Consumers are in control – ‘and they want experiences’

Retailers must recognise consumers are in control and they are looking for experiences above all else, according to US trend expert Tom Mirabile.

Speaking at the International Housewares Association’s annual show in Chicago, Mirabile said housewares suppliers and retailers need to focus all their efforts on what the consumer wants, how the consumer sees themselves, and how the industry can help create solutions for them.

Tom Mirabile

“We need to stop looking at objects and start looking at what those objects deliver,” he said. “People aren’t buying objects, they’re buying experiences.”

Mirabile began his presentation with an overview of generational distinctions and key “need-to-knows” about each generation right now. Generation Z is on track to be the most well-educated generation (according to Pew Research), with a liberal set of attitudes and openness to emerging social trends. They also may be the first generation where cooking is truly no longer a gendered task, viewing “cooking as a craft or a skill,” according to Mirabile. This generation skews more toward traditional life cycles, with many saying they want to start a family and own a home.

A much less traditional generation, millennials prefer staying home over going out. But they’re less likely to eat around the kitchen table; many eat in their bedrooms and even bathrooms. They also report replacing one meal a day with snacks.

Another way of bucking the norms: “Millennials don’t see a brand as religion,” said Mirabile. “Loyalty does exist, but you have to constantly earn it.”

Generation X is smaller in numbers but is entering its prime earning years. Thirty-one percent of discretionary spending in the US right now is coming from this generation, Mirabile said.

Gen X is very self-sufficient and does more product research than any other generation. They’re also a true shopping hybrid; they still enjoy a trip in-store but have fully embraced online shopping.

Many Baby Boomers are retiring, moving or remodeling their homes, which means they will be buying more items for their homes. Many are also in a period of personal reinvention. “Boomers are still looking to Millennials and Generation Z to see what they want to be,” Mirabile said.

As for seniors, many are still economically active but much of their consumption has shifted to experiences and healthcare. By 2035, one in three US households (versus today’s one in five) will be headed by someone over 65 years old.

Next up, Mirabile shared some key tenets that are important for housewares suppliers and retailers as they adjust to the quickly-changing marketplace where consumers hold all the control. He tied them to the acronym ‘FASTR’:

F – Be flexible, be fun, be fearless. Change is constant, but even the most established brands can reinvent themselves. Mirabile cited Ikea and KitchenAid as examples. He also cited recent amusing commercials from Skittles, Wayfair and Geico, “(Brands) who can have fun and make fun of themselves send a message of self-confidence,” Mirabile said. And be fearless – don’t be afraid to take a stand or do something different from the norm. It helps make your brand feel authentic and helps you stand out from the crowd.

A – Be addictive, be aware, be aspirational. American adults spend more than 11 hours per day listening to, watching, reading or generally interacting with media, according to the Nielsen Total Audience Report. The challenge is in hooking them in. Be aware: there’s a tremendous amount of information out there, but “you’ve got to be self-educated, you’ve got to be a culture vulture,” said Mirabile, and keep up with what consumers want. Be aspirational: “Today’s consumer doesn’t dream of owning, but of becoming,” said Mirabile. “Stop telling the customer who you are and start telling them you know who they are.”

S – Be surprising, be shareable, be simple. The subscription e-commerce market has grown by more than 100 per cent a year over the past five years, said Mirabile. A reason? They deliver boxes of surprising items a consumer may never had found on their own (or without a lot of time and effort). Be shareable: these days, this doesn’t simply mean sharing an image, though that still does have value. It’s more about inspiring people to physically share something, such as the opportunity for a family to cook and eat a meal together. And be simple: “Instead of big claims, sometimes it’s about the little obsessions,” was a finding shared from PHD Worldwide.

T – Be true, be transparent, be trustworthy. Consumer trust levels are at an all-time low, whether it comes to government institutions, businesses or media. Be transparent: This is important whether you’re talking about ingredients, labor usage, or product materials. Significant numbers of people across all generations will pay more money for eco-friendly materials, said Mirabile. Be true: this often starts within your own company culture and then rises through the ranks of everything you do.

R – Be real world, be responsible, be reactive. “To me, this is all about looking at real-world problems people are having, and how you’re going to solve them for them,” said Mirabile. Be responsible: a large part of this has to do with sustainability, a key issue for many generations of consumers these days. Be reactive: getting negative reviews? You must be quick to react, explain and make things right online. eMarketer data finds that roughly two-thirds of US internet users reference product reviews at least often before making a purchase.

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