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 BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich., Dec. 2 /PRNewswire/ -- Holiday shoppers this year are more informed and discerning than ever before, according to a new holiday survey of the nation's leading retailers.
 They are more interested in lifestyles than labels, and, unlike their predecessors of the last decade, they're choosing simple pleasures over glamour and glitz. They recognize quality and expect good service.
 These are the conclusions of 50 senior executives polled by The Taubman Company, one of the nation's largest shopping center developers and managers. The executives represent more than 23,000 stores nationally with combined annual sales of over $16.7 billion. "We've watched the consumer changing over the past few years, and we wanted to see more specifically how these changes would affect gift-giving for the holidays this year," said Gary D. Doyle, The Taubman Company group executive vice president, asset management.
 The New Consumer
 The study highlights five major areas where today's shoppers differ from consumers of the '80s:
 -- They are more informed and sophisticated.
 -- They rank quality and value above price in evaluating a potential purchase.
 -- They want to express themselves through their lifestyles, not through labels.
 -- They are returning to basic, simple pleasures.
 -- They see customer service as a major determining factor in deciding where to shop.
 Although these trends obviously do not affect all consumers equally, retailers report that all five will play major roles in holiday gift decisions this year.
 "We recognized some of these trends during the holiday shopping season last year," said Doyle, "but this is the first holiday when all five of these factors are playing such a significant part in the way we all shop."
 Most retailers feel that these trends will continue throughout the decade, and they say they have already adjusted their inventories, hired more sales help and are putting increased emphasis on customer service to accommodate them.
 Why the Change?
 Dr. Richard Curtin, director of the University of Michigan's Survey of Consumers, sees the changes as the natural result of a sluggish economy coupled with a population of aging baby boomers. The Survey of Consumers is a function of U-M's Institute for Social Research that periodically gauges household attitudes nationwide through in-depth interviews.
 "Recession naturally brings up the issue of durability," Curtin explained. "People want to know that what they buy will last. But concern with price and value also tend to go along with aging. People become more experienced and understanding of products and their impact, durability and cost as they age. Over time, this attitude is growing. Though the changes are minor from year to year, these feelings will be increasing."
 The fact that between one-third and one-quarter of all people living in America were born between 1946 and 1965 and are now approaching middle age has also affected the way people perceive their leisure time. So has the increase in the number of single parents and dual-income families.
 "It's very true that we're feeling pressured by commitments, work and family organization," Curtin observed. "These demands have left people with a sense that they need to guard their time and make special use of their leisure."
 Retailers say they are seeing far more time-stressed consumers who expect knowledgeable, efficient service and well-stocked stores. If they don't find it, they take their money elsewhere.
 The Educated Consumer
 Retailers report that consumers of the '90s no longer want it all and are more knowledgeable about the products they do want. They've traveled more, seen more on television and lived through a decade of computers and high-tech, instant communication. There is a purposefulness to their shopping.
 "Today's consumer is very savvy -- educated about ingredients, aware of the environment and not taken in by fancy claims and stories," observed Cindy Melk, executive vice president and creative director for H2O Plus, a 34-store retailer of natural bath and body products.
 Retailers also find shoppers more educated about how they pay for their purchases.
 "We're seeing the consumer of the '90s as a very smart, value- oriented shopper," observed Sam Merksamer, president of Merksamer Jewelers with 76 stores nationwide. "In the '80s, people were saying: 'Hey, let's go out and buy it, and I'll put it on credit.' Today they still may put it on credit but the determining factor is not $25 or $50 a month, but 'What's the real price?' and 'How is it a real value?'"
 Quality Counts
 To today's consumers, quality and perceived value are even more important than price.
 "Our business is increasing, even though gourmet coffee is a little bit higher in price than other coffees," explained JoAnn Shaw, president of The Coffee Beanery, a gourmet coffee shop with 65 stores in 16 states. "People seem to be willing to pay a bit more for the quality."
 Retailers agree that today's consumers put a premium on quality. They want merchandise that wears well, requires minimal maintenance and will not become quickly outdated.
