mid-2021, between 71% and 92% of shoppers were aware of livestreaming, and between 21% and 70% had bought something from a livestreaming show (see Figure 4).
As with social commerce, livestreaming enables discovery. Shoppers may buy the product because of its nature or a charismatic presenter, not due to the brand. For product launches, it offers the possibility to reach a large audience ready to buy. It is another example of the converged see-and-buy or discover-and-buy journey, assisted by promotions, sales and specials. Depending on the platform used and the fulfilment methodology employed, livestreaming can also enable brands to bypass the retailer and sell direct to consumers.
DIRECT TO CONSUMER (D2C)
Apparel brands delivering direct to consumers via eCommerce isn’t new, but during the pandemic it has expanded rapidly across other product categories, with half of consumer goods manufacturers now seeking to include D2C in their channel strategies. D2C is expected to represent 40% of the growth in consumer packaged goods eCommerce in the short term.6
In China, brands build D2C shopfronts in the app-within-app WeChat Mini Program, with orders and payments made through WeChatPay. Kraft Heinz offers product bundles distributed across the UK. PepsiCo’s snacks.com and pantryshop.com D2C sites went from idea to launch in 30 days. Likewise, beauty brand CoverGirl launched a D2C site in four weeks. Adidas’ D2C offer focuses on exclusivity around certain products, and Mondelez offers special online-only Oreos variants. On the other hand, brands such as Dyson and Danone’s Nutricia are doing comparatively well with D2C based on brand trust and recognition without the need for exclusive SKUs or price discounts.
Because D2C bypasses retailers and wholesalers, it can be more profitable for brands and enable them to offer lower prices. This, in turn, can create channel conflict with retailers. Brands need to consider D2C channel pricing as part of their overall channel pricing strategy. Conversely, customer insights gained from the brand getting closer to their customers can be used to improve retail category experiences.
D2C gives brands and manufacturers control over the whole supply chain. But in order to fulfill D2C orders, brands now need to build post-purchase back-end fulfillment. Where in the past the post-purchase journey stages of delivery, unboxing, returns and refunds – and thus post-purchase customer experience - were out of the brand’s control, with D2C the brand is in control of the entire shopper journey starting from the time the shopper visits the brand’s website.
Voice commerce is part of Conversational AI, which includes bots. The ability to buy goods online using voice and a compatible smart device is growing and evolving. Worldwide usage of voice assistant tech is expected to double from 4.2billion to 8.4billion voice assistants between 2020 and 2024, albeit only 11% of European Union citizens surveyed had already used a voice assistant.7
Voice commerce functionality is increasingly likely to be built into platforms such as mobile websites and shopping apps. By 2024, 92% of surveyed US adults expect voice assistants to help with shopping tasks.8 Voice assistants are not just about the ‘big boys’ of Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Samsung’s Bixby, or Google’s Assistant. In India for example, four engineers introduced voice assistants to tier-2 cities by developing Niki, an AI-enabled technology to help shoppers order groceries and pay bills.
Voice commerce expedites shopper search and evaluate journey stages by curating limited options to choose from, or by reordering a previously bought product from an existing preferred retailer. The replenishment of frequently bought items using voice assistants – “Alexa, add detergent to my cart” - could be considered the opposite of social commerce and livestreaming, in that there is no product or brand discovery. And a converged touchpoint in that there may be no search and evaluate journey stages, unless the voice assistant or smart hub offers brand and product options, such as with Amazon’s Echo Show which has a touchscreen. This makes it difficult for brands trying to create switching behaviors, or new and ‘challenger’ brands attempting to create awareness.
QUICK COMMERCE AND ON-DEMAND DELIVERY
Q-commerce or on-demand delivery, with delivery in under an hour and often less than 30 minutes from order placement, is effectively eCommerce on steroids. Originating from foodservice and takeaway restaurant delivery, it matured into on-demand (and often late night) convenience deliveries for liquor, tobacco, and convenience food products with limited product ranges.
In 2022, the q-commerce market was valued at $584.7 billion and is expected to reach $2554.6 billion by 2023.9 Spurring this exponential growth is its move into to the grocery sector. Some on-demand grocery operators such as Gorillas, a UK based company that expanded to the US and across western Europe, using micro-fulfillment dark store model, deliver in as little as 10 minutes.
