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Census 2010 Offers Industry Window to the Future

The 2010 U.S. Census will be an information-driven crystal ball for the fashion crowd.

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The 2010 U.S. Census will be an information-driven crystal ball for the fashion crowd.

This story first appeared in the March 31, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

It is likely to portray a fast-changing population marked by increasing diversity and provide key information to help executives make decisions involving billions of dollars of merchandise, marketing and capital expenditures.

Asked what trends they’re anticipating, market researchers, demographers, retailers and census officials cited the country’s growing multiculturalism, particularly the continuing rise in the number of Hispanics, new household composition, an aging population, fewer owners of second homes and more renters.

Hispanics, the nation’s fastest-growing population, numbered 46.9 million in 2008, up 8.6 percent from 43.2 million in 2006, according to the Census Bureau’s July 2008 Annual Population Estimate.

Census data will be drawn upon in wide-ranging ways by retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp. and Best Buy Co. Inc., which will use the demographic trends that are revealed to shape marketing campaigns; locate, renovate or close stores, and tailor merchandise offerings to suit local tastes.

“We’ve seen a lot of change, a lot of diversity in the last decade in this country,” said Joan Naymark, director of market analytics and planning at Target. “So we’ll understand where these groups are, where new households are forming and learn about the increasing number of Baby Boomer retirements.

“This will bring changes in household composition,” Naymark, a member of the Census Advisory Committee, said of shifts such as the increasing number of single-person households and the first decennial count of same-sex homes and partners.

“Our stores operate in neighborhoods defined by demographics of the decennial census and augmented by the [Census Bureau’s] annual American Community Surveys,” Naymark explained, referring to data that is used to reach specific groups through Target’s marketing campaigns and to understand language needs in advertising, among other things. “We have a multicultural program addressing the needs of particular neighborhoods” and will be looking at changes in the “number of Hispanic and African-American customers as well as the number of families” in various locales.

Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, expects the census “to shed light on the growing multicultural population, and a population that is in flux and on the move in America,” said spokeswoman Linda Blakely.

“It will provide a valuable perspective on how American families — our customers — live today,” Blakely said. “The results will complement our market research and help guide how we serve shoppers nationally, regionally and locally.”

Despite the proliferation of targeted marketing campaigns, John Gerzema, chief insights officer at Young & Rubicam, said, “With the prevalence of Hispanics in the U.S.,” we’ll see if marketers start to accept that “it’s just our culture — it’s not simply a vertical market, which is how a lot of marketers look at it. They treat it as a bespoke business.”

The extent to which the recession has “impacted population distribution” is a key question that Stacy Janiak, vice chairman and leader of the U.S. retail practice at Deloitte, said she will be looking to answer with the new census results. “Has there been more population movement into urban areas and a decline in the ‘suburbanization’ of the last three decades?” she asked. “How has the location of jobs changed?”

Another big question is “how much of a bust the [Great Recession] has been,” said Margo Anderson, a University of Wisconsin professor of history and urban studies and author of several books on the census. The number of recent immigrants who have left the U.S. in the absence of good job opportunities, and the extent to which people are still migrating to the country’s southern and western regions, will be among the most pertinent information, she said.

Chico’s FAS Inc. will be looking at census results made available next spring with an eye on the growth or decline in population of specific locales, median female age, the number of females ages 35 to 64 — Chico’s primary customers — and the number and location of seasonal homes.

The women’s apparel retailer, which has a new management team focused on the needs of its core Baby Boomer shoppers, anticipates using the data to evaluate the prospects of potential boutiques, relocations, expansions and closings, said Mike Russell, director of research.

“In all cases, we try to monitor nationwide demographic shifts and micro-demographics in individual store trading areas, such as population growth, or decline, and the use of seasonal housing,” Russell said. During a “recent real estate review” of southeast Florida — from Miami to West Palm Beach — the company found a Chico’s boutique at The Falls in Miami had the “highest proportion of Hispanics living in its trade area.” In response, Russell stated, “Chico’s elected to step up efforts to employ bilingual associates in the boutique. We also decided to include a Hispanic voice-over in our media campaign.”

Although demographic studies such as the American Community Surveys provide snapshots of three million households, or 2.5 percent of the U.S. population — now estimated at 308.9 million people — only once every 10 years does the public get a broad-based look at how it’s changing.

Followers of this evolution get a sense of things through the smaller, more frequent samples, but it is by using the decennial census that has been taken every 10 years since 1790 that they can bring the big picture into sharper focus.

The nation’s growing diversity is reflected in the 28 languages used in the government’s $340 million census marketing campaign, encouraging people to return the newly simplified 10-question forms, which began going out this month to 130 million households and will be accepted through Sept. 30.

At stake is annual funding of $400 billion to $500 billion — money that will be granted to cities, municipalities, counties and states in each of the next 10 years, affecting quality of life and businesses’ subsequent willingness to invest in and serve various locales, noted Stephen Buckner, deputy chief public information officer at the Census Bureau. Starting with basic demographic data, such as a person’s zip code, given in a census form, for instance, retailers and other businesses can get a handle on the home values, monthly income, employment and education levels of local communities.

Single-person households now account for 25 percent of occupied homes — “the biggest change in the prior [decennial] census,” Anderson said.

Though this will be the first decennial census to tally same-sex households and same-sex partners, The Williams Institute at UCLA Law School has estimated there are 565,000 such homes and there are 35,000 legally married same-sex couples, based on the 2008 American Community Survey and the institute’s own surveys.

Among the 200,000 public- and private-sector partners the Census Bureau is engaging to raise the public’s participation are retailers like Target and Best Buy and media giants such as Comcast.

Target has placed pro bono public-service ads nationwide, encouraging participation in the census in its weekly newspaper shopping circulars, this month.

Comcast is televising three pro bono public-service commercials via its cable system worth “well over $2 million in media time,” with one of the spots featuring Eva Longoria Parker, Buckner said.

And during the first three weeks of March, Best Buy ran Census 2010 TV spots on HDTV flat screens in its 1,068 Best Buy stores nationwide. Those spots originally were telecast in February by NBC during the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

The Census Bureau’s own effort to market the 2010 Census is the largest ever and marks only the second time the government agency has done so. This year’s spending of $340 million to market it compares with $167 million spent on Census 2000, when participation rose for the first time in 30 years.

“As the population grows more diverse, it gets tougher to count the population,” Buckner said.

While the Census Bureau is not projecting a return rate it expects this year, Buckner said: “We’d love it to hit 72 percent again,” the rate for Census 2000.

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