Finding a way to relieve stress motivates three-fourths of survey respondents in their discretionary purchases. Stress relief results from the act of shopping—from the relief and satisfaction felt upon culminating an anticipated purchase and from the product itself. Stress relief is an important benefit in the marketing of aromatherapy, candles, bath products, whirlpools, hot tubs, and small personal-care appliances.
In the post-9/11, terrorist-threatened world, consumers face an emotional crisis. Threats to personal security, when combined with economic uncertainty and rising global tension, create a feeling of stress for many Americans. When people are under stress, they fall back upon past behaviors that have proven successful in the past for relieving stress. In the aftermath of September 11, some consumers turned to comfort foods. Others turned to the gym and strenuous activity for stress release or returned to old vices such as cigarettes and alcohol. Still others turned their feelings of stress into a justifier for more shopping.
When the crisis is long lasting or intensifies, stress relief will play a bigger role in shopping behavior. At the same time, consumers can cause themselves more stress by making expenditures they perceive as extravagant. Extravagance is in the eye of the beholder, but we can describe it as a purchase that a buyer cannot rationally justify. The higher the price, the harder consumers must work to find justifiers to give permission to make the purchase.
In the post-9/11 crisis, the sale of indulgence products, life's little luxuries that can be bought without guilt, will be vibrant for some time. Marketers and retailers need to be aware of new frugality taking hold in the American consumer characterized by a desire to get more perceived value for the money. Now is not the time to raise prices, but to look at ways to engineer products or find new suppliers in order to offer more indulgence value for a lower price. Promotions that focus on delivering more to the consumers, such as "two for the price of one" or "buy two get one free," are on target for today.
Consumers crave the comfort of traditions to relieve stress, so there is new demand for products that enhance and support family traditions. These include such things as Christmas and Hanukkah decorations, dinnerware for family get-togethers, kitchenware and kitchen décor, candles and fireplace or hearth products that "keep the home fires burning," and games and entertainment products that encourage high-quality family time. Back-to-basic toys give parents a chance to get down on the floor and play with their kids. Our holiday celebrations will hearken back to the past, as we try to re-create a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving and a Victorian Christmas.
Suddenly, Made in America becomes a much more potent positioning statement, as buying American is now a patriotic duty. While Americans accept products manufactured in foreign countries, they will look for foreign-made goods that are produced for an American company. They also may look at labels to find out where goods are made and reject products manufactured in perceived terrorist nations, including Indonesia. Be forewarned: If your company's products are manufactured in any of these countries, be prepared to change manufacturing sources fast.
Products that convey a symbolic or inspirational meaning will be in great demand, especially flags and patriotic-themed products. Do not expect consumers to lose interest in displaying, wearing, or flying the "red white and blue" anytime soon. Inspirational themes, from God Bless America to angels, will attract more and more consumers as they seek peace in spiritual renewal. Bible sales, along with inspirational book titles, will see an upswing.
Nostalgia-themed products that recall a better, simpler time will bring comfort to consumers. Greeting cards, scrapbooks, diaries, and other products that enable personal communication will be in demand.
Inevitably, consumers seeking stress relief are going to change their shopping patterns. They may retreat to the safety of their home. When they shop, they may want to spend less time at the store. They will do more of their weekly shopping in a single shopping trip. More shopping will be done from home, with consumers turning to the Internet, mail-order catalogs, even party-based and other direct-selling businesses for their shopping needs.
Women are more strongly motivated than men by stress relief in their pursuit of discretionary products. Relaxation, a justifier closely aligned to stress relief, appeals more strongly than stress relief to both genders. Consumers aged 18 to 54 place a higher priority on stress relief. This justifier is not motivating to consumers aged 55 or older. Black consumers respond more strongly to stress relief in their discretionary purchases, while people living in households with two or more individuals consider it an important motivator for their purchases. Less-educated consumers feel more stress and seek relief more often in purchasing discretionary products.