Beyond packaged goods, shoppers can order fresh fruit and vegetables. Gorillas say they have seen basket size increase as shoppers gain confidence with the platform, service levels and quality of goods provided. However, shopping basket sizes may be limited to what can physically go on the back of a bicycle or motorcycle, effectively limiting the role of the channel to top up, dinner tonight, and emergency shopping missions unless the operator shifts to larger delivery vehicles.
This space is highly competitive and increasingly based on partnerships. In India, restaurant food delivery portal Swiggy has extended its app to ”Swiggy Instamart” to offer grocery essentials and fruit & vegetables delivery in 30 minutes. Marketplace giants such as Amazon and Flipkart are increasingly looking to India’s 12 million plus traditional mom-and-pop “kirana” stores for 30-minute fulfilment. A recently announced collaboration between Drizly and Gopuff expanded their alcohol delivery offer to 26 states.
As with eCommerce, on-demand delivery allows replenishment and reordering, potentially limiting the search and evaluate stages of journeys once the shopper is familiar with the e-tailer and the product range.
Voice commerce functionality is likely to increasingly be built into platforms such as mobile websites and shopping apps. By 2024, 92% of surveyed US adults expect voice assistants to help with shopping.
AUGMENTED, VIRTUAL AND MIXED REALITY
The role of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) has increased for product trial. AR/VR has moved beyond the province of merely experiential and information, and functionality such as shelf ticket product and price information via QR codes. A February 2021 Ipsos survey of 1000+ US adults indicated that 40% either already had or would use a virtual app to try on beauty products, a similar number for apparel, and slightly more (43%) for furniture and home improvement items.10
Snap Inc partnered with Gucci to launch the first global AR shoe try-on on its platform. Snapchatters were able to try on four different pairs of limited-edition Gucci sneakers, then go to the product page and purchase immediately in the Lens via a “shop now” button. This effectively eliminated the search stage of the journey to focus on evaluate and buy.
This type of digital try-on experience is likely to become more common in bricks-and-mortar environments. In an example of physical and digital environment convergence, Amazon recently opened a hair salon in London which offers AR consultations for customers to try on virtual hair colors. Beauty companies have been quick to embrace augmented reality, with L’Oreal’s purchase of Modiface, and Sally Beauty, one of the more recent brands to launch a hair and makeup “fitting room both instore and on mobile.
Which of these channels is likely to rule in the short to medium term? Due to the scale of social media audiences and platforms reach, our money is on social commerce. The common thread among all of these developing commerce channels is one of convergence, either of physical and digital environments or of collapsed shopper journey stages. Converging channels and touchpoints offer speed and convenience on the one hand, and for some of them discovery on the other.
WHAT OF ‘PHYSICAL COMMERCE’ BRICKS AND MORTAR?
Given the increasing use of digital channels for various shopper journey stages (eg social for discovery, voice for search and replenishment, AR for trial and product demonstration), what is the role now of the physical store?
For some categories, such as those where physical product demonstration and trial is less important, in time physical stores may become the minority purchase channel but remain a major fulfilment channel. Physical stores are already increasingly becoming pick-up points (click and collect, curbside pickup) and fulfilment centers in a world where consumers are looking for not only convenient but safe ways to receive orders.
This means reimagining what and where a physical store actually is. Many physical stores will ultimately become about one of two things: convenience and efficiency or experiential.
Convenience-oriented stores will become as much about fulfilment, distribution, and collection of digital orders as a means of product discovery.
Experiential stores designed around immersive, discovery and information oriented multisensory experiences to build brand affinity and amplification will continue to grow. Nike opened experiential flagships in Tokyo, New York and elsewhere. Earlier in 2021 L’Oreal opened its largest-in-Asia multi-brand experiential flagship store in Shanghai. Experiential stores do not have to be based at a permanent site, either. Pop-ups are increasingly appearing in urban spaces not previously designated for retail, such as parks, gardens, town squares and parking lots. For instance, Toyota’s R&D department has created a brand-interchangeable mobile pop-up store that fits onto three or fewer flatbed trucks or utility vehicles.
The changing role of the physical store will engender an organizational review of store numbers, locations and sizes, and the role of each store in the network. The shift to digital channels is likely to result in a reduced physical store universe. As retail vacancies increase, shopping mall operators are already shifting toward alternative and experiential uses of their spaces, such as for community events.
Experiential stores do not have to be based at a permanent site, either. Pop-ups are increasingly appearing in urban spaces not previously designated for retail, such as parks, gardens, town squares and parking lots.
