Observe, enlighten and decipher the evolution
of consumption patterns in France and abroad
Section 1 - A well-established reality

Awareness and perception of the low-cost market

5 minutes of reading

The English language has a gift for turning simple words into popular generic expressions that are used around the world. It has the ability to neatly denote a vast array of products, services, companies and even attitudes, which in spite of their diversity are linked together by a single idea, in this case low prices. It seemed essential for a survey devoted to the topic to underline the power of the concept and the degree to which it has been embraced by consumers.

Awareness and perception of the low-cost market

“Low cost” is one of those expressions that have slowly established themselves over time, without it being possible to accurately pinpoint their origin (see part 3). Today, the term has become part of the economic vocabulary of industry professionals and consumers alike.


9 out of 10 Europeans interviewed for this survey had heard of the low-cost concept.

In some cases, the term is almost universally recognised, with scores approaching 100% in a number of countries, including Italy, Bulgaria, Spain and Portugal.

Most have more than a passing acquaintance with the notion, with 55% of respondents stating that they understand specifically what the term means. The most perceptive consumers can be found in Southern Europe, with 8 out of 10 Italians, Spaniards and Portuguese able to define exactly what the two words signify. In contrast, Poles, Austrians and Slovaks are not as familiar with the concept, with less than 3 in 10 being able to clearly define what is meant by “low cost” (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2


A similar proportion of Europeans also consider the low-cost market to be well developed in their country. 6 out of 10 respondents are of this view. Only 11% go as far as saying that it is very well developed, which leaves the low-cost sector considerable scope to boost its visibility and therefore its economic clout. Geographically speaking, the highest proportions of consumers who state that the low-cost market is well developed can be found in Northern and Western Europe (7 out of 10 in Sweden, the UK and France) (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3


While different terminology is employed depending on the sector, from “low fare” to “hard discount” to “economy class”, the definition of low cost nonetheless rests upon several points of consensus. This is a business model geared towards significantly reducing prices, one that is based on the implementation of a particular logistical and personnel management rationale, but also a functional service. These attributes provide a tangible description of an economic innovation that enables prices to be reduced by at least 25% compared to traditional retail (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4 / Contexte

Consumers are clearly well aware of this, since the words they are most likely to associate with the low-cost concept relate to this aspect: “low price”, “value range” and “promotion”. They also link the concept to the notion of “poor quality”, echoing an image of the low-cost market that evokes extremely sparse sales floors, the availability of only the most basic entry-level products, and minimal customer service (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5

The low-cost approach allows prices to be reduced by at least 25% compared to traditional retail.


As we have seen, the low-cost market is well known, widely recognised and well established in the eyes of consumers, in addition to enjoying a generally satisfactory image. The average score assigned by Europeans as a whole is 6.5, with Romanians proving to be the most enthusiastic (7.3) and the Austrians and French the most sceptical (5.8 and 5.9). Indeed, not one country produces a score under 5 out of 10.
It should also be noted that the bulk of opinions can be found in the median range between 5 and 7. The low-cost market is neither shunned nor very popular (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6

With an average score of 6.5/10, the image people have of the low-cost model is no more negative than it is positive.

The word cloud was generated automatically based on the exhaustivity of the spontaneous answers to the open-ended question. The size of each word in the image reflects the frequency with which it is used. The word displayed in the largest characters is that used most frequently in the answers of respondents. A word’s position in the cloud has no special significance.

This impression that people feel somewhat ambivalent is reflected in the values they associate with the low-cost concept. For most of the items on which Europeans were asked for their opinion, there is a roughly equal share of positive and negative responses. 58% of consumers believe that low-cost companies respect human rights, while 42% believe the opposite. 55% believe these firms are in tune with their own ethical values, while 45% do not. The issues of environmental friendliness and fair pay for both staff and suppliers also split the individuals surveyed almost equally (53% and 47%). And again there is near parity on the topics of employment and transparency regarding the manufacture of products (Fig. 7). While people’s opinions on the the low-cost market’s values are not especially negative, they do seem to indicate that there is some scope for the concept to evolve by embracing practices that are more in line with current trends and consumer expectations.

Fig. 7

Sub-section 2
The latest Cetelem Barometer, which was published at the start of the year, pointed to the “inevitability of inflation”, to quote one of the titles of the survey, and to the consequences European
Sub-section 4
Sectors and brands: a dominant triumvirate
While the low-cost concept has gradually spread to all sectors, three in particular have grown to embody the concept more powerfully. Clothing, food and air travel are the three sectors most syno