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Live from ICSC: Cool Man, Cool

Retailers and retail real estate professionals looking for money-making new consumer trends should chill. That was the message at a session of the ICSC convention in Las Vegas yesterday. “Nothing could be more uncool than chasing it," said Dave Hickey, the author of Air Guitar at the beginning of the session entitled, "Chasing the Cool." Joined by well-known graphic and package designer Steve Sandstrom, principal of Sandstrom Design, located in Portland, Ore., these two mavens of cool didn't list the latest crazes, from Hawaiian print shirts to Louis Vuitton-Murakami handbags. That would be trendmongering.

Still, understanding what is cool to consumers and why is important. "Cool matters absolutely to the business we're all in," said Henry Beer, co-chairman of Boulder, Colo.-based Communication Arts and the chair of the session. "It is estimated that, last year, somewhere between $190 billion and $300 billion was spent on researching what's cool." What's cool now is next year's trend and business boom.

Coolness is especially important to the Generation Y market, and particularly to the adolescents among them, Hickey explained, because "they are dependent and tremendously self-conscious." Gawky adolescents, many of whom have not come into their own identities just yet, flock toward the cool precisely because it is perceived "as self-aware and self-sufficient." In retailing, then, cool is an attitude that it is easily compromised by aggressive salesmanship: The panelists agreed that word-of-mouth advertising is far more effective than traditional marketing for promoting cool concepts. In fact, Beer said that it is "the only marketing that works."

So, what can retailers do? The best way to create something cool is to trust one's "intuition and instinct," Hickey said. Although it may sound like playground advice, being cool is being yourself-and asserting that point of view, the marketing experts agreed. The panelists pointed to Target as a good example of a retail company that expresses a firm perspective in its marketing, more so than it emphasizes its products.

Another important lesson from trendsetting companies is that they are ruthless about killing off a fading fad and moving on to the next thing. "If somebody out there is going to render you obsolete, it better be you," Sandstrom said.

Another approach is to extrapolate from known products to create the next big saleable thing. "Memory prophecy," as Beer put it, takes a long-ago trend and marries it with the newest technology or other contemporary twist to create a product that is familiar enough to lure consumers, but futuristic enough that they can't dig around in their closets for what they might already own. Think New Beetle.

Related Resources
More from the ICSC 2003 Spring Convention
Retailing Topics in Depth
Development Topics in Depth

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