Before moving into an exploration of the things people buy that they do not "need," we will first examine a category that most Americans view as a necessity—major household appliances. A focus group participant explains the decision-making process that she and her husband went through to decide between buying a refrigerator or an entertainment center for the new home they are building:
Our most recent purchase of something we didn't "need" was an entertainment center. We already have one, but we are building a brand-new house and we wanted something new for the house. Now that we are building, things are tight. We could have used the entertainment center we had, but we decided to buy a new one and move the old one into another room. There are other things we need for the home, like a refrigerator. The entertainment center could have been put on hold, but it was one of those things . . . we were in the right place at the right time. We went a little bit over what we needed in an entertainment center in terms of price. We upgraded the wood, so the price went up. It was an opportunistic purchase.
For this homeowner, a refrigerator is a "necessity," required for this family to maintain its way of life. With money tight and the couple struggling to balance the demands of building a new home while maintaining the current one, their decision to buy a luxury—a new entertainment center—rather than the necessity is inexplicable. In buying the entertainment center, they even went over their budget by ordering the center in a more expensive wood. They realize that they did not need to buy a new entertainment center, but purchasing the center gave this couple so much more pleasure and satisfaction than buying a new refrigerator. Lying under the surface of her story is a realization. The couple believes they will always have enough money to satisfy their need for the basics (e.g., a refrigerator). However, when confronted with deciding between purchasing a luxury and buying a necessity, they go for the purchase that is compelling and emotionally satisfying. Need can wait because it will always be satisfied, but want and desire drive purchases, because you never know when you will find exactly what you long for.
Need can wait, but want and desire drive purchases.
Retailers and marketers of major appliances can learn much about selling necessities from knowing more about the reasons people buy things they don't need. First, let us recognize the two reasons why people buy appliances: to replace a worn-out appliance and to equip a newly built home. Industry marketers perceive housing starts as the major opportunity because a single housing start generates sales of five to eight major appliances, whereas replacement purchases tend to be limited to a single appliance. Practical considerations, product features, and benefits are the primary drivers for sales of a particular item, but price, credit terms, and conditions also play a role. Brand is also important in the purchase decision as it carries a quality and reliability message. Consumers who have had a satisfactory experience with one brand in the past are already inclined toward the same brand in subsequent purchases.
Marketing strategist, Sergio Zyman, known for his years as brand executive for Coca-Cola, provides the best definition of marketing in his book, The End of Marketing as We Know It:
Marketing is how to sell more things to more people more often for more money.
Major appliance retailers, manufacturers, and marketers will sell more major appliances to more people more often for more money by turning their products from a necessity into a "desirable" that provides not just essential functionality but emotional satisfaction. The remainder of this chapter explains how they can do just that.
Major appliance retailers, manufacturers, and marketers will sell more by turning their products from a necessity into a "desirable" that provides emotional satisfaction.