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Conventional wisdom has it that men are generally not enthusiastic shoppers, unless the shopping involves "things that go vroom, vroom or other boy toys." But conventional roles are changing; men are participating more in the cooking, feeding and housekeeping roles than ever before. Men are becoming far more viable consumers as they become more involved in these activities. Studies show that men move more quickly through stores than women, so retailers have to attract their attention.

In addition, people are naturally more inclined to move to the right when they enter a store, which is why the right side is considered prime real estate, where some of the most important merchandise is placed. But what if you want to move consumers to the back of the store, or other nooks and crannies?

Trendlines shared with us some highlights from color expert Lee Eiseman's address at the 2001 International Housewares Show in last January in which she stated that "the interesting, different and unique use of color will always attract attention — on every level of merchandise."

What's Your Color?

Here's what Eiseman had to say about some of today's most popular colors:

Orange. "With all of the emphasis on orange in the European marketplace, it's important to bear in mind the strong American consumer reaction to orange. Color concepts do change, though many people still associate orange with the 70s or as a fun kids’ color. Some of that changed in the 90s, as more upscale designers have embraced orange. The mindset has changed, but you still need to be careful with the brighter, playful oranges. Lean toward the more attractive, deeper oranges, more in the terra cotta family, not as bright. Also, orange is more accepted in an ethnic context, such as Latino or French country, or in its natural context, such as a carrot-shaped object. Orange is also an appetite stimulant."

Yellow. "This is the color that has always won hands down in all the studies when it comes to sunny, happy, optimistic feelings. The physiological effect is important, because it is the most visible of all colors to the human eye. Anything that is colored yellow has to pop right out in the consumer's vision, coming forward in our line of vision. It's wise to use yellow in some context to draw the consumer's eye to any display.

"Then you have yellow combined with black or gray. Very deep in the human psyche is the notion that when you see black and yellow together it's a warning signal. It's the color of some predatory animals, stinging insects…this deep subliminal memory compels us to look at this color combination. It is also a color combination that says power."

Red. "Red is the ultimate color for suggesting excitement and drama. It is also a primary appetite stimulant. It is highly visible, but not as visible as yellow. Red will attract the eye, but beware of using it in exterior signage, where it can go muddy brown after twilight hours. Accents of red are great when you're showing very simple merchandise, such as strawberries in a white plate."

Green. "Most of the shades in the green family are associated with nature. Any product with which you want to get across a natural feeling, do it in a green. Some greens however, are problematic. If you are using anything around food, be careful with yellow green. It's wonderful in plastics and as an attention-getter at point of purchase, but the stronger, more strident yellow greens are appetite depressants when used in the context of food. Of the green family the most accepted group across all consumer lines, including gender, is the blue-greens."

Purple. "Purple has gained new consumer acceptance. Though ten years ago it was not accepted by men, that has completely gone by the wayside, primarily thanks to many of the big sportswear and sporting goods manufacturers. It is a complex color, imparting a mystical feeling when it leans toward the blue undertones, and a more sensual or quirky feeling when it leans to the red. It is the color people most associate with creativity, and it's underused at point of purchase. The more red used in it, the more attention-getting it will be."

Brown. "The brown family has undergone a tremendous change, gaining a whole new panache in the 90s. Brown is the color of coffee fixed in all kinds of exotic ways, and you see a lot of advertising, in fact a whole lifestyle, engendered by the coffee phenomenon. As a result, brown has earned a new respect. It's considered rich and robust, and is being more widely used in upscale home furnishings and textiles."

Blue. "Blue in all its variations remains the number one consumer favorite, regardless of what shades come and go. Despite changing trends, a large number of consumers remain dedicated to the color blue — and, despite some claims, there's no evidence from studies that blue is an appetite depressant."

White. "While white is often considered a neutral, in fact, though off-white is a neutral, pure white is viewed by the human eye as a brilliant color. Whenever you view a pure, pristine white, it does attract the eye."

