‘Warm Fuzzies’ Sell as Good as They Feel

In the wake of Sept. 11, many Americans have experienced a renewed sense of home, hearth, and community. Just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, an article in Newsweek magazine reported several significant indicators of Americans’ changing priorities. Not surprisingly, spirituality and patriotism were up and travel was down, with some dollars diverted from plane tickets to other categories.

Some significant purchase data: Pass the comfort food! According to food and cookware purveyors such as Williams-Sonoma, the Whole Foods grocery chain, and the National Potato Promotion Board, sales of Butterball turkeys, pans to roast them in, and mashed potatoes to accompany them increased between 8% and 9% for Thanksgiving 2001 compared with last year’s figures. Reidel, an upscale maker of crystal wineglasses, saw its pre-Thanksgiving sales surge 21%, and based on reports from various furniture retailers across the nation, “cocooning” (a fancy term for staying home, coined by futurist Faith Popcorn in the early 1990s) is back. Customers are passing up many of the stark mid-century modern designs that have decorated furniture magazines and catalogs over the past few years in favor of big, overstuffed, comfy, cuddly pieces. Sales and rentals of videos and DVDs are up dramatically, as are sales of popcorn.

And people are connecting to one another. Aside from a spike in attendance at religious services and in community events after the attacks, anecdotal evidence from jewelers and other wedding-related businesses shows a rise in engagements and weddings following Sept. 11. Sociologist Stephanie Coontz at Evergreen State College in Washington told Newsweek this is not surprising. However, if it follows the pattern of World War II—the last time America was attacked on its own soil—a short-term rise in weddings and drop in divorces will be followed by a spike in divorce rates when some of the hasty “war” marriages don’t work out.

Forward-thinking jewelers may want to plan some remount events for a year or two hence, but a more immediate strategy is in order to boost sales this year: beefing up their selection of baby gifts, ready for delivery by June 11. Tamara Kreinin, president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, told Newsweek there may be another boom next summer—babies, not bombs.