By Allison Zisko
Five women, representatives of market researcher A.J. Riedel’s HIPster group, gathered near the International Housewares Association headquarters outside Chicago recently to discuss some of the latest trends and lifestyle changes that affect the housewares industry.
The women, highly tech-savvy yet also committed to homesteading activities like gardening, composting and bread-baking, were on board with many trends, particularly those pertaining to social media.
They were less supportive of other trends, including anything they deemed unnecessary or potentially harmful to the environment.
The group was a subset of HIPsters, or the Hometrends Influentials Panel, a hand-selected group of about 185 consumers who are regularly polled on housewares-related issues. The methodology is based on that used by the Roper Reports, including its tracking of “Influential Americans,” or those individuals who tend to influence the decision making of a much larger group. According to Riedel, who founded the group in 2004, HIPsters tend to be a bellwether for the general population. Typically members of this group make decisions or adopt changes that the general population will not make until a few years later.
The group that met in Chicago, culled from the larger group based on their availability and their responses to a specific questionnaire, were geographically diverse, hailing from Texas, Arizona, Arkansas and outside the Chicago area; they all had children and were either married or divorced. Some had recently moved to newer or larger houses, others were living in older homes. Their individual, personal circumstances varied enough that there was no consensus on whether they were more or less worried about the economy and their own financial circumstances than they were one year ago.
One thing that did unify them was their devotion to, and love of, technology and social media. Three of the five own an iPad or tablet, and four out of five own a smartphone (the one who does not have a smartphone has a cell phone as well as an iPad). The women use these devices to surf the web or check social media sites constantly (“I’m plugged in in a zillion ways,” said one), though the way they use these sites has changed in recent years.
All of the women conduct online product research, and they pay particular attention to consumer reviews of products. They have all looked up or researched products online on their smartphones while in a brick-and-mortar store. Where they ultimately purchase goods vary; some research online first and then shop either online or in a store, others shop almost exclusively online. And Amazon is their prime source for online product information. “I look on amazon.com first before I do anything,” said one.
The women said they also use Facebook for product feedback from their friends. Otherwise Facebook for them has morphed into a place to buy, trade or swap goods like children’s clothes, rather than a place to post pictures or keep up with high school acquaintances. They don’t watch You Tube that much and none of them use Twitter.
Pinterest is a passion for some and an addictive possibility for others, who are trying to ignore it for as long as they can.
Another common trait among the group was their keen interest in controlling their environment as much as possible, mainly for health and safety reasons, and sometimes for economic reasons. One panel member has started making her own household cleaners because they are cheaper than buying ready-made ones and have no toxic ingredients. The women felt strongly about monitoring their food sources as best they could; most of them grow or have access to vegetable gardens, they compost, they visit farmer’s markets and buy local produce. Some of them buy raw milk.
“They are a little more zealous [than the general population],” noted Riedel after the Chicago gathering, but they represent growing consumer concern about what goes into their food, she said.
Some of the trends the women subscribe to reflect that. Bread-baking and canning, for instance, are enjoying a bit of a revival, and though Riedel does not believe those trends will become mainstream, they reflect consumer moods. Composting is another growing trend that may have more legs, Riedel said.
Nearly all of the women professed a desire to be more organized at home and welcome the tools that help them accomplish that.
When asked about other trends in housewares, the women had mixed answers. The introduction of color into major kitchen appliances (beyond white, or as one panelist offered, chocolate) did not appeal to them. Retro appliance colors such as mint green or turquoise felt faddish to them and as one said, “It does not look grown up.”
They welcome color in small appliances, however, since those appliances are more easily replaced and do not affect the resale value of a home. Colored cookware, however, did not appeal to this group, who seemed to prefer stainless steel. And when shopping for gadgets, function trumps fashion; some said they would not buy for color alone. They were also wary of using plastic materials that come in contact with food, for health reasons.