Zeroing in

Carole Sloan, August 13, 2001

If for nothing else, the new economy may well be credited for forcing suppliers and retailers to think out of the box.

As retailers across all distribution segments fight for survival, they are being forced to look to different ways to attract customers — and perhaps different customers.

In reality, what retailers are being forced to do is acknowledge that their customer base is not "vanilla," but highly diverse and has many different needs and wants.

And anyone who has not read the breakout analysis of Census 2000 should plan to join Rip Van Winkle for a long sleep, because that's what you'll be doing over the next few years.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the explosion of ethnic marketing, as retailers acknowledge that segments of their customer base have different outlooks in terms of product.

Marketing to specific customer segments is nothing new. JCPenney and Sears had been doing this for several decades with specific merchandise and marketing programs targeting African-Americans and the myriad Hispanic communities. Somehow, over the years, these programs which were pioneering in their scope, fell into oblivion — or at least tinged with a singular lack of top management endorsement.

Today we are seeing a growing number of retailers picking up on the potential of ethnic marketing with major players like Kohl's, Target, Kmart and Wal-Mart moving into this marketing arena, joining rejuvenated programs from Penney and Sears.

The whole thing ranges from specific product offerings to specific marketing approaches and basic opportunities for communication such as signage and sales help in stores with high concentrations of customers from one country or region.

And then one adds in the youth market factor, something that in the past has been recognized in the world of retailing and manufacturing as a kids' thing with licensed stuff as offshoots of movies, to a more sophisticated venue that identifies different segments of the market dealing with the younger set.

Think FAO Schwarz' FAO Baby to Pottery Barn Kids to the host of different specialty retailers catering to specific segments of the youth market.

Nowhere was this seen more vividly than in the Back-to-School events and promotions across the retail landscape in the last few weeks.

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