Tuesday, August 2, 2011 | Edited by Daniel Moores
||Top 10 Back-to-School Trends for 2011
Though many kids have only had a few weeks to enjoy the summer sun, parents are already checking retailers' weekly advertisements, websites and social media to find the best deals.
It's back-to-school time, and the National Retail Federation's latest Back-to-School and College surveys, conducted by BIGresearch, feature an in-depth look at current consumer trends. Here are a few insights living within the numbers:
#1: This year’s theme for parents: "Spend where you need to, save where you can." Though the economy is still impacting shoppers (see Trend #3), parents are willing to spend on things their kids actually need. According to the survey, fewer people will be spending in specific categories, but those who are buying in individual categories are spending more than a year ago.
Sound confusing? It's not. What this means is that parents are actually taking inventory of last year's items -- asking kids to get out the backpacks to see if their pencils are still sharp, try on those "old" jeans, and check if the tennis shoes still fit. If there are items children need, parents are certainly receptive to spending. But if last year's clothes still fit or the school supplies haven't totally run out, parents might be holding off on purchases until later this fall or for Christmas.
The moral of the story, kids: It's not going to be as easy to talk mom or dad into things this year -- unless last year's backpack has a broken strap, you'll be bringing it to school this year, too.
#2: It's not about the best price. It's about the best deal. In 2009, it was all about the Benjamins. This year, we continue to see a trend that emerged during last year's back-to-school season: Value matters more than price.
Instead of looking for the lowest common denominator, parents may be swayed to purchase a laptop if it comes with a free one-year warranty or buy the lunchbox that comes with a matching thermos. Today's back-to-school shopper is including factors like quality and service when deciding where to shop.
#3: The economy is still impacting spending. We're all well aware that slumping home values and high unemployment have put a damper on consumer sentiment in recent years, so it's not surprising that families heading out to buy school items are looking to cut costs where they can.
With the extra burden of tuition, college students and their parents are slightly more likely to change their spending plans this year because of the economy and will compensate by buying more store brand and generic products (38%) and doing more comparative shopping online (31%).
Families with students in K-12th grades will curtail expenses by spending less overall (44%) and shopping for sales more often (50%).
#4: In case you missed the memo, department stores are back. When my mom used to take me shopping for school clothes, we went straight to her favorite department store. These days, when moms and dads head out for their school shopping trip, they head straight to their child's favorite department stores. Having done their own homework in recent years, department stores know what their shoppers want and are among the primary shopping destinations for pre-teens, teenagers and college students.
The survey found 47.6% of college shoppers and 57.0% of K-12 shoppers will head to department stores -- the highest percentage for both groups in NRF's eight-year survey history.
Thanks to smart merchandising, creative social media campaigns and a new concept of "private label loyalty" among teen and college-aged shoppers, department stores have an added advantage when it comes to back-to-school shopping. Labels like LC by Lauren Conrad and Madonna's Material Girl are among the labels driving kids to department stores these days.
#5: Electronics. They're not just for classrooms anymore. There was a time when scientific calculators were the only high-tech gadgets on a parent's school shopping list. These days, parents are splurging on everything from mp3 players and smartphones to tablets and laptops for their school-aged children. But this year, the number of people who are planning to buy electronics decreased in both surveys, bucking a trend of steady growth over the last few years.
How? Why? No need to worry. Electronics aren't losing popularity -- just look at the crowd of people hovering around the tablet devices and laptops at any large retailer. The decline in electronics spending for back to school can be explained in several ways. For starters, today's students are incredibly tech-savvy. This year's sixth graders were born in 2000; there's no piece of technology today's students don't know about, haven't used or don't already own.
Also, many parents and college students with their own money to spend don't necessarily view these purchases as "seasonal" anymore -- they are simply buying them when they can or when they want it, all year long. And finally, I would be surprised if many shoppers are waiting for the release of newer models (iPhone 5, anyone?) or until holiday gift-giving rolls around.
#6: This year, it all comes down to crunch time. One of the trends NRF's Ellen Davis wrote about last year was that "the early bird gets the deal." Though we're definitely seeing our share of shoppers who want to start early, many back-to-school shoppers this year are waiting until the last minute. Nearly one-third (31.2%) of parents of K-12th grade students will shop one to two weeks before school starts, up from 24.8% last year.
For retailers, it will be important to move merchandise around in the supply chain, when possible, to take advantage of sales peaks as school bells start ringing in different areas of the country.
