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Smart Buying

The Secrets of Feel-Good Shopping

Merchants make luxuries of everyday objects. Shoppers look for ways to personalize just about everything.

Formerly vice-president of trend, design and product development at Target, Robyn Waters has a consulting firm and is author of The Trendmaster's Guide.

What's in store for consumers this year? You'll see more commodities turned into luxuries. For example, Tea Forte makes tea bags of silk, not wood pulp. Tea leaves are hand-picked from the highest branches and dried in the sun. The bag is shaped like a pyramid, so when you steep the tea, the leaves have space to unfurl. Great design makes this everyday item intriguing.

But more expensive. Just because your income is at a certain level or you don't live in a grand house doesn't mean you can't have great taste. That's what's behind the success of Coach, Starbucks and Target. Caldrea makes aromatherapeutic dish soap that retails for $8 a bottle, compared with $1.99 for Ivory, Dawn or Joy. Not everyone will pay more for tea or dishwashing soap. Consumers are schizophrenic -- they'll wear Prada and drive a Mercedes but go to Costco for necessities.

How else are companies reaching shoppers? You see the paradox of mass customization everywhere. IPods customize the music experience. People worldwide are downloading billions of dollars in ring tones for their cell phones. Some 95% of all Mini Coopers are customized. You can order MM's in your own colors with your own message. Jones Soda is never going to compete with Coke and Pepsi, but for $49 per 12-pack (including shipping) at you can choose a soda flavor and have your own label put on it -- a picture from your graduation or family reunion, or even a photo of your dog.


What else do consumers want? They want companies to make money and do good. Ten years ago, firms practicing social capitalism were considered eccentric, herbalist hippies. Now they're savvy marketers. When you buy Amazon Rainforest vodka, you get a deed for 5,000 square feet of Brazilian rainforest that is in perpetual trust. It's a competitive advantage. People are sick and tired of bad businesses -- the Enrons and all the junk.