The prevailing sentiment of many housewares vendors and retailers finds the guarded optimism typical of challenging times overwhelmed by uneasiness as they head deeper into the second half.
The lack of back-half clarity for many follows slumbering retail sales reports across most channels, off-price outlets, dollar stores and certain e-commerce segments among the notable exceptions.
Housewares insiders seem frustrated in their inability to corral a single, overriding reason for the retail malaise. The usual pre-presidential-election apprehension, while cited by many as a potential culprit this year, this time doesn’t seem as unifying an answer. Meanwhile, the continuing shift of business to e-commerce, a convenient rationale for wobbly store results, can’t explain away an overall soft retail marketplace when some other economic factors seem favorable.
Another reason to consider for the slip or, at best, stagnancy in retail housewares traffic is that this business, often insulated from severe dips by its basic status, still enjoys a lift when it can ride big, flagship items.
While there are many solid mainstays to stabilize the foundation of the housewares business— and there is hope for the continuing rollout of smart home and health products— there does not seem to be a breakthrough, traffic-driving anchor for the holiday season.
Single-serve coffee, soda makers and high-end blenders, for example, each played a lead role in recent years to attract shoppers into housewares departments. Actually, these categories retained that role for longer than might have been expected because there were few options in waiting to take the lead. They were bound to slow at some point for varied reasons.
Even the consumer electronics business has yet to produce an irresistible holiday-season draw on which other retail classifications can piggyback.
Even if a surprise product emerges to take the market by storm or retailers figure out how to turn the Pokémon Go craze into a bona fide store attraction (seriously), this business faces an intense ground battle for market share during the back half. Discounting early and often will no doubt be the ammunition of choice for many.
The mettle of retailers hoping to build stronger identities around more than just price— largely by enriching the experience in stores and online— could be tested in the torrent of their scramble to make up for a rough first half as quickly as possible.
But their prognosis beyond the looming holiday season could depend on their ability to commit to more creative methodologies for stimulating and retaining business built confidently around basics and in the absence of a single product or category tasked to do most of the heavy lifting.
Christmas always comes in the retailing business. But without a blockbuster new product in housewares this year to carry the season, it will be interesting to see what retailers can do to sway the sentiment heading into 2017.