 To many, that means buying brand-name merchandise by manufacturers with solid reputations for quality merchandise. For others, it means studying consumer publications, comparing more moderately priced private-label alternatives and carefully considering their options.
 But before they buy, they want to be sure they're getting what they want.
 "Every time we've taken a really fine diamond and brought it out at a competitive price, it works," agreed Merksamer. "Anytime we try to go for something flamboyant, bizarre or extraordinary, people look at it and yawn."
 Lifestyles, Not Labels
 With the '90s has come a new interest in lifestyle. More consumers are doing what works for them, rather than what impresses someone else, according to retailers.
 "The '80s mentality was 'Let's acquire new things. Let's spend money. Let's outdo the Joneses,'" observed Ed Juge, director of market planning for 7,000 Radio Shack stores. "I don't think that's happening now. People are looking for good, solid value and products that meet a need rather than being just for show."
 This new interest in personal lifestyle means that consumers are less likely to buy designer labels simply for status. They may buy them for their established quality, or because they represent a lifestyle compatible with their own. But they won't buy them for status alone. In other words, labels still play a part in consumer decisions, but their role has narrowed. Shoppers want to be certain they're paying for more than just a name.
 "I think people may still want the best brands, but they also want to know that the best brands represent good value and that they're not overpaying," agreed Randy Gillett, vice president and chief administrative officer for the 28-store Georgetown Leather Design.
 To satisfy consumers' growing concerns with value for price, many national retailers are entering this holiday season with increased stocks of their own private labels. This year, for the first time, The Children's Palace will sell nothing but its own label apparel in its 170 stores, while Things Remembered has introduced an astounding 500 new private-label items in its 700 stores nationwide.
 The Simple Pleasures
 Consumers' leisure-time priorities have changed dramatically over the last decade, according to the retailers surveyed.
 "The yuppie generation is now in its late 30s and early 40s," observed Steve Holden, president of Sterling Jewelers, parent company for 1,000 jewelry stores, including J.B. Robinson, Kay, Leroy, Shaws, Belden and Black, Starr and Frost. "All of a sudden, people are realizing that they have futures to think about. They have to think about retirement and putting children through college. The attitude of 'Me. Me. Me., I'm going to do it because it makes me feel good, and I'll worry about the payments later,' just doesn't do it anymore."
 But just because consumers have toned down some of the glitz, it doesn't mean they're having less fun. They're just rediscovering life's simple pleasures.
 "Keeping up with the Joneses turned into an all-out competition in the '80s," observed Michael L. Glazer, president of The Bombay Company, which has 331 stores in the United States and Canada. "This brought about a revolt against conspicuous consumerism and stimulated a back-to- basics movement."
 That's why consumers are pampering themselves and those around them with more moderately priced luxury gifts, like gourmet coffee and chocolates and simple drop earrings. And they're spending more on merchandise for health and exercise, personal care and home entertainment.
 The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, for the first time in a decade, consumers this year spent more on food at home than on eating away from home. A recent national Food Marketing Institute survey agrees, finding that 46 percent of consumers are eating out less often.
 "All the research we know of indicates that the home has taken on a greater importance in people's lives," said Kent Larsen, president of the 110-store gourmet kitchenware retailer Williams-Sonoma. "We believe that people's desire to own a home, to spend time at home, to entertain at home, to have a home that's a personal reflection of themselves, is stronger now than it has ever been."
 Brookstone, a 94-store retailer specializing in functional, quality gadgets, games and accessories, credits renewed interest in simple pleasures for a double-digit sales increase in its top stores this year.
 "People aren't getting satisfaction on the job," explained Brookstone President and CEO Merwin F. Kaminstein, "so they're looking for enjoyment elsewhere -- more leisure activities, more alternatives to make them feel good at home."
 New awareness about the environment and ecology has also contributed to a movement back to the basics.
 "The decade of the '90s has brought with it a new breed of consumer," said H2O's Melk. "Shoppers are getting back to basics, demanding products that are straightforward, effective, natural, convenient and priced for value. Excess -- be it in packaging, ingredients or cost -- is out."
