Buying less is a concept that seemed out of style for consumers beginning with the go-go 80’s until about three years ago.
The size of the average American home mushroomed during those 30 years, even while families themselves were getting smaller. In Los Angeles, where I lived for much of that time, smaller homes were razed and the phrase McMansion was coined to refer to the outsized homes replacing them.
In 1998 architect Sarah Susanka published a book called The Not So Big House, which offered an alternative to McMansions. The book suggested an emphasis on quality over quantity and doing more with less physical space. That book is widely considered to be the match that lit the fire under what is now called the "tiny house movement".
The proponents of the tiny house movement use phrases like extreme downsizing to demonstrate how they choose to live their lives. Even Baby Boomers are jumping on the bandwagon with books about how to simplify.
Both generations are striving to own less, which also translates to less buying. Clearly, this is a problem for retailers.
There are two solutions. The second one will seem natural and intuitive, but this first one might hurt a bit.
Sell fewer items.
If you spend any time reading the books on frugality, you will see one consistent theme: Buy fewer things, but higher quality ones. Books like 1993’s Your Money or Your Life emphasize the need to spend more money for a higher quality product rather than waste money on an inferior one.
Most Millennials respond positively to this approach; they will turn up their noses at anything from K-Mart, but they're willing to pay a premium price to get a cast-iron skillet from Williams Sonoma, which they perceive to be of higher quality and expect to keep and use their whole lives.
So for retailers with massive numbers of SKUs sitting on your shelves, consider doing some simplifying.
Premium items today include more features that consumers can personalize; they are less tuned for mass-market. Let’s look at an example of a specific business that makes it a point to emphasize quality at every turn.
Case Study: The Levenger Experience
Levenger was started in 1987 by Steve Leveen. They first came out mainly with pens and journals, but soon expanded into all sorts of lifestyle products that thinking people would enjoy: furniture, end-tables, suitcases, folios, and yes, more pens and journals. Today, his company’s mantra is simple and clean and elegant; he wants to sell you objects pleasing to the touch, rewarding in their function, and made to last for generations.
The Circa notebook is a notebook that’s a set of seven little ceramic circles, and a bunch of pieces of paper with holes punched in them. You pick the color of your rings, you pick your cover, you pick your paper texture. This notebook suddenly is less about taking notes, and is more about you.
Sure, you could just as easily have bought a .99 spiral-bound notebook at Walgreen’s and captured the same information just as easily, but Circa? That’s a lifestyle choice!
He knows his niche. The value proposition for any customer is clear:
The more a consumer invests in a product, the more they care about it. The less they’re going to invest in it, the easier it is for them to say, “I’ll think about it,” and walk away.
But also when you carry more expensive merchandise, you need to have well-trained salespeople who give a damn and can sell value over price or shoppers will just scoff and walk out empty-handed. When you stock your store with fewer, more expensive products, you must upgrade the soft skills training of your staff, or your merchandise will still sit.
To Sum It Up
Customers will buy the better merchandise, and they will opt to buy from the retailers who take the best care of them. That means they’ll buy from a retailer with a curated collection and not from one who settled for a truckload of merch. They’ll buy from a retailer with a well-trained sales team and not from one who is saddled with leftover, lazy employees.
You must reach out to this newly frugal consumer with quality merchandise displayed and sold by quality, well-trained employees. This new shopper will be intrigued by your simplicity and learn about value over price through your employees. They will say, I’ll take it, not I’ll wait.
Article first appeared on www.retaildoc.com
About the Author:
Since 1994 companies worldwide have turned to Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor® for the proven expertise necessary to grow their sales. An American retail expert, Phibbs has been engaged as a motivational speaker on retail, a luxury retail sales trainer, author, franchiser and customer service champion.He is frequently called on to provide commentary on Marketing and Branding for MSNBC, FOX and others. His clients include some of the largest retail brands in the world including Bernina, Caesars Palace, Chopard, Hunter Douglas, Lego, Omega, Hearts on Fire, Husqvarna, Tommy Bahama, Vera Bradley and Yamaha.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author. CPSA does not endorse any of the companies, products and services mentioned within this article.