A new attitude

Jennifer Negley, June 4, 2001

If Freud hung out his shingle today and went in search of a truly mind-bending challenge, he'd stop noodling over the problem of what women want and instead turn his attention to a far thornier quandary: What do consumers want?

A case in point was offered recently during a seminar appearance by Thom Blischok, chairman and ceo of MindMeld, a research firm/consultancy/retail think tank. Blischok presented findings from a recent MindMeld survey of 2,500 consumers that set out to identify what characteristics make consumers feel warm, fuzzy and well satisfied with their purchases.

If you're expecting to hear that they crave "price, value and quality," you're still reading from yesterday's playbook.

What do they want now? Comfort, indulgence and wellness.

Comfort, in the consumer's mind, is a matter not merely of de-stressing the shopping experience, nor is it a yearning for stores, merchandising techniques or products that provide convenience. It's about merchandising that makes choices simple.

The packed gondola runs and display walls that vendors and retailers believe communicate "abundance," to consumers look like "a stream of stuff." Worse, the study found, the "cacophony" of offerings prompts consumers not to enjoy the freedom of making more informed choices, "but to become frustrated and return to the simpler choice of buying what they bought in the past because it's more comforting."

Indulgence? This is the kind of indulgence that consumers from all walks of life can participate in: offering products that make people feel special, and displaying them in a way that says "buy me now and get satisfied." P.S., the survey found that among mass market shoppers, consumers consider "plush" linens and towels to be among the top 10 self-indulgence items.

Appealing to consumers' desire for wellness goes beyond offering products that get them well (aspirin) or help them maintain wellness (vitamins). MindMeld's example for a forward-thinking wellness merchandising: "Buy our 'sleep program' featuring herbal teas, the softest linens, books to fall to sleep by and oils for aromatherapy."

Thought-provoking, yes?

It's part of what MindMeld calls Advanced Merchandising, its prescription for the ails of an increasingly undifferentiated retail landscape. Advanced Merchandising offers solutions, not a barrage of products.

The path from here to there, of course, is strewn with challenges. Manufacturers told MindMeld that retailers rarely embrace ideas that stray from the status quo. Even when they do, manufacturers and retailers both agreed, the ability to execute innovative programs at store level remains woefully underdeveloped. And then there's the cross-merchandising conundrum. Retailers express a reluctance to accept a manufacturer's merchandising suggestions about products outside the vendor core category. Manufacturers distrust retailers to commit enough resources on their end to make such ambitious programs successful.

But clearly, parties on both sides need to rethink the packaging and presentation of goods to bring this to the next level. Remember, at one time, self-service retailing was an unthinkably bold concept, too.

Remember, as well, Freud's warning about staid thinking: "A culture which leaves unsatisfied … so large a number of its members, neither has a prospect of continued existence, nor deserves it."

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See the May 2017 issue of Home & Textiles Today. In this issue, we discuss our annual Market Basket survey, which finds higher prices and more polyester at leading retailers. See details!