"The Thinning Middle" Challenges Mid-Priced Housewares Companies
Aug 19, 2003
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Mid-priced housewares retailers and brands face a challenge as consumers increasingly "shop up" for quality and specialty products or "shop down" for lower prices and wide selections, according to the Summer 2003 edition of Housewares MarketWatch, recently released by the International Housewares Association (IHA). For the issue, IHA partnered with The NPD Group to feature point-of-sale and consumer panel data and analysis on small appliances and non-electric housewares from NPD Houseworld. According to IHA, the small appliance categories include kitchen electrics, personal care, home environment, and floor care.

According to IHA, market polarization, which has also been called "the thinning middle," indicates important change in the retail landscape. In the feature article for Housewares MarketWatch, Dennis Brown of The NPD Group writes that an hourglass can help to illustrate "the thinning middle." According to Mr. Brown, luxury brands and specialty retailers occupy the top of the hourglass, chosen for expert knowledge and customer service. At the other end of the hourglass are value-priced brands and discount retailers—products and places consumers choose based on product selection and lower prices—while the middle of the hourglass is occupied by the mid-priced brands and retailers.

According to Mr. Brown, market polarization may be seen in a wide range of products, including the small kitchen appliance category. For example, in his article, Mr. Brown reports that the unit share for automatic drip coffeemakers priced under U.S. $20 increased from 46.5 percent of the market in 2000 to nearly 52 percent in 2002. Coffeemakers priced above $40 increased their unit share by 3 share points during the same period. But, the article continues, units priced in the middle (between $20 and $40) lost unit share, dropping from 34 percent to 26 percent.

Housewares MarketWatch also reports that, comparing the six months ending Nov. 2002 to the same period in 2001, mass merchants and warehouse stores increased their dollar share from 44.8 percent to 49.7 percent, while department stores and specialty stores grew from 17.8 percent to 19.2 percent. But the mid-market was down 4.7 percent to 17.7 percent.

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