Consumers Looking Beyond Price

According to The NPD Group, Inc., a leading market research company, the home improvement*  industry grew two percent in the 12 months ending September 2011 vs. 2010. However, the industry is still down seven percent compared to the same time period in 2009. Despite the industry’s slow growth overall this year and sales results still below what they were two years ago, specialty retailers and online shopping are making significant gains.

Specialty retailers have grown seven percent in home improvement dollar sales, and by double-digits in unit sales volume versus 2009.  This channel now represents 12 percent share of dollar sales and 14 percent of unit sales across the home improvement categories tracked by NPD. The categories with the most noteworthy increases in the specialty channel -- storage and organization, and lawn and garden products -- both experienced strong double digit growth over the past two years.

In addition to the specialty channel, hardware stores also gained some sales momentum, increasing six percent on a dollar basis, compared to the 12 months ending September 2009. While other channels, like warehouse home centers and warehouse clubs showed modest growth in the 12 months ending September 2011, it wasn’t enough to keep up with specialty and hardware store growth.

Online shopping has also seen significant growth, with dollar sales up 15 percent over 2009. Online now represents five percent of all home improvement sales, but is even more important in the specialty channel, representing 20 percent of those sales, with kitchen and bath specialty stores leading the way in the 12 months ending September 2011. Though still accounting for the lion’s share of the market, home improvement brick and mortar sales are down over the last two years.

According to The NPD Group’s consumer tracking service, while price continues to be the top factor in selecting a retailer, a quarter of home improvement consumers now tell NPD their primary reason for shopping at a given retailer is that it is close to their home.  And, for consumers shopping in specialty stores, selection and availability are more important than proximity to their homes.

“Since the start of the economic downturn we’ve entered a new mindset as consumers. People are getting back to their roots and putting an emphasis on supporting local, homegrown businesses.  The aging population is becoming disinterested in traveling outside their home town to a large store, especially with rising gas prices,” said Kevin Gilbert, director, The NPD Group.

“The top five home improvement retailers still command more than 65 percent of unit sales, but the smaller, more specialized retailers are starting to nip at their heels. It is clear that consumers are looking for more and more convenience, be it through online shopping or a store close to home. If specialty stores can continue to offer the price and selection consumers are looking for, they will continue to get the consumers’ attention and their spending dollars,” said Gilbert.

*Home improvement, as tracked by The NPD Group, includes categories in hand tools, power tools, outdoor power equipment, storage and organization, faucets and showerheads, lighting and electrical, fans, and caulk/glue/adhesives.

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