What’s Next for Home Improvement: Three Big Ideas

Each Fall, home improvement thought leaders and stakeholders come together in Chicago to dig into challenges facing the industry and pull out actionable insights. We walked away from the 2019 edition of the annual Home Improvement Insights Summit with three big ideas:

1. Consumer profiles and expectations are changing as they become better informed through technology.

Today’s consumers have rich, in-depth information at their fingertips and can make more informed decisions than ever before. With technology, touchpoints, paths to purchase and inspiration sources all changing, shoppers get hit with more messaging and more decisions.

In response, brands can stay nimble by focusing on creating value for tech-savvy consumers beyond table stakes needs such as speed and accessibility.

“For home improvement, consumers are knowledge-hungry. Seventy-four percent do research to get as much information as possible before making a purchase. Knowledge is absolutely essential for brick and mortar, but a seamless, effortless experience is also important.”
Amy Anthony, Senior Director of Customer Insights, Loyalty/CRM and Marketing Operations at Lowe’s Companies

“Adaptation is key right now. We are in a space where media is constantly changing because technology is constantly changing. ‘Ask your neighbor’ has now become ‘Ask Google.’
When you can’t try before you buy, brands have to offer other modes like videos and reviews that make you feel like you are experiencing the process. Video has now become a trusted source for information, product transparency and added value.”
Carisha Swanson, Market Director at Hearst Media Group and House Beautiful, in her presentation “Home and the Amazon Effect”

2. A decrease in mobility indicates changing market demands.

Generational differences matter more than ever, as millennials mature into the homebuying market and boomers age in place with more purchasing power than prior generations. For brands, it’s important not to assume rising generations’ preferences will mirror those of the generations before them. As mobility patterns change, so will consumer needs and demands. Businesses that recognize these changing patterns early can stay ahead of the game.

“The top five strongest product categories right now are low- to mid-priced bathroom items, windows and doors, insulation, synthetic decking and yard improvement. What do these have in common? They are purchases catered to homeowners planning to stay in their homes, specific to those with rising incomes, and fall in the low-to-mid price point. It turns out that people who stay in their homes make very different kinds of purchases. Maintenance is more of a consideration.”
Todd Tomalak, SVP of Research at John Burns Real Estate Consulting, in his presentation “Home Improvement Forecast: Product Categories with the Best and Worst Outlook”

“From the 1940s to the 1980s, about one in five Americans moved every year. Today, only about one in 10 Americans move each year, and decline is steepest among young adults. Why is mobility declining? The reason is not known for sure, but an aging population, multigenerational living, different housing structures, housing costs, student debt, the rise of dual-earning households and telecommuting could all have varying impact.”
Riordan Frost, Research Assistant at the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies, in his presentation “Household Mobility and Implications for Home Improvement”

3. Weather isn’t just for small talk anymore, but a serious force to be reckoned with.

Changing and intensifying weather patterns will require the attention of business leaders in the home industry. Smart brands will realize their responsibility and opportunity as the impact of inclement weather grows. Doors are opening for the home to be even more connected to peace of mind, security, wellness and expression — qualities consumers increasingly crave in the face of uncertainty.

“In the 1980s, there was an average of three natural disasters per year with damages costing $1B+. In 2018, there were 14, with the total cost of damage being $92B. One in 8 homeowners is making repairs for weather-related damage. Because we exist at the center of the home, we are the first responders — we address these disasters in real-time. It is our responsibility to address these impacts as well.”
Nino Sitchinava, Ph.D., Principal Economist at Houzz, in her presentation “Home Improvement Market Update”

“Eighty-two percent of millennials are anxious about how climate change will affect their children’s quality of life. Forty-one percent want to be seen as someone who buys green products — and 25% of Americans can name a specific brand they’ve purchased or not purchased because of the environmental record of the manufacturer (up from 6% in the 2000s). But screaming ‘You can save money’ is not the way to connect consumers to environmental products. Health and comfort are the more compelling drivers.”
Susan Shelton, President and CEO at Shelton Group, in her presentation “In Me, On Me, Around Me: Understanding the Health Concerns of Today’s Home Improvement Products Buyer”

“Weather data is not the same as weather analytics. I wish it were that simple! Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it. More than 90% of annual weather-driven sales volatility originates from typical, everyday weather. We must isolate and quantify the weather’s impact moving forward. Don’t chase the weather. Send support in advance where it’s going to be needed.”
Scott Bernhardt, President at Planalytics, in his presentation “Weathering Home Improvement”

Ultimately, we left the conference with a positive outlook. Across the industry, research shows today’s consumers are more knowledgeable and inspired. Emerging generations are fusing new energy and aspirations into the homeownership world. And, home improvement experts are generally optimistic about brands’ ability to better define their place in the category through research-based, consumer-centered strategies.

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