Getting to know the new consumer
During the recent High Point Market, Home Accents Today hosted a breakfast and round table discussion for top-100 retailers. It was an enlightening morning in which accessory buyers from retail powerhouses such as Badcock, El Dorado Furniture and One Kings Lane discussed what they shop for at market, voids in the marketplace and how their stores are adapting to the changing consumer.
It's the last point that struck a chord most with me. Since I started working at Home Accents Today, I've seen a constant stream of research and commentary about the mysterious Millennial, the first generation to reach age 18 in the new millennium. It was intriguing - and a bit strange - to hear the retailers at the breakfast discussing their strategies for appealing to the Millennial consumer, because that consumer is me.
When I shop for furniture and accessories, I don't think of myself as a particularly important customer. But at 25, I am that consumer retailers are trying to understand. I suppose we are an enigmatic bunch in a lot of ways. Our young adult years have been consumed by the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, so we're frugal on many counts. But we're also willing to invest in quality products that will have a longer lifespan than cheaper items that might save money upfront.
And because we want to ensure we spend the money we do have wisely, we thoroughly vet our options before committing to making a purchase - something made easier by the Internet, smartphones and our constantly plugged-in state. I'm not one for the growing trend of "showrooming" - in which consumers view products in a brick-and-mortar store but surf their smartphones for a better deal elsewhere - but I do my research before I buy.
I visit multiple retailers from Target to consignment shops to independent furniture stores and consult e-commerce sites to determine the options available in a given price range before making my final choice. Based on the feedback at the breakfast, it seems retailers are picking up on this mindset.
"They do their research," Gallery Furniture designer and merchandiser Sarah Crockard said of the Millennial consumer. "They'll come in and show you, ‘I found this and this online. What do you have that's similar?'"
According to data presented at the breakfast from various Home Accents Today research reports, Generation Y is most likely to shop at lifestyle furniture stores, second-hand outlets and online, and online buyers are 1.4 times more likely to be Millennials. I do tend to gravitate toward online retailers for some accessories (if said retailer provides detailed descriptions of the product's size, materials, etc.), but for core items like sofas or dining sets, I want to see the product in person. I want to touch it, sit on it.
In that regard, One Kings Lane cofounder and Chief Merchandising Officer Susan Feldman said brick-and-mortar stores can actually benefit from e-tailers. "We actually believe that online should be helping brick-and-mortar business because there are a lot of people not comfortable buying a couch online," she said. "They get inspired with what they might see on One Kings Lane, but they go to your store to sit in it."
Gallery Furniture designer, merchandiser and accessories buyer Micheal Burnes said the store's social media efforts and revamped website are its "100% focus right now," creating online tools that enhance and complement the in-store experience. Part of designer and merchandiser Jerome McLemore's job is updating the store's Pinterest page, a social medium the retailers in attendance agreed is becoming increasingly important for the home furnishings industry.
When I peruse Pinterest, two categories capture my attention the most - fashion and home décor. I see pieces that reflect my personal style, and if I'm really drawn to it, I'll click through the pin to find out where I can buy it. So for retailers, having a robust Pinterest account presents ample marketing opportunities.
Stores like Havertys are differentiating themselves by offering fresh advertising that targets the needs of Millennial customers. I enjoy Havertys' commercials like the engagement and job interview TV spots because in addition to highlighting the product, they offer funny anecdotes that appeal to the personality of the young consumer.
At the breakfast, Havertys Corporate Accessory Buyer Sue Black said, "The advertising campaign is definitely geared to attract a younger clientele, so I think we are using accessories to establish ourselves as a more style-conscious, design-oriented business and really leveraging it to bring in a new customer base."
I'm just one voice in the vast Millennial consumer market, but for what it's worth, I am noticing the strategies retailers are implementing to attract my generation, and I think those strategies are working. In my view, many top retailers are succeeding in their efforts thanks to clever marketing, a rich online presence and approaching Millennials as an intelligent, valuable customer base.
What do you think, retailers? How are you reaching out to the next generation of furniture and accessories shoppers?