Consumers Won’t Live Without…

Discussion
Feb 03, 2009

By George Anderson

There are some things
that consumers just won’t do without. On that list, according to a new
survey conducted by BIGresearch for STORES magazine, are
the internet (80.9 percent), cell phone service
(64.1 percent),
cable television (60.5 percent), discount apparel (43 percent), hair cuts/coloring
(40 percent), fast food restaurants (36.6 percent) and new shoes (24 percent).

"The current economy
has forced many Americans to find new ways to live and even shop," said
Susan Reda, executive editor of STORES, in a
press release. "However, many consumers can’t imagine life without
the Internet, text messaging, and basic cable."

Phil Rist,
executive vice president, strategic initiatives, BIGresearch,
said, "Today’s economy has had an impact on every American, and retailers
are dealing with very different shoppers than they were one year ago. While
many people have opted to trade down, some refuse to sacrifice certain
luxuries, cutting items they feel are expendable to compensate."

While men and women value
many of the same things, they do not always view them equally. Women, for
example, were more likely by a 70 percent to 57.8 percent margin to put
cell phones on their untouchable list.

There were also variations
by age with roughly 70 percent of 18-34 year olds saying hair cuts/coloring
were expendable versus 57.8 percent of 35-54 year olds who felt the same
way.

Discussion Questions:
Are there ways that brand marketers and retailers can elevate a product
to "can’t live without" status although it may not be on that
list at the moment? What is required to get consumers to trade up in
the current environment?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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13 Comments on "Consumers Won’t Live Without…"


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Lee Peterson
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

Interesting that “healthy food” wasn’t on there–oh well!

Also interesting to note that “charitable contributions” made the list (look at the study). Perhaps that’s one way to elevate your brand–pick the right partner for philanthropy and make sure you mean it. Or, better yet, start your own:

— Could Walmart help unemployed families with direct donations?
— Could Best Buy help the President’s initiative to drive broadband to all Americans?
— Could Safeway help food banks across the country?

If the “charitable contributions” is really a ‘can’t do without’, things like the above would go a long way towards elevating the brand.

Kai Clarke
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

There is no brand that is truly a “can’t live without” status. The current recession has demonstrated this. All brands have been impacted, which means that consumers are re-prioritizing their purchases of everything they buy, including cellphones, cable service and coffee. Even a free meal (like the one that Denny’s is offering) can have people who just don’t want to wait, or don’t like the food that do not want it. Except for oxygen, water and the essentials of life, there truly isn’t a “can’t live without” brand or product.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

The must-haves listed in the setup piece (except fast food) have two things in common–they help the consumer to feel put-together and current, and they help to maintain social status. Despite dramatic falloffs in personal wealth, consumers won’t want to look as affected as they feel. Retailers who can convey solidarity with the consumer who’s looking for little splurges will do well this year.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

Michael Murphy, you have an interesting observation. “I doubt that it is coincidental that three of the things that consumers can’t do without are also three services where consumers experience the worst customer service: cell phones, Internet, and cable.”

That is the answer to the question. It is very likely that one of the reasons that a low level of customer support exists is because people can’t do without the services. Therefore, what brand marketers have to do is provide a meaningful difference to the competition. It sounds like Marketing 101. In the case of these services, customer support will be meaningful.

In some of the other categories it will be taste, fashion, comfort, proximity. The more important the product is to the customer, the more meaningful differences in the offering will make.

Jonathan Marek
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

For all the current comparisons with the early 80s and even the Great Depression, these “can’t live without” items show exactly how far we’ve come in our overall standard of living. I fear that we won’t get through this painful time until (many) consumers really figure what they truly can’t live without. Like food, a roof, and a clean personal balance sheet. Unfortunately, I fear polls like this are really saying, “I’m going to buy new shoes even if it means more debt.”

