By Peter Giannetti
Encouraging signs at retail continue as we head toward a back half of widespread vaccination and potentially easing pandemic restrictions.
But under the surface of such positive development bubbles some uncertainty for a home and housewares business that has soared as a shopper priority during the pandemic.
Read past the boldfaced type of the 9.8% retail sales gain in March reported by the Commerce Department. You will see that such stimulus-check-propelled gains were led by purchases of sporting goods, shoes, dresses and jeans, many of them deferred last year by homebound shoppers. This confirms the escalating release of pent-up demand and desire for such things by a consumer base eager to get out again.
Similar, too, is the consumer sentiment revealed in a recent NPD Group survey that reported apparel, footwear and beauty as the top three categories people expect to buy the next couple of months. That home products registered fourth in the NPD survey confirms what many consumer trend forecasters say will be an enduring recommitment to home-centric lifestyles, behaviors and buying preferences.
But we are beginning to get a glimpse of the answers to questions about what happens next when it comes to how people will fill their in-store and online shopping carts in the coming months.
While home and housewares products remain increasingly essential, and often delightfully indulgent, to this recalibrated consumer marketplace, the battle for share of wallet is heating up against products and experiences that were put on the back burner during much of the past year.
This is where home and housewares suppliers and retailers that strained, pivoted, flexed and ultimately delivered against unprecedented societal and business pressures and impediments will encounter a renewed call for differentiation.
The marketplace is shifting gradually again from favoring those who can fill orders to those who can also inspire demanding and unforgiving retailers and consumers with a complete story of innovation across all facets of business.
Innovative new product development driven by constant consumer insight. Innovative production closer to orders without sacrificing quality workmanship, materials and social and environmental responsibility. Innovative marketing that bridges B2B and B2C motivations. Innovative supply chain and inventory management from the first to the last mile of delivery. Innovative data and information gathering, analysis and application. Innovative customer service to the retailer and the consumer.
The cost of success as the industry steers toward a reset competitive baseline on the other side of the pandemic will be measured not simply in how many hard dollars are invested, but also in how many hard decisions are executed.
Look deeper than the surface of today’s positive retail developments. The home and housewares business has all the makings of an ongoing success story. How the industry continues to pivot and flex and deliver to stay atop the minds of consumers who are starting to widen their spend will become the real story.