Book Review – Treasure Hunt

I think that this is a very important business book and I recommend that my clients read it – and to take its findings to heart.  The new consumer enjoys mixing upscale with downscale products- to create their own customized lifestyle, satisfy their ever changing “value calculus,” and meet their emotional needs.

Michael Silverstein is the co-author of 2005's best-seller “Trading Up,” which showed us why consumers want new luxury goods – and find them with Callaway Golf Clubs; shopping at Victoria's Secret,;eating at Panera Bread and drinking Belvedere Vodka.  That certainly is an appealing prospect for any manufacturer or retail who has visions of higher margins and increased spending dancing in the head.

In Treasure Hunt, we learn that (most of) these same consumers “trade down” because:

“I'm a smart shopper – and highly skilled at it.”

“There's no material difference in the products”

“My Mom taught me how to be a smart shopper.”

“I can go without it.”

We have all seen these consumers (and I am becoming one of them) at Target, Costco, Lowe's and Dollar General.  The majority are female.  And it is no longer a paradox to see new BMWs or Lexus automobiles parked in from of a Wal-Mart or Target store.  People enjoy “treasure hunting” for bargains not so much because they “have to” but rather because the can and “want to.”

This is a valuable lesson to learn – the “Bifurcating Market” – where you can reach high and search low at the same time.  Just be sure to avoid the path that leads to the boring and deadly middle ground (remember Sears, Montgomery-Ward and most department stores.)

I have worked for over 30 years in the Music Products industry.  Many of my clients are in this industry.  Most bemoan the fact that retail prices are dropping and margins are shrinking.  They are quick to place blame (cheap imported products, big-box retailers, Internet retailers who don't have to charge sales tax, etc.)  But I think that they miss the point – many consumers will happily “treasure hunt” for bargains – as long as it is combined with a satisfying shopping experience – and use some of these savings to purchase the “upscale” products that they desire.

Increasingly, it is the “shopping experience” that is driving the marketplace.  “Cheap” no longer connotes “bad.”  Now, “boring and bland” are “bad.”  To succeed in today's market, it is wise to consider the words of legendary retailer Leslie Wexner:

“People are looking for emotional highs.  Winning companies invent new products that capture the consumer's imagination.”

Ignore the reality of the bifurcated market at your peril – and many companies continue to ignore it.  Instead, learn how to deliver trading-down goods at unbelievable prices or create trading-up goods with genuine differences that can – and do – command a premium price.

I like the format of this book.  It follows actual consumers to their homes and along on shopping trips to discover the reasons and motivations for their behavior.  It is fascinating.  Real people, real stories.  And, it goes a long way towards demolishing our stereotypical assumptions of the “middle-class” consumer.  Regardless of demographics or level of income, each consumer has their own story to tell.  It is unfortunate that too many retailers fail to tell their own story – and attract this new consumer.

One of the best features of this book is the website that supports it –  Click on the link and you will see the real people interviewed in the book and learn more about the research that went into compiling the statistics in the book.  Increasingly, publishers and authors are creating exciting websites to support the traditional printed product.  I like this trend – it is exciting!  I hope that you can learn how to make your own store or products exciting – there is a rich pay-off when your learn how to tap into the “bifurcating” market.

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