Today's Consumers Seen as Optimistic, Resilient

Today's Consumers Seen as Optimistic, Resilient

CHICAGO The nation's consumers may feel frightened, anxious and uncertain over world events, but a sense of optimism and resilience permeates American thinking. While most people still feel in control of their life, home and family are clearly "center stage" in America right now, an expert on consumer attitudes and behavior said last month.

Caplan, a partner in the Norwalk, CT-based Yankelovich Partners, Inc., addressed manufacturers at last month's Kitchen/Bath Industry Show (K/BIS) in Chicago. The gathering was sponsored by Better Homes & Gardens magazine.

"The country is different now than it was before Sept. 11, but it's not as different as many pundits would have us believe," said Caplan, whose company is considered the nation's leading consumer research firm.

To Caplan, the way American consumers are behaving and spending their money now "goes beyond" the events of Sept. 11, which she believes had a tremendous emotional impact.

"Consumers are resilient and optimistic," Caplan added, "and neither their core values nor their day-to-day personal lives have undergone significant change."

"Sept. 11 did not change consumers' priorities, but it did give them 'permission' to tackle priorities that were already changing and being re-evaluated," Caplan noted.

The home has also become more than a cocoon, Caplan observed. "It has far greater meaning now," she said. "It's a place where people seek comfort and intimacy, where they relax and unwind, where they prefer to spend their leisure time."

There is also a desire of consumers "to score a virtual bullseye with each decision that is made regarding their purchases and their experiences," Caplan said. "Consumers will be more exacting regarding their purchases. Essential promises must be delivered."

Consumers are also "cutting to the core," and focusing on "what really means a lot," Caplan commented, noting that many people are considering slowing down the pace of their life.

Caplan had this advice for kitchen and bath product marketers:

  • Leverage the core values "the magic" of home and family, in your products, marketing and communications.
  • Recognize that consumers, wary of making purchasing mistakes, are relying more than ever on "known and trusted brands."
  • Note the role of leisure "as more than just free time."
  • Recognize that consumers are seeking authenticity and quality. "What people want," Caplan said, "is the real thing. Say it the way it is, and it becomes authentic."
  • Understand that service is "at the heart of the affluent attitude," according to Caplan. "Provide venues for customers to complain to you, not about you," she advised.
  • Focus more on "non-traditional" markets, Caplan said, noting that traditional households (married couples with children under 18 living at home) make up only some 24% of all U.S. households yet that group is the one most kitchen/ bath messages are aimed at. Also, products, services and marketing messages should be aimed toward the 55-64-year-old age group, "because they're the ones with the money," Caplan said.
  • The nation's growing number of diverse ethnic groups "will not eventually blend into the shrinking mainstream," Caplan said. To the contrary, minority groups want to retain their traditions and lifestyles, and kitchen/bath product marketers should learn to reach these emerging groups with their message.