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quality. Break down into that category a bit, however, and the
more interesting data comes to light. 95 percent of manufacturers believe product quality is critical, but 51 percent of consumers
believe manufacturers use the lowest-cost materials for their
products, regardless of quality. Lavin says that the reality of this situation – if manufacturers or consumers are correct – isn’t actually
addressed in the study, because the perception is most important.
It’s a signal to manufacturers that they could be doing more work
in talking about the quality of their materials, or simply the work
they put into creating a quality product, in order to help close the
In addition to that, Lavin says, “There are different perceptions
based on where a product is made. Consumers, globally, feel that
products out of the developed markets are of higher quality than
those out of the developing markets.” Sixty percent of consumers
thought a product made from Germany was high in quality, while
26 percent of consumers thought of a Brazil- or China-made product in the same way. Clearly, a manufacturer who brings manufacturing back to the U.S. from a country like China could see a bump
in the perception of quality, and help close that gap.
One of the more compelling categories within the UL study,
although it’s within the “rising priorities” section, is the difference
in perception between impact on the environment, and impact on
human health. In the study, 61 percent of manufacturers agreed
that their impact to the environment is more important than their
impact to human health — consumers thought exactly the opposite, with the exact same proportion.
Lavin says, “What we learned is that when manufacturers think
about environmentally-driven products, they think about it as
it relates to impact to the environment. What will it do to our
planet? While consumers are thinking about what it's going to do
to their human health and the human health of their children and
their family. We're seeing very different priorities when it comes to
The study shows that 87 percent of
manufacturers agree that consumers
are becoming more interested in the
health impact a given product might
impart on its users, which would
suggest a great deal of awareness
and effort already being placed
toward that area of concern. But the
UL study also found that 39 percent
of consumers think manufacturers
don’t provide all the crucial health
impact information, which proves a
wide gap in perceptions. Certainly, the study proves manufacturers
could be doing a great deal more in getting the word out about
their concern over health.
Essentially, manufacturers are talking about reducing emissions,
but consumers are worried about what kinds of chemicals are in
the products, and how those chemicals might affect them or their
families. Lavin adds, “The more intimate a consumer is with a
product, the more their safety concerns are.” To food & beverage
companies, or medical device manufacturers, this could be particularly critical.
The study found that when it comes to food or items used by
children, more than 60 percent are greatly concerned with the
human safety element, while devices that are merely touched, like
a smartphone, only concern roughly 20 percent of consumers. That
difference, especially considering the associated gap between the
perception of informing consumers of the potential impacts, could
equate to huge issues in the coming years if human health does,
indeed, become a fundamental purchasing condition.
The UL study is rife with other interesting discrepancies between
what manufacturers think, their assumptions about consumer
preferences, and what consumers actually think. Companies that
are selling directly to consumers would be best off taking a glance
through the survey’s results to see how their thoughts on current consumer-level trends actually compare to the real buying
world. The bigger that difference, the more at-risk your company
could be when it comes to emerging and future consumer trends.
We’ve already seen plenty of examples of companies fall into that
unstoppable downfall — Research in Motion, maker of BlackBerry
smartphones, is one recent and notable example. And one can’t
easily forget how close the Big 3 came to complete failure during
the Great Recession.
Joel Hans is the managing editor of Manufacturing.net.