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Editor's note: Consumer Data Matters

Try developing a planogram that works in the suburbs of New York City or Los Angeles, and put it in place at a store in rural Georgia or Nebraska. See how well that works for you.

In what appears to be one in a series of articles that shows the dramatic differences between the way people live in different parts of the country, The New York Times published an article earlier this month that showed the big gap in the ages, education and wealth of women as they have their first child. As can be expected, women in the Boston to Washington corridor, along the West Coast and in certain pockets around major metropolitan areas throughout the country waited much longer to have
their first child.

In areas around San Francisco and New York, for example, the average age of a woman when she had her first child was more than 30 years old. In more rural parts of the country, the average age was closer to 20 years old. The article also noted that those who waited to have children tended to be much more educated, wealthier and more able to have the discretionary income to give their kids more. Bottom line: They spend more in stores, and I bet they pay a lot less attention to price points and more attention to assortment and quality.

Retailers and suppliers must be willing to spend more and more attention to the data and research that will allow them to cater to consumers in specific areas of the country. And, yes, that might have to be done on a focused zip code by zip code basis to truly be able to offer specific shoppers the products they demand, at the price points they can tolerate.

The move to national retailers over the last 30 years has many advantages for the merchant. First and foremost, it gives them the muscle to work better deals with suppliers, and using that to give their increasingly price-sensitive shoppers better prices on store shelves. It also gives them the wherewithal to be better marketers and merchandisers.

As any politician up for re-election will tell you, more money in the till means more exposure on the street, and that can often be the difference between victory and defeat.

But national retailers also can lose focus on the fact that retail is still mostly a local business. While they all know that they cannot sell a lot of winter jackets in Florida, they may not be realizing that merchandising and product assortment can impact just about any category.

Using quality research that can help define a chain and its business,
store-by-store, is vital. Knowing what people want in specific areas will only help the merchant — and their suppliers — develop a better relationship with their targeted shoppers and lead to more sales and profits over the short and long term.

There is no typical consumer anymore — maybe there never was. Now its time to discover who is out there.
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