Black. "Black is the most powerful presence of all, the quintessential symbol of sleek modernism, of elegance and sophistication. This is a complete flip-flop since the mid-80s, when people associated it with funerals, grief and death. Those associations have taken a back seat to the current view of black."

Reflective Surfaces. "Whether pearlescent or metallic, these are extremely important in display because nothing will attract the human eye faster. People cannot avoid looking at these things. Studies show that these sparkly surfaces are associated with bodies of water, something that we need to live."

Why Customers Buy

Eiseman explained that customers base their purchases on a number of factors:
  • Color. "They know precisely what they want, and that's the color they came in looking for."

  • Category. "They need a flashlight, but color hadn't come into the picture. Once they see the display, they may not have come looking for color, but they will want to see a selection. If the selection is really appealing, you may wind up with an extra sale."

  • Impulse. "The merchandise is so appealing they simply have to have it. Color will play a part in that decision as well. If the merchandise itself doesn't have a lot of color, add some color in a clever way to get them to stop and pay attention."

  • Theme or Mood. "Take for instance Calvin Klein's upscale, Zen feel. This type of buying is a very personal decision, based on emotional reactions. However the products are categorized, people will walk in and immediately attach to them because there's something about it that appeals to their emotions. This takes a very well-organized category."
How Consumers Relate Color to Moods

In her address, Eiseman noted how colors relate to moods and the way consumers identify with them:

Traditional: burgundy, teal, navy, hunter green, gold, plum, slate blue, vanilla. "No matter how we think it goes away, it really doesn't. It represents to many consumers a sense of history and connectedness. As styles come and go, it is a comfort level for these consumers, and it reaches into the kids market as well. As it relates to trends, the burgundy might change toward a claret, for instance."

Nurturing: peach, honey yellows, warm rose, cream, grayed lilac, baby blue, soft green. "For the nesters, the soft pastels and midtones will appeal to this consumer the moment they enter the store." Another popular color mood in the midtone range is Romantic: pink, rose, sage green, lilac, antique while, cameo blue.

Tranquil: blue, blue-green, cool lavender, seafoam green, mauve, light gray, natural. "The tranquility-seekers can't get enough of the cooling blues, blue-greens and some of the lighter greens like a light mint, colors that play into creating that sense of tranquility."

Contemplative: neutral gray, beige, taupe, off-white with colored accents. "The Zen, feng shui influence of the past years draws a consumer seeking simplicity, a consumer who will always wind up with some neutral tones and natural themes, no matter what you show them. They generally like the merchandise to be understated, and if they use color at all, it will be understated and calming."

Whimsical: true red, bright blue, daffodil, kelly green, orange, periwinkle, vibrant pink. "This is all about fun and bright colors, intense shades we traditionally associate with younger or highly artistic consumers. This is changing, and is less about age today and more about lifestyle. Don't think of brighter color as being for kids markets and not for adult markets."

Another color mood category for people who prefer deeper, more intense color is Sensuous: warm red, mango, plum purple, hot pink, gold, deep blue, chocolate. "This consumer prefers exotic themes and craves the unusual, including animal prints and imagery. Unusual use of color is also prized by this market. The sensualists like their colors to be lush and full-bodied, spicy, warm and sultry."

Eiseman also touched briefly on some other color moods, including Casual-outdoor lifestyle, natural and rustic in feeling with artifacts from nature and color combinations that bring the outdoors in; and the Eclectics, the best impulse buyers "because they like it all. The mood is less important than the fact that the object tweaks their imagination," she concluded.

It's clear that color plays a major role in consumer buying: bear this in mind when planning your next product.

Editor's Note: Used with the permission of the International Housewares Association. Lee Eiseman will present two new seminars at the 2002 International Housewares Show, Chicago, USA, January 13-15, 2002. Information and registration are available from the International Housewares Association web site at

Also, this article was first published on, an international marketing and business development site. Published with permission of Trendlines International Ltd.

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