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October 11, 2012 • Sarah Schwartz
Editor’s Letter: Overcoming a Maelstrom

Reading a Forbes.com blog post by Pam Goodfellow, BIGinsight’s director of consumer insights, I was struck by her description of our current climate as an “economic maelstrom.” I wasn’t sure of maelstrom’s definition, so I checked the Random House dictionary I’ve had since college. According to it, “maelstrom” is: 1. A large, powerful or violent whirlpool; or 2. A restless, disordered or tumultuous state of affairs.

Aside from a general reluctance to acknowledge our situation as such, I’m struck by how well the term describes it. How many business entities and indeed, people’s lives, have been sucked into our maelstrom? The fatalities seem endless. Furthermore, we’ve just entered the last 100 days prior to an incredibly contentious election, so the end is nowhere in sight.

Goodfellow wrote: “Shoppers went from ‘spend now, worry later’ to an ‘abort spending, worry, worry, worry’ mindset. Holiday 2008 was an absolute disaster for most retailers, and, to this day, they are still trying to coax shoppers back in their stores. According to some of our latest insights, consumer confidence continues to trend below an ideal range, employment — or rather, unemployment — remains a chief concern, while decreasing overall spending is a priority to an increasing number of consumers.”

Describing frugality as “the new normal,” Goodfellow predicted a continuation of heavy coupon usage, a strong focus on budgets, targeted spending and price comparisons. The news is not all bad, however; BIGinsight reported economic sentiment rising from June to July, with 32.8 percent of consumers saying they are very confident or confident in chances for a strong economy, up from June’s 31.3 percent. While that figure is a healthy jump from July 11’s dismal 26.5 percent, it’s well below July 20007’s pre-recession 47.8 percent.

So what is a retailer to do? “It’s all about the consumer,” Goodfellow reminded. “Know who your shoppers are, what they are planning or willing to buy and adjust your merchandising mix, marketing strategy and inventory levels accordingly.”

I wholeheartedly agree. Those retailers who are thriving are masters of promotion. Get on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and broadcast your brand, your promotions and most of all, your distinctive aesthetic and personality. Look to fellow entrepreneurs in other cities who do this well, like Grace Kang of New York’s Pink Olive or Chandra Greer of Greer Chicago. They’re just a few of many! Treat your customers as you wish to be treated as a consumer, and they’re yours for life. And of course, stay positive. Nothing draws you into a maelstrom faster than a negative attitude.

Sarah Schwartz, editor




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