PROLIFERATING CHANNELS AND TOUCHPOINTS, YET TRUNCATED SHOPPER JOURNEYS
AVAILABLE TOUCHPOINTS ARE INCREASING
During the pandemic, engagement opportunities increased in some touchpoints and reduced in others. Less shopper mobility meant fewer eyeballs on outdoor and transit media, for instance. Where anything screen-based increased, such as social media, internet browsing, video streaming and television.
Brands have also added touchpoints, including those with direct contact to consumers. In 2020 in just three months, 41% of organizations added real-time web chats and video chats to their online offerings, with a further 34% planning to implement same by the end of 2020. A third (33%) had implemented VR and virtual shopping during 2020.11 In Australia, as of July 2021 almost three quarters of B2C organizations were offering live chat and video experiences, 58% were using virtual shopping events, and 53% were offering virtual styling or shopping appointments.12 As discussed earlier, brands have been engaging in social commerce and increasingly in livestreaming and D2C.
The net effect has been an increase in the number of touchpoints for an average shopper journey. Salesforce numbers the current average of physical and digital touchpoints across an individual shopping journey at nine13, depending on location, category, context, and channel.
The availability and ease of access of product information across digital touchpoints means that some shoppers use more touchpoints to reach a product shortlist or purchase decision. It also means the number of physical stores visited during a journey has decreased, often to only one store for some previously traditionally in-store categories such as appliances, in order to see a product demonstrated and gauge its size, quality, and fit. “Pavement pounding” is now a thing of the past.
The challenge with the increase in touchpoints is that while manufacturers and brands have more room to play with content experienced by shoppers, it requires more manpower and more budget to manage it. And recognizing that in a number of peer-to-peer touchpoints and channels, brands and retailers have much less control.
This requires a thorough understanding of the key touchpoints and experiences for individual categories and journeys, while taking into account that different journey types may employ different touchpoints. And that various touchpoints play different and often multiple roles in awareness, discovery, trial, purchase, retention and advocacy.
SHOPPER JOURNEYS ARE MORPHING; SOME ARE SHORTENING
With the explosion of retail commerce channels, we have collectively moved from “going shopping” to ”doing shopping” to “buying something”. And as we have observed, convergent commerce means “buying something” may not involve a multi-stage shopping journey at all if it is a one-click see-and-buy decision.
Most customer journeys will still involve at least some elements of the following loop:
discovery & awareness > search > evaluation > purchase > fulfilment/shipment/delivery > unboxing, installation and usage > returns and refunds > advocacy/loyalty and reviews.
It is a loop because one shopper’s review informs the search and purchase decisions of the next shopper, and brands have an opportunity to increase the likelihood of their repurchase at each stage of the journey: the loyalty loop.
However, it’s the time spent at each stage that is changing, even leaving aside category, socioeconomic and generational differences. Ultimately digital commerce in totality is shifting the journey stage balance.
In the past, shopper journeys, particularly the fast-becoming-antiquated binary notions of ‘webrooming’ (search online, buy instore) and ‘showrooming’ (the reverse) placed more emphasis on the pre-purchase stages of the shopper journey.
But even in an environment of expanded search touchpoints, one-click or one-command social, livestream and voice commerce see (or need)- and-buy purchases are shortening the frontend of some customer journeys, reducing or even eliminating pre-purchase search and evaluation stages and touchpoints.
On the other hand, the post-purchase journey stages from delivery tracking to unboxing to returns and refunds are increasing in overall customer experience importance. Brands and retailers need to understand the shopper expectations of each of the post-purchase journey stages to optimize both retention and advocacy.
Today’s shopper journeys may be single channel, whether all-digital, irrespective of commerce type, all-physical, or a combination. Albeit the proportion of digital-only and combination journeys is increasing and physical-only is decreasing.
Because the nature of the customer journey differs not only according to category but by context (location, touchpoint, commerce type) and by shopper type, there is no such thing as ‘THE’ purchase journey for a given category. Operating in a converged commerce environment means understanding and catering to all potential journey types, not just the “main one.” This means delivering a consistent customer experience across all touchpoints, which is what omnichannel was originally intended to deliver.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN AND WHERE NEXT?
Commerce channels and touchpoints are emerging and proliferating; at the same time, physical and digital retail environments, shopper touchpoints and journey stages are converging.
