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The Right Stuff


What’s the economic outlook for U.S. retailers? Take a look around this Tuesday afternoon. How many pedestrians do you see juggling dozens of shopping bags as they make their leisurely way around the strip mall? Most are carrying two or three bags at best. Shoppers are far more selective about their purchases these days and consumer confidence isn’t exactly at an all-time high. But that doesn’t mean consumer spending is stuck in a ditch.

Sales may be slow, yes, but they are not dead. Holiday spending in 2010 was up over the previous year, and the National Retail Federation predicts a 4% increase this year. That’s good. What’s also noteworthy is the prevalent optimism among major consumer brands. Yesterday, Advertiser Perceptions released findings that show big brands plan on spending more on advertising and marketing than they did six months ago. PepsiCo, for example, is launching a huge summer ad campaign for its flagship soda, after three years of conceding market share.

But….we’re not back to old levels of consumer spending and shouldn’t expect the return of mid-day shopping sprees anytime soon. Sure, you might know a few impulsive shoppers still burning up the credit cards, or even a hoarder or two collecting everything under the sun. Some even love to blog about their compulsions. But in today’s economy, the large majority of consumers are not roaming through store outlets, purchasing boatloads of “stuff” without rhyme or reason. Financially irresponsible shopaholics, those who spend willy-nilly, went out of style when the housing boom went bust several years ago.

That means, whatever the product purchased, from apparel to hair care, from technological gadgets to school supplies and extra-large cupcakes, is making a difference or serving a specific purpose in the consumer’s life. The purpose is valid enough to warrant a purchase in the first place. With so much information available online, from social media to reality shows, it’s hard to ignore what those reasons may be. Smart, savvy small businesses tap into those reasons!

And the right customized packaging highlights those purchases by reinforcing the original decision to buy. Taking home a product in a generic bag may cause doubts or even regrets after buying, similar to hosting a bland birthday. Isn’t a birthday cake better served with frosting, candles and a “Happy Birthday” song? Sure, you can serve a plain slice of cake like it’s any day of the week, but generic desserts tend to up the glum factor when it’s supposed to be a celebration. Which is why most parties mark annual occasions with something festive, something to remember. The same goes for packaging. And that’s it, in a nutshell.

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