FR’s exclusive look at the leading
factors affecting today’s consumers’ buying decisions, and how you can
put this knowledge to use in your shop.
by Randy Eller
I have always found that at least once a year it benefits me and my
business to pause and honestly question my strategy choices. As a
specialty retailer, you should do this, too. The two most important
questions you can ask yourself are: “What have I learned in the past
year?” and “What is going on globally that will affect consumer thinking
in the year ahead?”
The first question will challenge you to determine whether you are
really “listening” to the marketplace and responding as you should to
maximize your revenue and profits. The second question will encourage
you to thoughtfully recognize trends, not in product but in terms of
what is happening in the world around us and how it will affect consumer
lessons from 2006
So what did we learn during the previous year? First, we saw and
experienced the overwhelming power of the Internet, not only to make
sales but also to affect consumers’ buying decisions and drive traffic
to stores. According to CNNmoney.com, “E-tailing is on fire, the
fastest-growing segment of retail.”
If you are not already aggressively using a Web site and the Internet to
market and promote your store, you are running seriously behind
retailing in America today. A vibrant, attractive Web site is a must,
and you should be actively creating a database of e-mail addresses for
all your customers so you can e-mail them monthly specials, news of
special events, new product launches—literally anything that will keep
your store in the forefront of their minds as a place where something
good is happening every day.
Second, do you want to grow your business? Go upscale! Again, from
CNNmoney.com, “There is a clear divergence in retailing between the
up-market and down-market retailers.”
retailing in 2007: Six key
factors affecting today’s marketplace
Internet. To compete in
retail today, you must have a vibrant, attractive Web site, and
you must market to customers via e-mail. The Internet is
influencing consumers’ buying decisions more than any other type
of marketing and promotion.
2 Merchandise mix.
As a specialty retailer, you must upscale and differentiate your
product offerings to present consumers with distinctive choices
they can’t find at other stores.
3 Store environment and service.
Today’s consumers want “experience events” when shopping, so
create a store and offer personal service that will make them
feel special and expect more from your business.
The threat-filled world in which we live now is causing
consumers to seek merchandise that comforts them and helps them
show and practice their faith.
5 Environmental issues.
Increasingly, today’s consumers are searching for Earth-friendly
products that make them feel they are helping the environment.
6 Minority population growth.
Hispanics control more disposable income in the United States
today than any other minority group. Asian buying power is No.
2. If minority populations are growing in your area, market to
them, and offer products they want to buy.
Plainly stated, consumers today
have many choices of where to go if they want to buy basic,
no-frills merchandise at a low cost. The world is now full of
big-box discount stores that gladly fill this need. As an
independent specialty retailer, your job is to offer consumers
clear, distinctive choices that will convince them to spend more
money and indulge themselves, whether they are buying something
for their homes or a gift for a family member or friend.
It is no accident that the fastest-growing retailers in America
today, in terms of same-store sales, are higher-end stores such
as Nordstrom, Tiffany & Co. and Saks Fifth Avenue. Consumers are
voting with their wallets every day to spend more money if they
can significantly upscale their purchases. At the same time,
same-store sales at Wal-Mart and other big-box stores are
The message is clear: People go to most big-box stores to buy
the commodity, “have to have” items in their lives. When they’re
ready to splurge on the “want to haves” they are going to stores
with higher-end images.
Finally, successful retailing is becoming more and more of an
“experience event.” Creating a store environment and service
regimen that plainly make people feel they are in a special
place will help justify your higher prices, and consumers will
gladly pay the difference.
Do you need confirmation of this? Think Starbucks. Why are
people willing to pay $5 for a cup of coffee? The CEO of
Starbucks has publicly stated that his stores are about a
“lifestyle,” an experience. Walking into a Starbucks touches all
of your senses and makes you feel like you are treating
yourself. Do your customers feel this way when they walk into
your store? If not, upscale the shopping experience you offer!
These key learnings are things you need to be doing in your
stores today to raise the expectations of your customers. As
soon as your customers expect more from your store and see that
you are delivering, they will gladly shop with you and
understand the value they are getting.
As stated on Forbes.com, “The problem brick-and-mortar retailers
have is not what they offer but their inability to differentiate
and improve service.” Personal service is the most important key
to making people feel special in your store. It is no accident
that Nordstrom has the highest level of personal service in the
department-store arena along with the highest growth rates per
store in the retail industry today.
What about the future? What is going on globally that will
affect consumer thinking in the year ahead?
Spiritual merchandise sales are rising rapidly. As an example,
studies show that the Christian retail industry, currently at
$4.5 billion in annual retail sales, will grow to $9.5 billion
by 2010. We live in a world today with lots of threats. From
terrorism to wars, America is concerned and conflicted.
Spiritual merchandise helps people show their faith and practice
it, and it comforts them. Your merchandising plans for the
future should include an expansion of this type of products in
Global warming has moved to the forefront of concerns about
environmental issues. According to ABCnews.com, “Sales of
environmentally friendly products, from energy-efficient light
bulbs to cleaner locomotive engines, topped $10 billion last
year, almost double the year before.” Just imagine the power of
that statement. Can you think of any other product category in
the industry that doubled in the last year?
Helping to improve the environment is something most people want
to do, but the issue is so overwhelming in scope that it is hard
for consumers to decide what to do. Carry products in your store
that are Earth friendly. When it is easy for consumers to make
purchases that make them feel they are helping the environment,
they will respond.
The cost of energy, particularly gasoline, also is of great
concern to consumers today. I know one retailer who offers her
customers a $5 gasoline gift card with every purchase of $100 or
more in her store. This is a fantastic way to show consumers you
are sensitive to what is going on in the world and that you are
willing to buy their gas to come shop with you. What a great
example of a creative way to drive business to a store instead
of continuing to have bland sales like everyone else!
Finally, diversity in our population will offer you tremendous
new markets to sell to in the coming years. For example, 2007
will be the first year Hispanics control more disposable income
than any other U.S. minority group. Asian buying power is No. 2.
If minority populations are growing in your area, are you
studying the cultures of these groups so you can adequately
market to them? Do you know what their holidays are? Do you know
how they celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and significant
events in their lives? Do you offer the products in your store
that will enhance their lives and welcome them as part of your
community and as a customer of your store?
keys to success
In 30 years of observing highly successful retailers in this
industry, I have seen that they do an exceptional job of the
things I have discussed. They are always up to speed on current
trends, making sure their stores are viable in today’s market,
yet they also find time to study trends of what is coming in the
future and adequately prepare for it to maximize sales.
Success is no accident; it is the result of hard work and keen
observations of the world.
30-year veteran of the gift and home industry, Randy Eller has
spent 10 years as a retailer, 10 years as a sales rep, and five
years as president and part owner of CBK until its sale to Blyth,
Inc. in 2002. Currently, he is president of Eller Enterprises,
LLC, a Nashville, Tenn.-based consulting firm that serves
companies in the home accent, furniture and giftware industries.
His clients include both wholesalers and retailers as well as
marketing, PR and advertising firms. The company also offers
personal executive coaching and public speaking. Contact Mr.
Eller at (615) 771-1112, or visit
Mr. Eller first presented this information in his seminar, “The
State of the Industry: How It Will Affect You,” at the Dallas
Market Center’s International Gift & Home Accessories Market in
• To read and see more,
to purchase the current issue of Florist's Review.