#7: Everyone's a winner. This year's back-to-school season has something for everyone. Discounters, who have long touted low prices and one-stop-shopping convenience, will continue to be the most popular shopping destination. Department stores, as mentioned earlier, will see more shoppers than anytime in our eight-year survey history.
But a decent chunk of shoppers will also be visiting electronics stores, clothing stores and drugstores. The Internet also continues to be a force to be reckoned with, as people who shop in multiple channels will spend 40% more than those who only shop in stores -- another reason why retailers should be paying close attention to their websites and mobile apps when thinking about ways to grow their business.
#8: Think beyond denim and crayons. Though you might think first of jeans, tennis shoes and scissors, there's plenty of opportunity in the back-to-school market for a variety of different retailers. Case in point? Before heading to campus, college students will spend a collective $5.4 billion on food -- which boils down to a not-too-shabby $94.60 a student. (That's a lot of granola bars.) They're also plunking down $3.7 billion on personal care items like toothpaste, Tylenol and body wash.
Prepaid cards are also popular among many in this crowd, as parents plan to spend $3.4 billion on gift cards or prepaid cards they can reload when their kids are away from home and need to head to the stores. A variety of retailers can capitalize on this trend, including grocery stores, warehouse clubs and drugstores.
Who takes the cake as the company thinking outside the box the most for back to school this year? It could be Tuffy Auto Service Centers, who is offering free back-to-school maintenance inspections. Every parent wants to make sure their kids' cars are running smoothly before they head out by themselves to college, further proof that there really is a part every retailer can play when it comes to the back-to-school season.
#9: As they prepare for the "real world," college seniors pull back. When you look at how the state of the economy has impacted college seniors, the numbers are staggering. Four in 10 say they will buy more store brand and generic products this year, up from 28.6% last year. When it comes to school items, 38.5% will make do with last year's items, up from 30.6% last year.
And who says 21-year-olds aren't frugal? This year, 44.5% say they will shop for sales more often, up from 35.8% last year. More will shop online as a way to save money (25.1% vs. 18.7% in 2010) and will share or borrow textbooks instead of buying them (21.3% vs. 15.8% in 2010).
Whether these students are pulling back because they didn't make as much from a summer job or whether they're trying to save up for their foray into the real world remains unclear. What we do know is that the oldest in the college crowd are feeling the pinch.
#10: Coming soon to a phone near you -- back-to-school and college shopping. In the next few weeks, NRF will be releasing brand-new data that evaluates how people will use their smartphones and tablets for back-to-school shopping this year. Let's just say there are a lot of people who may buy their school or college needs without ever leaving their house -- and those who plan to venture to the stores will be bringing their Droids and iPhones with them.
(Source: Kathy Grannis, National Retail Federation, 07/29/11)
||Mega-Gyms Offer Clients a Mini 'Resort Experience'
You can churn through Zumba (or one of the other 124 classes offered), then drop by the serene spa for a manicure or a botox treatment, after which you collect the young'uns from the child-care center, pop into the caf for some healthful veggie wraps, then hang at the pool. All under one very large roof.
The recently opened Life Time Fitness center in Colorado Springs is 200,000 square feet (four to 20 times bigger than most fitness facilities) of workout options, pampering and relaxation and poolside bistro-ing that's challenging the notion of workouts as quick in-and-out sweat-fests.
Although members ($59.95 a month for singles; $139.85 for families; additional for tennis) can and do sometimes dash in for just an hour of spinning or lifting, "people may spend several hours, creating their own resort experience, especially on weekends," says general manager Jesse Brandyberry.
This one-stop-for-all-things approach is not commonplace among the nation's health clubs, but many experts predict it's likely to grow over time. Meanwhile, increasingly bigger facilities with enhanced amenities and a huge smorgasbord of workout options are blossoming everywhere, even as a counter-trend -- reduced-size mini gyms in strip malls and other locales continues to surge ahead.
"There's been a great deal of growth in the under-5,000-square-feet category," and they're often headed by personal trainers turned entrepreneurs, says Paul Bosley, owner of healthclubexperts.com. "Smaller locations require less capital to open" and fewer members to stay viable, he says.
In fact, says Meghan Burnham of the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, of the roughly 1,300 new members that have joined the association in the past two years, about a third are running small facilities of less than 10,000 square feet.
