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Targeting the Individual

New York —It all begins and ends with the consumer — and they're figuring that out, in many cases much faster than suppliers or retailers.

The overarching view of consumers at the end of the current decade suggests they will be more fragmented and complex than even now, growing further apart and becoming less identifiable, at least quickly so. Yet the clear countervailing force is that they will also be far more connected to each other than ever before.

“This is because we now have a digital umbilical cord that connects us to like-minded people,” offered Lois Huff, senior vice president and manager of the softgoods program for Retail Forward. “Because of the 'Google Effect' — some people call it empowerment — we have this idea that we can have access to anything we want at anytime in any situation wherever we are. Just going online and connecting up is raising our expectations that we will be able to get answers or be able to accomplish many things.”

Conflict and confusion? Not necessarily. Because as that connectivity increases consumers will also become far more motivated, Huff suggested in her Strategic Outlook Conference presentation. They'll be able to communicate more effectively with each other and be better positioned to use that nexus to drive change for themselves, their groups and society as a whole.

As if that weren't enough, the retail marketplace for consumer products will also become more commoditized with an oversupply of high-quality goods often barely distinguishable for their features and functions.

“Consumers are going to have easy access to similar products of similar quality all at affordable prices for anyone, anywhere at anytime,” Huff said.

That will tilt the old retail paradigm — often clichéd as the right item at the right price at the right time — on its head. The old, well-defined and specific roles held by retailers and suppliers will no longer apply. The proposition becomes “what it does for me,” Huff said.

As a result, traits like quality, consistency and selection become the starting point of the process, not the goal as they have been in the past. Lower costs, less time and less effort will exist everywhere and offer no visible differentiation.

The way to drive value to the consumer will be by focusing on “elements that are very personal, that say, 'I matter and my interests matter.' The uniqueness aspect, more aspirational,” Huff explained. “But at the same time more interactive, saying 'my input matters and my group matters.'” In other words, more about participation and a more communal experience.

“In an anyone, anytime, anywhere environment, standing out is going to be one of the most difficult things to do,” she added. “We need to look at how we're marketing and selling our products in ways that make them far more unique. We also need to focus on microniches … really get deep in terms of lifestyle across a category and then explode that.” One of the ways to accomplish that is “by marketing 'me' and letting them brand themselves, essentially,” Huff added.

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