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
13 years 3 months ago

I heard a song on the radio that I hadn’t heard in awhile: Paolo Natini’s “New Shoes” (“Hey, I put my new shoes on and suddenly everything is all right”). A song before its time, apparently. I wasn’t surprised to see cell phone on the must-have list. But I was surprised about the new shoes–until I heard that song. There will be little surprises like that out there, where people will latch on to something that may not cost a lot but does make them feel better. As a retailer or a brand, it’s critical to be the one who rides the front of that wave, not the tail-end.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
13 years 3 months ago

We all have our passions. Outside of the basics in life, we can’t live without our passions. Book lovers will still be in Barnes & Noble, and outdoors lovers will still be in Bass Pro Shops, just to give two examples right off the top of my head. One person’s discretionary spending is another’s life essentials.

The key right now for retailers large and small is to be sure they are connecting in a compelling way with their core customers–the one’s who share their passion.

Michael Murphy, Ph.D.
Guest
Michael Murphy, Ph.D.
13 years 3 months ago

I doubt that it is coincidental that three of the things that consumers can’t do without are also three services where consumers experience the worst customer service: cell phones, Internet, and cable.

Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
13 years 3 months ago

It’s interesting to see that almost every item listed is either vanity, new technology, or convenience. This tells me that people will probably decide for themselves what they can or cannot live without based on how these kinds of products and services become ingrained in their lives.

As a marketer, I know that it is impossible to fully predict what will end up on the “can’t live without” list. But once you start to see the trends, making those items even more appealing through marketing and promotions will ensure strong sales through even the toughest economic times.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
13 years 3 months ago
It is the marketer’s job to decide what we can and can’t live without. Products must be presented in a way that makes the customer think about it day in and day out (sadly, cigarette manufacturers perfected this long ago). Tim Horton’s has done an incredible job providing products that ‘we can’t live without’. Tim’s uses slang that customers have made up in their advertising. ‘Don’t forget your morning Timmy’s’ and ‘Who’s up for a Tim’s run’ is the message that gets plastered everywhere. In a way, Tim’s is connecting to the consumer by using their language. And that’s how you get a drivethru that is constantly 6 cars deep everywhere you look. The same can be applied to retail and the products within. Crocs is another great brand example. How just a plastic injection molded shoe (that has been sold in different variations over the years) become the must have footwear product of the century? It’s not just about putting products in the customer’s hands. Crocs connects with the consumer in many different ways.… Read more »
Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
13 years 3 months ago
Everything is very important by degrees…but few products will achieve a status of indispensability in the near future. Consumers, male and female, will eventually relinquish products and services in accordance with their personal priorities and their available finances. For instance, if one day you only have $4.50 to spend and your stomach is grunting and growling, you might even give up a $4.50 Starbucks Soiree for a $1 meal at Mac D’s and buck cup of good coffee and pocket the other $2.50 bucks for some other future “luxury” such as a Milky Way. The same trade-offs will occur, albeit quite reluctantly, with expensive purses such as Coach, fashionable shoes and clothing as the pocketbook puckers. The last thing to go today is likely to be the cell phone. Folks will always want to talk to other human beings to feel alive and to check out how the other person is fairing. That will be the ultimate therapy–knowing that we are all in this together. Wasn’t that the “human sustainer” during the Great Depression?
Max Goldberg
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

It’s difficult to elevate a brand to “can’t live without status.” At a macro level, consumers will usually identify a category that they cannot live without (shoes vs. a specific brand of shoes). But on a more micro level, brands can have a marked impact.

The way to do this is by consistently exceeding consumer expectations and building loyalty; loyalty to the brand that transcends the category. An example in the computer and mobile phone categories would be Apple and their computers and iPhones. Another example would be Nordstrom in the department store category.

These companies have ingrained themselves in their consumers’ lives by offering an excellent product or delivering on the promise of excellent customer service.

Mark Lilien
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

It’s no coincidence that habit-forming products and services show superior economic performance. Where would Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Coke, and Pepsi be without caffeine? Where would the tobacco business be without nicotine? Here’s the ultimate test: who’d miss self-serving press releases touting pseudo-research no one needs?

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