This requires a strong organizational emphasis on determining where to be and not to be, for both sales and marketing, all while knowing that where you choose not to be, you may be giving up sales and brand awareness to competitors.
This means assessing all of the available channels to market and their role for the organization, for customer experience and for brands in the context of where competitors are already playing.
Core to this is understanding the multiplicity of shopper journeys and touchpoints, and expectations at each, to identify pain points, solve shopper problems and address shopper jobs to be done, as well as to value add.
It also means understanding shopper decision hierarchies and the role of (trusted) brands and retailers in this new world of product-related discovery commerce channels.
In short, brands and retailers need to:
- Understand shopper journeys, touchpoint expectations and decision hierarchies by category and channel. Within this, understand and address the importance of post-purchase experience journey stages, eg the collect and unbox experience versus the checkout experience
- Understand how best to service a touchpoint and channel agnostic customer and what a consistent set of experiences across touchpoints looks like, including a single device journey for all stages including refunds and returns. How to make handoffs seamless, particularly for see-and-buy one-click journeys?
- Determine the role of each commerce channel and touchpoint in awareness, consideration, trial, conversion, repeat purchase and advocacy
- Particularly for post-purchase journey stages, think though packaging and delivery criteria as part of the brand experience, and how to match the experience to consumer expectations such as sustainability. What needs to change? How can a consistent post-purchase brand experience be delivered regardless of who provides fulfilment? How to manage post purchase packaging and delivery in a sustainable way without disadvantaging lower socioeconomic consumers?
- Review how product packaging can be optimized for digital environments and sales. How can it be made more delivery-friendly? What is the eCommerce equivalent of shelf ready packaging such as shelf ready trays? What’s the role of refillables?
- Consider how sensorial and in-store experiential aspects, such as showrooms and try-on, can be replicated in digital environments
- Determine what a consistent and seamless experience based on the brand promise looks like and therefore the core messages that need to be invoked across all touchpoints. We know that one point of disconnect between the experience and the brand promise can not only generate dissatisfaction, but also potentially destroy the fundamental perception of the brand
- Identify which touchpoints and parts of the journey have the highest requirement for personalization and customization
ACTIVATE AND OPTIMIZE
- Review sales and marketing investment. For instance, in an environment where the role of physical stores and sales associates is reduced, what are the alternatives or additions to physical store point of sales materials and sales team training?
- Determine the implications for joined up sales & marketing and supply chain/ demand forecasting, particularly for emerging channels with one-click see-and-buy transactions
- Figure out which channels and individual stores are about convenience and which are experience, and what execution against one or the other in each of those looks like
- Given convergent environments, consider how the online experience and touchpoints can enhance the physical store experience, and vice versa
- Review and harmonize channel pricing strategy
The new world of convergent commerce requires being omnipresent. The challenge is in how and in what manner to activate it. It’s more important than ever that brands and retailers understand consumer journeys to prioritize which products, services, and processes to put in place, and how best to communicate with customers to not only improve the chances of sales conversion but to optimize the customer experience.
IPSOS OMNICHANNEL SOLUTIONS
Ipsos helps clients shape omnichannel strategy in the era of digital transformation and convergent commerce by answering the following questions:
- What are the new consumer journeys and experiences, and how do we win across them?
- How should we innovate accordingly across products, services and business models?
- How do we effectively and consistently communicate with consumers?
- How do we optimize engagement and conversion across ecosystems?
We do this with a variety of solutions, some of which span:
- Purchase motivations, shopping behaviors, touchpoints and journeys
- Segmentation and targeting
- Customer experience design needs
- Evolving consumer attitudes and behaviors
- User experience needs, pain points and motivations
- Product and pack innovation through attitudinal, behavioral and claims testing at point of sale
- Category driver identification and brand positioning
- Communications creative testing, including in in-store and ecommerce environments, and digital live environments
- Segmentation and micro targeting
ACTIVATION & OPTIMIZATION
- Customer experience measurement and management
- Range assortment and price optimization at point of sale, whether online or offline
- Mystery shopping and execution measurement
- https://www.shopify.com.au/enterprise/direct-to-consumer 7
- The Morphing Store: bricks and mortar evolution in a convergent commerce world
Navigating the increasingly fragmented world of emerging channels and shoppable touchpoints
- Norrelle Goldring Global Consultant, Shopper Journey
- Brendan Light, Senior Vice President, Shopper Insights
The Ipsos Views white papers are produced by the Ipsos Knowledge Centre.