July 22/29; Volume27/Number 7
By Lisbeth Calandrino
The downturn starting around 2009 caused many retailers to shudder. Was everyone really scared or would there still be customers wanting to trade up? Many consumers seemed frightened to spend their money, thus causing apprehension with retailers. Out of fear, worried salespeople became reluctant to show better merchandise, thinking they might chase their few customers away.
“Since many of our advertisers offer higher-end products, we wondered if the rumors were true,” said Margo Locust, editor and publisher, Fabulous Floors magazine. “Were customers afraid to spend their money or were we projecting our anxiety onto them? Our magazine appeals to more sophisticated readers, so we decided to contact our ASID [American Society of Interior Designers] readers and stores selling higher- end [product].”
Fabulous Floors conducted two different surveys: one online with 500 ASID partners and the other with five shops known as “home boutiques.” Both surveys were conducted between 2012 and 2013.
“Being an ASID partner, we know many designers and are concerned about their businesses,” Locust noted. “We thought they could give us the best overview of the buying public. Our survey consisted of 500 of the better-known designers from coast-to-coast.”
The results of the survey were thought provoking. Three hundred of the 500 designers felt their customers were still willing to “buy better” but with one major concern: The merchandise had to be unusual and show real value. Comments included: “It must be worth it;” “I don’t want it to look like everyone else’s,” and “What kind of warrantees will I be getting?”
The subject of warrantees has often been neglected in the flooring industry and it’s repeatedly said they aren’t worth very much. However, following the 2009 economy fall, it appears consumers are looking for reassurance about products and services.
Of the 200 remaining survey participants, 100 were extremely skeptical about purchasing. Their reluctance had nothing to do with products, but with the retailers selling the products. Comments such as “Will they be around next year?” “They don’t seem to be very social media savvy,” and “Who can you trust?” were noted. The issue of trust was prevalent.
Developing trust is one of the pillars of sales because without trust consumers will not buy. Retailers should spend their time reviewing customer service and pricing policies. If the salesperson is uncomfortable with pricing, the customer will feel it during the sale.
The remaining 100 customers seemed to be playing it very close to the vest. This group has expendable dollars and appreciates the finer things. They will continue to shop until they believe they have found something they really like. Since they have very little need for product, they are not disappointed if they do not buy anything.
Home accessories survey
Five other focus groups (totaling 150 consumers) took part in surveys at high-end boutiques in the northeast outside New York City. The stores sent brunch invitations to their most valued customers, which are those spending considerable amounts of money. All participating stores reported they were not seeing their customers as often as they had and were concerned how this would affect business moving forward. The products sold included flowers arrangements, art, fragrances for the home, statues and area rugs.
It is important to note anyone selling merchandise for the home is a competitor of the flooring store. In this case, area rugs are considered more as art or accessories.
Overall, customers seem to be more thoughtful about their purchases. This doesn’t mean they do not have money, but they are concerned about how they spend it. They were asked where they search for home accent items; Marshall’s and its Home Goods stores ranked very high, along with TJ Maxx.
Surprisingly, consumers talked about the fun of shopping flea markets as well as resale stores, much to the dismay of the survey’s storeowners. Several women talked about purchasing floral arrangements for weddings at supermarkets. Obviously, getting a good buy was as important as the purchase itself and the excitement of “the hunt.”
The group of customers was aware of its buying power, and being treated with respect and care was on the top of the participants’ lists. They said in many stores it was hard to find a salesperson who didn’t always seem hurried. This may be a result of many stores cutting sales forces.
Use of the Internet to make purchases was prevalent with all customers under the age of 60. When asked about brand names, the majority said it was easier to ask friends for reviews than count on brands. When brands were discussed, off-price malls were credited with destroying brands. Consumers cannot tell the difference between a fake Coach bag and a real one, so why buy any at all? Instead, they prefer to stay with the very high-end brands, which are less likely to be counterfeit.