 In clothing, the trend shows itself in the popularity of basic, casual clothes like sweaters, polo tops, jackets and athletic shoes. In jewelry, consumers seem to be moving away from cocktail rings and back to versatile pieces that can be worn for any occasion.
 "People lead very active lives," observed Terry Smith, CEO for more than 200 Laura Ashley stores. "No one has time to fuss with their appearance. Looks that are comfortable, stylish and easy to wear are now in demand."
 All-purpose tennis bracelets, for example, have "skyrocketed," overshadowing the once de rigueur diamond cocktail ring in Sterling jewelry stores, according to Holden.
 "Women used to buy expensive dinner rings that they'd wear only for formal dinners," he observed. "You couldn't wear them every day. But it's perfectly acceptable to wear a tennis bracelet to the mall, when you play tennis or when you go out for the evening. It all goes back to being more practical. If you're going to spend that kind of money on jewelry, you want to be able to wear it often."
 Similarly, Kay-Bee Toy and Hobby Shops reports strong demand in its 1,200 stores for old classics like Slinky, Play-Doh, Matchbox cars, Silly Putty, Barbie, Colorforms, Mr. Potatohead, Scrabble and Monopoly.
 Time is a Priority
 Today's shoppers consider time as much a part of the price as the cost of the merchandise itself, according to the retailers surveyed. And they're not willing to spend one minute more than necessary.
 As a result, they're insisting more than ever on superior service, informed sales personnel and well-stocked shelves. If they don't find it, they go elsewhere.
 "Retailers are realizing that they have to greet customers quickly and wait on them rapidly," said Joseph Firestone, president of Electronics Boutique, which operates 245 stores nationwide. "They are making it easier for the customer to buy because they know that customers won't be tarrying in the stores during the '90s. We get the merchandise our customer wants because no one will wait for us to get it. Time is a priority."
 The more closely consumers guard their time, the more efforts retailers are making to speed and simplify shopping. This holiday season, they are offering enticements like free gift-wrapping and delivery. Some, like Audrey Jones, whose 43 stores specialize in large-size fashions, offer private after-hours consultations for customers who can't conveniently shop during normal store hours.
 More Trends
 Other trends that are taking hold for the '90s, according to the retailers, include:
 -- Younger consumers -- children and teenagers -- increasingly influencing the market, particularly in areas like apparel, music and computers. "Kids are buying," explained Diane Laner, marketing director for Babbages, a 202-store computer retailer. "They have their own money, and they're not worried about paying the rent. They just want that great new game and they want it first."
 -- Consumer demand based on concern for nature and the environment. "People are realizing that they can effect change with their buying habits," said David Edward, president and CEO of The Body Shop, U.S., which includes 70 stores specializing in environmentally friendly bath and body products. "With an increasing concern for the environment and social issues, people can make a difference with their purchases."
 -- A return to basic, informative advertising. "People in the '80s were disappointed with products not fulfilling their claims or living up to their expectations," said H2O's Melk. "Now we're seeing less hype. I think that's healthy for businesses, consumers and everyone in general. It's really getting back to where it always should have been."
 Retailers report they saw the new, more mature and discriminating shopper evolving as the '90s approached. And they say they welcome the change.
 "People today are less frivolous than in the '80s," said Donald G. Morrison, executive vice president of American Eagle Outfitters. "We feel this change is very positive for us. We have always stood for honest, non-frivolous products at great prices, and even more people relate to that today."
 The Taubman Company, founded in 1950, owns and manages 20 regional shopping centers in major metropolitan areas from coast to coast. The company is headquartered in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., with offices in San Francisco and New York.
 -0- 12/2/91
 /CONTACT: David I. Silver of The Taubman Company, Inc., 313-258-6800/ CO: The Taubman Company, Inc. ST: Michigan IN: REA SU: ECO

SM -- DEFNS1 -- 8176 12/02/91 07:37 EST
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Date:Dec 2, 1991

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