And yet large -- even massive -- gyms continue to crop up, successfully making the more-is-better case. Fitness facilities of 40,000-plus square feet, which offer not only dozens of weekly classes, personal trainers and child care but also sports cafs that sell smoothies, snacks, juice and athletic gear, are piling even more extras onto their buffet of amenities. Some now offer massage or the occasional hours-long marathon class in Zumba or yoga; some are organizing weekend hikes and bicycle outings for their fitness-minded members who need some relief from the Stairmaster and Pilates mat.
"If people can vary their workout, they're much more likely to stay on the fitness journey," says Tony Wells of 24 Hour Fitness, one of a handful of chains emphasizing size and workout choices. Its standard club-size footprint and format has been upped to 45,000 to 50,000 square feet and 50 to 60 classes a week, plus pool, basketball court and racquetball at many locations.
Indeed, says Georgia State University professor of exercise science Walter Thompson, although the growth of big-box or mega-gyms may seem somewhat counterintuitive "given the economy we're in," the difference between them and the small, bare-bones facilities is "like the difference between (supermarket giant) Publix and the corner store," and some people want and need the bigger inventory.
Although some folks settle on "a regular, unvaried routine, once they have one that's effective for them," others want to sample from other options, such as high-intensity drills, hot-rhythm Latin dances or hula hoop ab-tightening classes, to blast past plateaus and boredom, he says.
The notion of being able to get a haircut, do hot yoga and eat a healthful lunch after a kickboxing class "without having to drive to several locations" may entice a growing number of people, says Thompson, as the rising obesity rate prompts some to realize it's time to get serious about "doing something to reverse this."
Life Time says it's already positioned for the shift, with its luxe facility high on a Colorado hill (and 91 other locations) offering an array of classes to meet demand, plus a healthful-menu caf, weekly pickup volleyball games, personal trainers and organized physical activities for kids.
The company, says spokesman Jason Thunstrom, has created a "healthy way of life industry that helps people achieve their health and fitness goals by engaging in their areas of passion while introducing them to new ones."
(Source: USA Today, 08/01/11)
||The Video Store, Reinvented by Necessity
On Sunday evening, a group of men and women will gather in a screening room here to watch -- and sing along to -- the movie musical "Jesus Christ Superstar." Many will be festively attired in bell-bottoms, love beads and big-hair wigs.
A hippie revival session? A flash-mob theatrical performance?
No. Just another night at Vidiots, one of the Los Angeles area's last independent video stores.
Over the years, the spread of video-purveying giants like Netflix and Redbox has sounded a death knell for smaller brick-and-mortar video stores, even as some of the Goliaths, including Blockbuster, have faltered themselves.
But through it all, a few scrappy Davids have held on. And now, in the face the latest assault on their base -- in the form of Netflix's online streaming service -- they are struggling to stay afloat by rethinking their business models. They are tapping into new revenue streams in ways that may seem quaint and old-fashioned, but that are proving to be culturally astute and financially viable.
"We just got so into survival mode," Patty Polinger, co-owner of Vidiots, said of the decision she and her business partner, Cathy Tauber, made to throw the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass and start changing their store's modus operandi after 26 years.
A campy sing-along night is just one component of their plan. Since Vidiots, a beloved institution among the area's movie cognoscenti and stars, opened a sleek space called the Annex a year ago, it has offered a "Film Studies" program. It has had classes on anime mythology; lectures by filmmakers like Larry Clark ("Kids"); and spoken-word events, known as Tail Spin, where participants deliver improvised monologues on a theme (for example, "the stranger") for five minutes before the thread is picked up by someone else.
Physically, too, the Annex symbolizes a new era. Its clean, modern design bears no resemblance to the graffiti-covered walls of the video store, which feels more like a basement clubhouse.
The special events have been integral to Vidiots' transformation from a strictly retail business to a cultural hub and community center. They are intended as a riposte to what the store's fans regard as the nameless, faceless quality of services like Netflix.
"We felt that with Netflix and the Internet, what we should be focusing on was community and people talking to each other," Ms. Polinger said. "We just wanted to go the other extreme and be more interpersonal."
The changes have helped strengthen the store financially, she says. Whereas at one time "I felt like we were in freefall mode, I now feel we've stabilized," she says.
Other retailers are thinking along the same lines as Ms. Polinger. This fall, Videology, a rare video store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is opening a cafe and bar, where a dozen kinds of beer will be on tap, and movie screenings and trivia nights will take place.
