The home, household goods & services

Reassurance in a Recession

When the news is bad, it seems people have some idiosyncratic ways of reacting. Some lengthen their skirts, some cut their hair, and others listen to songs that are longer, slower and more meaningful. At least, that’s how experts see reactions to a recession. Nielsen claims that we still buy sweets, beer and pasta sauce, but we tend to cut down on tobacco, fizzy drinks and eggs. We also buy fewer fruits and vegetables and more of less perishable foods, such as rice and beans.

A recession also changes our views on beauty. Experts say that Playboy’s Playmate of the Year tends to be more mature, heavier and less curvy, in bad times than good times, and a study of movie stars confirms a similar trend. There is also an upturn in crime during recession, especially burglary and motor vehicle theft (and petrol stealing).

But a recession is not all bad news. A study of coffee growers found that infant and child mortality fell when coffee prices slumped because parents had more time to take care of their children. If wealthy parents are eating out less, it could be they spend more time with their families. People also choose higher education to make themselves more employable, albeit the more affordable options.

We all look for reassurance on different ways. While some may smoke less, eat more healthily at home, and drive less, others will want to bury their troubles in potentially unhealthy habits. In the end, economists can only conjecture how people will react to a recession but companies involved in any form of reassurance, such as insurance, security, or property, may find themselves an opportunity.
Ref: The New York Times (US), 19 October 2008, 'A hemline index, updated'. T. Lewin.
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Search words: popular tastes, Billboard, Playboy, recession, tobacco, carbonated drinks, candy, beer, pasta sauce, skirt lengths, coffee, higher education, poverty, anxiety, Great Depression.
Trend tags: recession

Ice Cream and Holidays for Mum

It may not be news to many Western mums, but Japanese mums find talking to each other the number one stress reliever. Their number two stress reliever is to eat sweets. With this in mind, an enterprising company has started a chain of mother and baby cafes where mums can have both stress relievers at once. Of course, they already have get-togethers in their own homes, with plenty of sweets, but affluent mums like to get out of the house.

Recent research in Japan found 28.6% of working mums and 26.7% of stay-at-home mums were “super stressed out” compared to 15.2% of men. For working mums, it was the burden of work that made them most anxious. They were most likely to mention vacations as their top spending item (31.3%). For women at home, educating and parenting their kids (81.5%), and managing money, worried them most and this group’s top spending was on coffee and treats. Suppliers of the above choices may see this as an opportunity. But it might be better to ask why these mothers are experiencing such high levels of stress and look for more simple ways to improve their lives.
Ref: The Nikkei Weekly (Japan), 8 September 2008, 'Stressed-out moms seek each other'. S. Fushimi.
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Search words: mums, ice cream, holidays, stress, career, parenting, skipkids Inc, parties, children, childcare, working mothers.
Trend tags: Anxiety

The Fashion is What You Make It

For too long, fashion editors set the fashion, and advertisers dictated to them. But the internet has brought a rapid shift in fashion because now the consumer can make up her own mind. Rather than broad trends in fashion, there are now micro-trends, which change rapidly and unexpectedly. People then take the micro-trends and mix them up, much as a DJ does – and, whether online, on TV or on the street, others see them do it and copy.

It used to be that people outside the big cities never saw how to dress, except in glossy magazines. Now they can go online and see new designers, celebrities, and style makers dressing in their own personal styles. It helps to see these clothes on ordinary people too, rather than on skinny, six-foot models. With such an explosion of new media, everyone can learn about fashion with a few clicks, and discuss it endlessly with whoever seems to know what is the next micro-trend.

For retailers, this is a challenge, because it is no longer sufficient to have two main seasons – five is closer to the mark – and they need to stock less, but more frequently. This means making risky decisions more often too because, if they are not accurate, online retailers will get there more rapidly. Online retailers have the luxury of virtual stores and can create communities around their brands.

These changes make us wonder if there is still room for the so-called tastemaker, the influential individual who manages to keep his finger on the rapidly shifting pulse and directs others in what they create. One London gallerist claims that “trends only follow after an individual has made a statement” and it is true that some individuals have the knack of influencing others. But the trend for micro-trends seems to suggest that almost anyone can start a trend if they can convince enough people that they look great. As we know from academic studies, it is not so much that the trend starter must be influential, but that the people they know must be open to influence.
Ref: The Huffington Post (US), 4, 11, 18 August 2008, 'The death of trends, parts 1-3'. E. Magner.
The Financial Times (UK), 15-16 November 2008, 'Design dragons'. N. Swengley.
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Search words: tastemakers, talent, design, trends, fashion, season, eclectic, new media, retail, micro-trends, fashion editor,,, online retailers.
Trend tags: Trends

Do I Need This?

When the high priests of advertising and trends start to talk about the demise of consumerism, it is tempting to think they have a point. After all, many people are feeling the effects of unemployment and sharply reduced superannuation savings. But Marian Saltzman’s view that “we are moving towards a zero-acquisition society” seems a bit, well, rich.

Just because we are more concerned about the environment, or fair trade, or how much money we might earn next week does not mean we will stop spending. In fact, studies so far show that, as much as people might agree with a “green” stance, they will not buy green products unless they are priced similarly and work just as well. And perhaps rather than stop spending, we will just spend differently – more chocolates than plasma TV perhaps. It might be better expressed as an anti-stuff stance – buying things because you truly need them, or even DINT shopping (“do I need this?”).

For marketers, it means pushing the trusted heritage brands, and perhaps reducing the number of line extensions. They need to accept that buyers might not want the stress of choosing from a huge range of toothpastes. On the other hand, people with a passion for olive oils, say, might want to do more home cooking and be more conscious than ever of what is good value. We don’t believe mega-consumerism is dead but it might languish awhile as people get accustomed to having less cash. But they will adjust, and faster than you think.
Ref: AdNews (Aus), 31 October 2008, 'Mega-consumerism is dead'. A. Sophocleous.
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Search words: conspicuous consumption, responsible consumerism, environment, anti-stuff, choice, line extensions.
Trend tags: Consumerism

The Automated Home is Still in the Future

Less than 2% of homes in Australia have a home automation system, which suggests Australians don’t yet see a need for it. After all, what is the purpose of remote-controlled lighting, security, heating, audio or curtains? Marketers are now focusing on the ways it saves energy. It can be installed without doing extensive building and electrical work using wireless networks, or for people who are building a new house, using wire and cable, or power line. Even so, home automation still has a slightly freaky sound to it.

Automatic control of lighting, fans, heating, curtains, and indoor and outdoor lights may seem harmless enough, but automatic control of the dishwasher, oven, washing machine, or home entertainment centre? Australians, and perhaps other nations, are more influenced by price and complexity than they are by the shine of new technology. While they are accustomed to wireless laptops and mobiles, they still don’t see how an automated house is particularly useful and they might think it all sounds too technical. Perhaps the best question to ask is: is it appropriate and usable? It’s all very well having smart glass and smart refrigerators, but many consumers are too smart to pay for what they don’t really need. Especially now.
Ref: Fast Thinking (Aus), Winter 2008, 'The unwired house'. F. Molloy.
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Search words: smart homes, wireless, smart glass, home automation, Clipsal, remote control.
Trend tags: Automation