Thinking Differently in the Era of More

By Jordan K. Speer — November 01, 2012

“I’ve got good news and bad news,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst of the NPD Group, speaking about the presidential election at last month’s Gerber Technology Ideation Conference.

“The bad news is, somebody is going to win,” he quipped.

“The good news is, the economy is going to get better no matter who does,” said Cohen, citing a historical trend:  “After the election, the economy always does better.” That’s because everyone realizes that the “world is going to go on” after all, regardless of who lives in the White House.

Elections aside, we are entering what Cohen has dubbed “The Era of More,” defined by a challenging environment in which retailers must compete for consumers’ attention with an ever-growing barrage of information about everything (weather, politics, finance, health) coming at them from everywhere.
Competing in this environment successfully will require that retailers “renovate, communicate and invigorate,” said Cohen, who offered the following ideas to consider along the way.

• 3D Retailing:
Combine the resource-rich experience of the Internet with the sensory experience of the brick-and-mortar store by bringing elements of the former into the latter, such as mobile devices that allow salespeople to check price or inventory without leaving the customer’s side. This is great retailing, and also an effective way to turn showrooming to your advantage, says Cohen.

• Global Growth:
Assess your ability to grow effectively in a global environment: Do you have the right balance of domestic vs. international business? Retail vs. wholesale business? How are you prepared to handle global issues related to finance, politics, world events, tourism and currency? Balance makes you less vulnerable to any one problem. Don’t, for example, plan for all your growth to be in one region, says Cohen.

• Changes in Gender Roles: Men now cook eight meals a week. Women are spending more time with technology and less on fashion. These societal changes and others like it will impact everything from how you design to what you make and how you market it.  

• Strong and Long:
Today’s consumers, when they find something they like, will buy in multiple colors, and for longer periods of time (buying in advance of need, and beyond). Also, apparel styles are lasting longer, and trends are no longer obsolescing. Now it’s not heels vs. flats; it’s heels and flats. Long vs. short skirts? They’re both in.

• Technology Rules:
You need basics to maintain your volume, and innovation to grow. Cohen cites as an example of the latter the recent rapid growth in running shoes due to the introduction of super lightweight and colorful running shoes, which are not only reeling in customers, but getting them to buy at a faster rate. Like toothbrushes with their time-to-buy-a-new-one color stripe indicators, the shoes make easily visible their tread wear — and the treads are wearing down after just three months, vs. 12 months for traditional running shoes. “They’re selling you less product for 10 percent more and they last about 25 percent as long,” says Cohen.  

• Lease vs. Own:
It’s about 50/50 in the auto industry now, and may be coming to an apparel store near you. This is the wave of the future, says Cohen, who recently spoke with a Monsanto executive who is exploring such options in the carpet business. This model is about faster turns and more recycling of product. “There are all kinds of opportunities for leasing apparel, and there are going to be some companies and industries that do this.”

• Next-Generation Hybrids:
Also not just for autos anymore! Think new casual dress shoes, with their leather uppers and athletic bottoms, or retailer-brand pairings such as H&M and Jimmy Choo, or Missoni and Target. Think about how you can extend your product into new areas, advises Cohen. “Focus on versatility, on fashion that does more.”

Cohen says, “Retail’s rise rests on technology.” I couldn’t agree more, and I’m wondering about those men in the kitchen — what are they wearing? And can a TV be built into it?


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