And at CineFile Video in Los Angeles, long a mecca for Fassbinder and Godard enthusiasts, Josh Fadem, a comedian who works as a clerk at the store, occasionally performs a free stand-up act.
The movement toward community-building goes beyond marketing. It is also tapping into a cultural impulse to connect with something, or someone, in a digital age. In this way, it is not all that different from the local food movement, or a decision to buy asparagus at a farmer's market instead of at a superstore.
Consumers need "to have a choice, and the choice is in support of independent whatever -- independent bookstore, independent grocery store, independent video store," said Milos Stehlik, executive director of Facets Multi-Media, an art house film company in Chicago that exhibits, rents and sells films. Ms. Polinger said Facets, which also runs a series of film classes for children and adults, was an inspiration for Vidiots' new direction.
"People make an effort to reach out to something real, so the one thing they appreciate here, is we are very knowledgeable," Mr. Stehlik said. "People who work in the video store are very knowledgeable about film. There's always a conversation, not just a click. Those kinds of real experiences, you can't really duplicate when you're getting a movie out of a vending machine."
Still, clicking is a tempting convenience, even for purist movie geeks who believe that viewing pictures on anything other than 35mm film is blasphemous.
Maybe there is a third way, incorporating both approaches. Peter Fader, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, said video stores should position themselves not as an adversary of Netflix, but rather as an alternative.
"What I see happening is that people will use this kind of service as a complement to Netflix," Professor Fader said. "A lot of movie watching will be on Netflix or video on demand or other sources, but when there is a particular title that's impossible to find, or a particular event happening -- be it a speaker or an activity -- it will be something that's a part of their movie consumption portfolio.
"I think that's more likely the path to success than being the small, anti-Netflix kind of club," Professor Fader added, pointing to bookstores' initially dismissive attitude toward Amazon.com as a lesson in how not to compete with new technologies.
Video stores may get their biggest reprieve as a result of their bête noir. Netflix's controversial recent 60 percent price increase -- for its monthly package of online movie streams along with one DVD by mail at a time -- has spawned customer outrage and some cancellations. Furthermore, the notion that Netflix's future appears to be in online streaming, not DVDs, may return some business to video stores, given that fewer movie titles are now available via streaming.
"I see a ray of hope with the Netflix thing, and people's frustration with that," Ms. Polinger said. "I've seen a couple people come in after giving up on Netflix. There's definitely a backlash."
(Source: The New York Times, 07/30/11)
Daily Sales Tip: Building Trust
Continually setting, and meeting, expectations is one of the easiest and most direct ways to build the strong, trusted relationships you need to close deals.
Building trust allows you to:
1. Set the agenda. If each encounter goes as expected and the prospect gets what they want, they will let you drive the process -- that, in turn, allows you to control the sale, determine the process, set next steps, and take it where you want.
2. Mitigate risk. Buyers want to be sure they are making the right decision. Unfortunately for them, any purchase decision comes with risk. You can mitigate this risk by providing direction at each step of the sales process. If there are no surprises, you create a sense of certainty in an otherwise uncertain endeavor. Certainty helps eliminate doubt in the prospect's mind, removing a major obstacle and allowing you to move the sale forward faster.
3. Be seen as the expert. Delivering as expected demonstrates a certain mastery that inspires confidence in you, your company, and what you are selling. This positions you as the thoughtful and trusted expert as you answer questions, listen and demonstrate understanding, and provide recommendations.
4. Demonstrate what it is like to work with you. Trusted relationships are built over time, and you can start building that trust during the sales process. When you consistently deliver on what you promise, you demonstrate what it will be like to work with you and your company day in and day out.
However, if you over-promise and under-deliver -- by missing deadlines, showing up late to meetings, setting inappropriate expectations -- you lose out on your best opportunity to build trusting relationships with your prospects.
Trust does not come overnight, in fact it can take months, in some cases years, to build, yet it takes only one instance of not following through on your promise to destroy it.
Be mindful of this in your sales conversations and interactions with prospects. Think things through, take the time to make appropriate decisions, and give each prospect the respect they deserve; this allows you to maximize the trust factor.
Take it one step further and think of how you can over-deliver in the sales process. I'm not suggesting you sandbag it. I'm suggesting you set expectations that you're sure you can meet and leave some room for yourself to go above and beyond.
Source: Sales consultant/author Bob Croston