Are we alone together in the solo economy?

From single-rider lines at amusement parks to single-ticket sales to Broadway shows– the era of the solo consumer is upon us. In fact, in a quest for solitude, Japanese consumers are renting cars just to have some solitude.

However, does the rise of the solo economy mean an increased desire for wanting to disconnect?

Today being alone is a common, everyday experience driven by two key factors. Research shows in countries with high incomes per capita, there is a delay in traditional life stages such as marriage and children. As a result, people are remaining single for longer and are living alone, perhaps multiple times throughout a lifetime. Additionally, by 2050, the UN forecasts that nearly 70% of people will live in urban environments. The move from rural to urban naturally disrupts the family unit, leaving individuals where once groups existed.

These factors create a new demand for solo-oriented consumption — or in other terms, a solo-economy.

Digital-disconnect vs solo-economy

At the same time, many are feeling detached from others due to spending less time together in-person and more time connected virtually. Both solo-ism and digitally disconnecting allow us to explore the world on our own and spend much needed ‘me-time’ to refresh from a hyperconnected world. Additionally, even married people with families need ‘me-time.’

When someone chooses to disconnect digitally, it’s often in response to the amount of time and energy spent on their phones and on social media. The reasons why someone chooses to ‘digitally-disconnect’ are varied: from mental-wellbeing to productivity to an increase in real-life connection. Whereas people in the solo economy may still choose to interact with social media and other digital information while being alone. What’s intriguing about the digital disconnect, or digitally-detoxing, is that it’s the most technologically advanced, affluent and younger demographics that are doing this the most often.

The Digital Revolution has also enabled more alone time — even when in the company of others. Consumers today can consume music, TV, videos and more through personal devices, rather than on one household device or in public spaces. In 2018, 35% of global consumers watched TV on demand “most often alone” and 3 in 10 play video games alone most often. And the always-on consumer has a constant connection with others through social media and messaging, without the need to meet up in real life. With 61% of global consumers and over 80% in many Asian countries using group chat in 2018 to connect with friends and family, can we ever say we’re truly alone? ​

Opportunities for Brands

Brands can create experiences that focus on empowering those who are doing things on their own.

  1. Make offers and promotions accessible for solo dwellers
    To attract new consumers who are prone to consuming solo, ensure that certain offers and promotions appeal to this mindset. Direct discounts or introductory offers will feel universally appealing.
  2. Use ‘Me time’ as an invitation to treat consumers and entice new purchases
    Often offers are positioned around group, family or couple savings. Instead, how can the solo consumer experience be incentivised or celebrated? Perhaps the best example is Singles Day. In China, Singles Day — a shopping event day of special promotions — was born from the idea to play on anti-Valentine’s day sentiment by providing single consumers with an alternative day to celebrate themselves. It is now China’s most prominent retail event of the year, far surpassing sales on Black Friday. 
  3. Elevate the solo experience
    Explore how to offer consumers moments of solo: help them shop, consume, eat and browse by creating shopping environments, restaurants, leisure spaces that respect the need for space and moments of solitude. ​
  4. Provide antidotes to loneliness
    Create spaces and opportunities for solo consumers who seek new social interactions to engage. In-store events, shopping “dates” with experts or shared seating and communal areas are ways brands can help to provide moments for meaningful connection. ​
    Solo living does not negate the need for community or the risk of loneliness among those who live solitary lifestyles. The balance between happily alone and loneliness will be a delicate balancing act for societies — especially those with rising single-occupant households or aging populations. Nevertheless, solo living is an invitation to brands to cater to the single mindset and for the desire of solitary moments. Sometimes, a table for one is exactly what the consumer is looking for.
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