Despite the economic downturn, North America remains one of the largest housewares market in the world. Recent estimates put housewares retail sales in the US and Canada at $76.7 billion – 25% of the global market. So what are the latest trends in the market and what opportunities do exist for exporters?
Dollars for design
The overarching trend in the US housewares market is the growing interest of consumers in high design, an interest that manifests through intelligent functionality and eye-appealing construction. Consumers have begun to appreciate the value that design adds to a product at any price and have rewarded thoughtful design through increased purchases, whether it is automatic coffee machines worth $4,000, cleverly designed baking tools, more functional cleaning tools, ergonomic handles, new cooking methods such as induction or sous vide, or high-powered kitchen appliances. Design underlines easy differentiation opportunities for retailers wishing to distance themselves from the competition. US retailers such as Crate and Barrel, Target and Design Within Reach as well as international designers such as Ikea have been recognised by their customers as sources of well designed products that have created a competitive advantage for their brands.
US consumers are renewing their concern for the environment and voicing these concerns through their purchasing behaviour. They look at country of origin as well as the use and recyclability of materials that make up the housewares products they purchase. Housewares suppliers recognise that demand for sustainable products is based more on consumer demand to save money, with only a small percentage willing to pay a premium for such products. Suppliers are, therefore, seeking to sharpen their sourcing skills to provide parity pricing for sustainable products while, at the same time, educating consumers on the lifetime savings they can achieve by purchasing such products. Purchases are also being driven by the total store experience, including convenience, relevance and compelling value as consumers become more discretionary in their spending and discover new products through social media channels.
Another macro-trend is the growing preference for more casual products for the home, prompted by the generational shift from the aging baby boomers (aged 37-to-67 years) to generation Y/millenials (aged 17-to-36 years). This younger generation, which has started moving out of their family homes, is self-expressive, smart, innovative and resourceful, creating its own trends rather than waiting to see what trends prevail. Highly brand conscious, its rising affluence gives it a strong position in the market. This generation tends to value convenience and is more likely to undertake frequent changes in the look of its living spaces and replace home goods more frequently. As a result, suppliers are focusing attention on more unique shapes and sizes of kitchen appliances and greater specific functionalities. The kind of changes taking place inside homes range from adjustable lighting to conversational seating, home décor and design – and more task areas in kitchens.
In this evolving scenario, colour is one factor that is having a profound impact on consumer behaviour, the colour choices available in the marketplace increasing infinitely within a single generation of US consumers. Intelligent retailers and suppliers now vary colour palettes by the season and often even within a season to entice consumers to increase their purchases.
The power of celebrity
Perhaps the greatest change for home goods over the past 5-to-10 years is the emergence of the influence of professional chefs and home remodelers, who have come to dominate cable television channels in the US. Celebrity endorsements have become a major driver of business for cookware, cutlery, appliances, tabletop and other home categories, with personalities such as Guy Fieri, Paula Deen and Curtis Stone leading the way. Although some older luminaries have begun to fade, there is no lack of public competition eager to crown the next emerging star chef or home designer. In fact, chefs have begun to attain the status of local heroes, with their restaurants becoming tourist attractions.
Internet and digital technologies are also having an increasing influence on the US housewares market. In a year when international retail markets floundered, e-commerce displayed resilient growth, with sales increasing 16.1% to $194.3 billion (in 2011), according to the US Department of Commerce. An explosion of digital innovations, most notably the emergence and rapid adoption of smartphone and tablet technology, has transformed the buyer-seller relationship.
Instead of getting defensive, some stores and brands are embracing the change by creating new personal touches that feature these new innovations, indicating that portable devices with links to innovative social shopping services will provide consumers with unparalleled choice in future.
That next wave of technological change may be transformative in terms of how the consumer goes to market. Imagine a technology that allows consumers to recreate their own virtual kitchen and then places new products on their virtual counters to see how they look. And consumers may soon be able to use complex 3D printers in their homes to actually create their own products on demand.
Suppliers are already embracing internet-driven opportunities to train customers. Cookbooks have been replaced by apps on tablets, and companies are now in the kitchen, speaking to consumers, and training them on the proper use of their products. So what other opportunities does the future hold in store? Answers can be sought at the 2014 International Home+Housewares Show to be held in Chicago, USA from March 15-to-18, 2014, which will provide a crystal ball on emerging trends and innovations in the housewares market. The show will be attended by 60,000 housewares professionals from more than 100 countries in search of the latest in products for homes around the world.