Marshal Cohen, chief industry advisor of The NPD Group, Inc., and nationally known expert on consumer behavior and the retail industry, took time to share with Kohl’s his key takeaways from 2017 and that stores are making a comeback.
Kohl’s: What are your key takeaways from the holiday 2017 season?
Marshal Cohen: Holiday 2017 was an interesting one for sure, with some great lessons to learn as we look towards holiday 2018. This past holiday demonstrated the consumer’s desire to start shopping early, but that early eye was focused more on self-purchasing. Holiday promotions began as early as November 1 and when we look at whether that created a need or desire to shop early, it didn’t move the needle much. But the cadence of holiday was critical this year. With Christmas falling on a Monday, we saw Super Saturday return, but still witnessed a lot of travel occurring on the last weekend. The top five shopping days were unique for each category and certainly different when comparing online versus in-store. So promotions need to be addressed storewide to maximize promotional periods – not all industries respond to promotions on the same days. The big story for Holiday 2017 was the practicality of the presents. Consumers bought items that had a purpose – from tech, to home, to experiences. Traditional holiday gifts were challenged by more practical and useful ones.
K: What consumer trends are most important for retailers?
MC: Lifestyles continue to be a critical factor to focus on for retail success. Words like athletic, home, nesting, travel, and healthy all are emerging as important trends heading into 2018. Understanding that these lifestyle influences are not going away – they are accelerating – we need to think about how to change our traditions at retail and play up these lifestyle trends. So, while we may not sell travel or trips, we do sell products that make the trips better. And why not put all that together? Home is where the heart is these days, and emphasizing that lifestyle has its benefits as well. Consumers are willing to invest in spending on making their home cozy and more efficient. Providing a personalized experience, speaking to the consumer directly, and offering promotions that cater to their exact needs are all part of the secret formula.
K: What do you see as the role of physical stores in an omnichannel shopping environment?
MC: Stores are making a comeback. Those stores that do it well are actually gaining more growth momentum than online these days. Stores like Kohl’s that are neighborhood driven are the likely winners for 2018 and beyond. The internet provides convenience, but so do stores on a local level. Consumers are getting spoiled again and are looking for instant gratification. Overnight isn’t fast enough, but run in and pick up what I want and need is. Stores provide a breeding ground for multiple sales as opposed to the internet that tend to be more one and done. Amazon is a nice solution for the one item I need and have it delivered within two days, but my local Kohl’s can provide me with instant product and a whole lot more of some items I can pick up as well.
K: What role does technology play for today's consumer?
MC: Consumers have come to expect technology to be a part of the shopping equation. When it’s not, it is more than just frustrating, it is a turn off. Consumers want to be reassured they are getting a good and fair deal. They want to be able to do their homework and research right there in the store. Even more important, they want to be able to communicate with their friends through social media and get validation of the purchase. Being on top of the technology and connectivity side of things is very important in successful retail today.
K: Why is it important to have great proprietary brands?
MC: Private brands are the driving force to success at retail today. Consumers want unique assortments. They want to be one in a million, not one of a million. Gone are the days where consumers want to look like everyone else. They want product that is unique, that is only available at their favorite stores, and that relates to their lifestyle. Consumers want to shop at places, like Kohl’s, that have a personality, that can relate to them as shoppers, and make them feel understood. When done right, private brands create that connection. Today, retailers like Kohl’s have the ability to create billion dollar brands by connecting the right, unique product with the consumer. Also gone are the days of the old low-priced, generic private label products. Making their mark today are the unique brands that offer the consumer the reason to purchase, along with all the technology and design elements they expect from the top national brands.
K: What qualities or behaviors should teams have when thinking about how to win in today's retail environment?
MC: Retail success today is all about assortments that are timely and unique. Trends emerge and products need to be at the ready to meet those trends – too many retailers take too long to respond. Staying close to the trends and timing needs are more important today. Consumers have the ability to get what they want, when they want it, and at almost any price they want to pay for it. This challenges traditional retail, and means we need to be more nimble and willing to provide a better experience for consumers to react to. Timing matters, consumers have an even greater expectation than in years past of being able to buy product when they need it. They expect to be able to find ideas to enhance their lifestyles, their style, and their needs. Products today are not about building wardrobes, but providing the opportunity to build memories and share them. Even practical items find their way into consumer stories on social media.