New report says figuring out customers isn't easy

NEW YORK: According to a report recently presented at a National

Retail Federation conference in New York, consumers are becoming too

complex to conveniently pigeonhole by age, race, or gender.

"The customer isn't who he or she might first appear to be," said Dr.

David Szymanski, director of Texas A&M's Center for Retailing Studies

and coauthor of the report. "If we're going to be successful tomorrow,

we have to really abandon traditional demographics as a way of

segmenting the market and identifying customers."

Szymanski and Jay Scansaroli, global managing partner of Andersen's

Retail Industry Services, reviewed existing research and facilitated

discussions with retail execs to identify 300 consumer trends, which

they distilled into six megatrends (see sidebar).

The report paints consumers as diverse, complex, and empowered by

information gleaned from the internet to demand respect. Marketers can

no longer rely on only three or four demographic characteristics to

accurately peg a target audience, Szymanski said. Psychographics,

values, interests, emotions, and attitudes must also be considered.

One of PR's most important roles is fulfilling the consumer's growing

desire for community, Szymanski continued. Retailers should focus on

community leadership, not just involvement, and PR pros should find ways

to meet community needs. The report also suggests creating communities,

such as customer clubs or chat rooms.

PR practitioners who reviewed the report generally agreed with its

findings and found them instructive, including Monica Neufang, a

managing director in Weber Shandwick Worldwide's Dallas office. She did

raise an eyebrow, however, at the assertion that consumers are becoming

less concerned about price than product quality and shopping experience.

The largest retailer in the US, after all, is a discount chain

(Wal-Mart), Neufang noted.


1. COMPOSITE NATION. Americans are more socially, culturally, and

ethnically diverse than ever

2. CLUELESS CUSTOMER. Traditional demographics are ineffective in

identifying increasingly complex consumers

3. CONSUMER POWER SHIFT. The internet gives shoppers more information

and, thus, more power

4. STIMULATION AND SANCTUARY. Customers want speed and excitement, but

also comfort and security in the shopping experience

5. AMORPHOUS CODES AND SPACES. Old norms and standards don't apply, and

customers shift roles based on circumstances

6. COMMUNITIES EVERYWHERE. Consumers increasingly seek out communities,

and a person may be involved in several diverse groups once viewed as


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