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Selling The New Urban Consumer

Reverse migration from the suburbs back to the cities from which our parent and grandparents fled a couple of generations ago is now well documented.

Block after block of new urban condos, co-ops and rental apartments have been and are being built, in many cases reclaiming entire sections of cities that have been largely uninhabited for years.

If you sell home electronics, you want to pay attention to this. As societal trends go, this is likely one of the more important to come along since the original exodus to the suburbs years earlier.

Get it right and you could hit the sweet spot for new business among urban dwellers. But getting it right requires that you think as differently about your customers’ needs as they must do when moving to the city. Let me use my own experience to make that point.

All my life I have lived in the suburbs, currently in a fairly typical 4,000-square-foot house sitting on an acre in Orange County, California. Being a techno junkie I’ve equipped the place with multi-room A/V, including the pool area, as well as wireless connectivity all around.

About three years ago I bought a second home: a two-bedroom, two-bath, 1,100-square-foot condo on the 21st floor in downtown Seattle. I always wanted to live in a major city and this seemed like a great investment. Besides enjoying Seattle, it was also fun to once again start from the beginning, furnishing the place with everything from dishes to TVs.

Having gone through that process I now see what a different consumer I was in the city relative to the guy who shopped CE for the house in the suburbs. What made me different — aside, obviously, from the smaller living space — were some not-so-obvious factors, such as not having a vehicle to drive to an electronics store and take home my purchases; the need to think about building-association restrictions on noise, and bothering my neighbors; and how I would receive my TV signals. (I chose cable, with no option for satellite.)

And I made mistakes. While I was smart enough to buy an all-in-one amplified surround speaker system, thereby eliminating the need for placing separate speakers in my much diminished space, I did autopilot by buying one with a sub-woofer, only to find I couldn’t practically use it given the affect on the neighbors.

Likewise I set up wireless printing, a must in my suburban home but less urgent in my apartment where everything is within 30 steps.

Looking back three years later, I realize that the advice retail gave me was generic, product-centric, and not suited to my new environment. And therein is the opportunity for any of you selling to the rapidly growing urban population.

Maybe even more important than being able to talk about product, home-technology product sales people need to talk about the environment in which the product will be used, including what the consumer thinks they want to do. In my case, had that conversation occurred I would have been a whole different consumer and more satisfied to boot.

I wish my retail advice giver had done an intervention, forcing me to think through how different my urban and suburban lives would be. Had they done that, I may well have bought more, been happier with what I did buy, and would be far more likely to recommend that particular store.