|Conference attendees were told that U.S. consumers now yearn for emotional connections rather than new products.
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The real barrier to reinvigorating the retail business, Wendy Liebmann told attendees at the Retail Advertising Conference here, is that American consumers have become "overstuffed."
Ms. Liebmann, who is president of WSL Strategic Retail, said U.S. consumers have saturated their closets and homes and had stopped buying before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "It's no longer about trading goods for money, but about emotional connections," she said.
The annual conference is sponsored by the Retail Marketing Association, an arm of the National Retail Federation, and Ms. Liebmann was one of a number of speakers attempting to help the audience understand what is happening within the national retailing business as it undergoes a number of sweeping changes.
Ms. Liebmann's views were echoed by other retail marketing experts. Denise Fedewa, senior vice president and planning director for Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, who works on the agency's Hallmark account, has found that consumers have begun to realize they have enough "stuff" and that accumulating more products and clutter, in and of itself, does not bring happiness.
That's not the only changes consumers are making to their shopping pattern. Consumers are changing the definition of convenience, be it from the mall with its array of predictable stores to the all-in-one shopping experience of the supercenter, said Ms. Fedewa. Now, the definition of convenience is moving to hybrid department stores such as Kohl's, located in easy-to-reach strip malls and designed with a racetrack-like layout.
Another trend in the retail environment, said retail marketing expert Bryan Jay Yolles, executive vice president and chief marketing office of Doner, Southfield, Mich., an independent advertising agency with a large base of retail clients, is men's involvement in an increasing number of purchases beyond the "Yes, honey" role.
"Men are a lot more interested in investments in the home," Mr. Yolles said. His agency's data found that in the past close to 90% of the decisions for purchases for home furnishings were made by women. That number is now down to under 60%.