A simpler life ahead?

If you don’t understand what consumers want now, wait until 2001, when three seemingly contradictory themes will drive consumer spending: spirituality, luxury, and technology.

“When you come close to a millennium, spirituality becomes very important,” says Scott Busch, vice president of J. Schmid & Associates, a Shawnee Mission, KS-based catalog consulting firm. “Everyone’s rethinking their sense of themselves.”

To cash in on this “rethinking,” look for more products that promote physical and spiritual well-being, says merchandise consultant Leila Griffith. Merchandise such as Zen rain chimes, which “enhance a meditative lifestyle,” she says, will be in demand, and muted, nature-inspired colors such as seafoam and curry will dominate.

“As boomers get older, we won’t need a lot of toys,” says Bob Anderson, president of Walnut Acres, a Penns Creek, PA-based catalog of organic gourmet foods. “We’ll look for things to simplify maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” such as bread makers.

Simplification will also be a theme in home decor, says Michelle Lamb, founder of Minneapolis-based trend forecasting firm Marketing Directions. Consumers will be more drawn to contemporary-style furniture, she says, “because it represents a minimalist point of view.” Lamb also predicts that contemporary styles could account for 20% of furnishings sales by 2001.

But not everyone will be simplifying. If the economy continues to thrive, as expected, New York trend consultant Judith Langer expects to see demand rise for status symbols such as luxury cars and electronic “gizmos.” And according to Bob Wilkins, senior vice president of merchandise and product management for Milford, NH-based computer catalog PC Connection, consumers will have gizmos aplenty to choose from. Computers will become “smaller and faster” to the point where people will be able to carry a personal digital system on their belts, he predicts.

But though the merchandise of Garnet Hill will probably not change to include high-tech gizmos, director of merchandising Diane Brush thinks the Franconia, NH-based apparel and domestics catalog nonetheless stands to benefit from consumers’ increasingly high-tech lifestyles. “When you can stay home to bank and write e-mail, your home becomes really important,” she says. “That’s an amazing opportunity for us to sell cotton sheets.”

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