Purchase incidence of tabletop products was 16 percent in 2003, about even with results of the 2000 survey, after jumping sharply in 2001 to 26 percent. With purchase incidence going up and down, it is likely to be driven by home entertaining and other special occasion needs, including wedding occasions where tabletop is popular.

For example, more specialty retailers are merchandising their dinnerware departments with specially themed groupings that are offered as a more prestigious option than paper plates for entertaining or other special occasions. The patterns are clearly not intended for permanent, long-term use. A recent trip to Pier 1 found a whole range of very attractively priced, color-coordinated tabletop items for spring, including dinnerware, chargers, stemware, napkin rings, and table linens, perfectly suited to setting a spring-fling table, but clearly not appropriate for year-round use. So instead of going to Wal-Mart and spending $10 on tacky paper places, you can go to Pier 1 and drop a $100 but set your party table in much more style.

More sophisticated consumers are expanding their selection of dinnerware from everyday and formal patterns by buying different dinnerware patterns to match the season, holiday, or special mood of the occasion. For many tabletop companies, their holiday dinnerware patterns, such as the classic Christmas tree pattern from Spode and Lenox's holiday pattern, are suited only to use from the day after Thanksgiving until New Year's, but the holiday lines are among their company's strongest sellers. Home-decorating mavens, notably Martha Stewart, have promoted the trend to mix and match different dinnerware patterns by teaching consumers how to pull off the tricky business of setting the table with a more polished style.

Industry Snapshot

With retail sales tracked in the housewares category by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, sales of tabletop dinnerware, including china and other dinnerware, glassware, and flatware, including sterling silver and crystal, totaled $19.6 billion, up 2.4 percent over sales of $19.2 billion in 2000 (see Figure 8.20). Tabletop items are also popular gifts for weddings and housewarming occasions.




% CHG '00-'02

Total Personal Consumption in millions




  • China and other dinnerware




  • Flatware




  • Glassware




  • Silver serving pieces




  • Other serving pieces




Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis; Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey Diary

Figure 8.20: Tabletop Dinnerware, Flatware, Glassware, and Serving Industry Snapshot

Retail Overview

Traditional department stores, rather than the discount department stores, are the primary source for shoppers in this category. Some 39 percent of tabletop buyers turned to a traditional department store to buy this class of goods. On the other hand, discount department stores garnered 28 percent of the shoppers, as other specialty stores drew 21 percent. Nonstore retailers, including the Internet, television, and direct mail, are a growing outlet for tabletop capturing 12 percent of tabletop purchasers in the past year.

The tabletop industry is finding new outlets for its products as consumers turn to the national specialty home furnishings chains for tabletop and dinnerware. Crate & Barrel, Williams-Sonoma, and Pottery Barn rank among the top 25 tabletop retailers nationwide. Department stores continue their stronghold on the bridal market, but specialty stores are also joining the game, as many, such as Pier 1, have already instituted bridal registries within their stores. At mass-market retailers, Martha Stewart's Everyday at Kmart and Michael Grave's work with Target are attracting a new clientele for tabletop.

Purchase Drivers

The market for tabletop, particularly what is called the "upstairs" market for fine china, crystal, and sterling, has been traditionally associated with the bridal market. Each year 2.2 to 2.5 million Americans get married. As a result, the bridal market for tabletop has been stable since 1970. The bridal market is expected to grow over the next five to ten years, as the millennial generation (i.e., the babies of the baby boomers born from 1977 to about 1994 and numbering 71 million in all) reaches young adulthood and first marriage.

With tabletop manufacturers primarily focused on department stores as an outlet for their bridal business, the continued decline in department stores as a retailing force is likely to have a negative impact on the tabletop industry as well. Today's brides are turning to specialty retailers offering patterns and styles that are a better match with their more casual lifestyles. As a result, the traditional fine china and dinnerware companies are losing their connection with their key target market. One young married woman said: "I have a lot of stuff I got as wedding gifts. All it does is sit in the china cabinet and gather dust. It looks nice, but with the kids, I find we use paper plates when we have parties." Another describes it this way: "You get married and you pick what you want. Then you put it away and use it once a year. It is nice to have for holidays or special occasions, but it is something you do once and then it fades. I was all excited when I got it, but after the first year, it's no big deal anymore."

After age 35 or so, women often return to the tabletop market to replace their original bridal patterns with styles more suited to whom they have become. One table devotee put it this way: "Tabletop is all about your stage in life. I have had china ever since we were married, but it doesn't fit me anymore. I only use it at Christmas. I love to set a nice table, but I prefer something different today." A passion for tabletop may strike more mature consumers as they venture back into the market to find new styles: "Tabletop is my passion. I love good crystal and setting a really nice table. I have four different china patterns that I use on different occasions. Tabletop is my hobby."

Demographic Variables

The purchase of tabletop china, dinnerware, crystal, and sterling and stainless flatware is usually a joint decision, with men and women reporting a nearly equal purchase incidence in the past year. In 2003, there are two peak age periods for the purchase of tabletop: the youngest consumers, aged 18 to 24, setting up house, and the empty-nesters, aged 45 to 54. Purchase incidence of tabletop drops sharply after age 65. Hispanic households had the highest purchase incidence of tabletop, due primarily to the emphasis the Latino culture places on food and family gatherings.

Rising household income is linked to purchase, with the more affluent households of $50,000 and above more active buying tabletop. For this category, the presence of children or size of household is not linked to purchase incidence.

Key Demographics of Buyers of Tabletop China, Etc.

  • This category is gender neutral.

  • Higher-income households, those of $50,000 and above, buy more.

  • The two prime markets are households aged 18 to 24 and 45 to 54.

  • Hispanics buy more.

Why People Buy Things They Don't Need. Understanding and Predicting Consumer Behavior
Why People Buy Things They Dont Need: Understanding and Predicting Consumer Behavior
ISBN: 0793186021
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 137

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