Hot Talk: Inside the FN Summit

The industry's change agents sounded off on top issues.

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Marshal Cohen

Photo By George Chinsee

NPD’s Cohen: Break the Rules

When it comes to meeting the needs of today’s savvy consumers, storeowners need to change things up, advised Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group Inc.

“[Retailers] are steeped in tradition and [must] see how to change things,” he said. “They must learn what consumers want.”

Cohen pointed to the shifts in consumer spending, particularly for the back-to-school season. “It’s no longer a June/July/August business,” he said. Today, it stretches through early fall, with October the biggest month of all. In response, retailers are buying more product, but not necessarily up front.

While innovation drives purchases, said Cohen, consumers can be creatures of habit, and they want to know they can find their favorite items time and again. “Don’t make products obsolete,” he said. “Don’t leapfrog out of [something] they like. Add the new with the old. Keep it long and strong.”

Cohen also dispelled some popular footwear myths, particularly weather-related ones. “Ten to 12 months of the year, consumers want in-season product,” he noted. “Let’s take some of our key items and allow [shoppers] to buy them when they want,” instead of giving up the sale to online retailers who can provide seasonal goods.

And just who is doing all the buying today? It’s not just the kids, Cohen said. Instead of courting the millenials, he encouraged the industry to go after the lucrative baby boomer market, especially since young consumers spend an average of $1.3 trillion yearly, and their combined debt totals $1.1 trillion. “They don’t spend the way we think they do,” he said. “The big growth is with the boomers; however, we’re not going after them.”

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