The future of retail is seemingly not what it used to be. A few years ago we were talking about trendy new terms such as premiumisation, masstigue, transumerism, pop-up retail and third spaces. We were also witnessing the emergence of Shopping 2.0 (a cross between Web 2.0 and online retail). Globalisation was also making a huge impact on everything from product sourcing to outsourcing.
And, of course, everything was about either convenience or experience, which was turning almost everything into either a big-box out-of-town mega-store or a niche, sensory-laden, high street, destination store.
So what’s changed? Quite a bit.
1. Cheap is now cool
The impact of the global financial crisis has slowed things down. It has also re-localised and re-simplified consumer attitudes and behaviour. People still shop online and source things globally but the focus has shifted to what’s in our own backyards. Frugality is back in style and so too is utility, thrift and no-frills. We are no longer ashamed to buy things second-hand and it is now cool to be buying cheap. People are even bragging about how little certain items have cost rather than how much. Quite a turnaround.
2. People are trading down
Shoppers are trading down between segments. For example, if you once bought premium-priced products in a supermarket you are now more inclined to buy everyday brands, whereas people that were previously buying everyday brands are now buying value brands. The same is true with our choice of supermarkets. Aldi is now more in tune with the tight-fisted times than Marks & Spencer. Dollar stores, pound shops and discount retailers are also doing well in the new budget conscious environment.
3. We are buying second-hand
Garage sales, boot sales, second hand shops and online auction sites are now more popular than ever but even when we are buying new we are adopting a second-hand mindset and we are inclined to haggle over price. We are generally not splashing out on big-ticket items but don’t think that this means that spending has stopped. Value rather than price is now the important factor. Equally, we are now more likely to look after things rather than throw them away at the first sign of trouble. This trend also means that vintage items and events such as clothing swaps are doing well.
4. People are creating and consuming at home
A recession is nature’s way of getting people to grow their own vegetables. It is also a good way to get the family back around the kitchen table. Sales of home baking products are on the rise and so too are home-brewing kits. People are even making their own fun with family scrapbooks and presumably it won’t be too long before we see the return of other nostalgic pursuits ranging from dress making to bread baking.
5. Consumers want to be in control
Purchases are more considered and less impulsive these days. The new attitude is “what do I really need?” and “what can I do without?” rather than “what do I want?” and “what can I have right now?” Convenience is obviously still a major trend but so too is the desire to be in control. From a store design point of view this anxiety led desire for control will probably manifest itself in shops that put us at ease and allow people to try before they buy. The aesthetic of the home in-store in other words.
6. It’s OK to rent
In many cases renting now makes more sense than buying so retailers and other businesses that rent out expensive goods or allow for the partial or fractional ownership of luxury items are doing well. For example, style4hire rents out high-end handbags while P1 International gives what remains of the investment banking and hedge fund communities access to high-end automobiles for a fraction of what it would cost to buy one outright.
7. Bin the bling
The death of luxury retail is over-stated but it is certainly true that if you’ve got it (or you’ve just bought it) you will probably want to hide it rather than flaunt it. Stealth-wealth is where’s it’s at in terms of hiding your haul.Blending into the background is also a good idea these days unless you want to make yourself an obvious target for the media or opportunistic street criminals (the same thing in some instances).
8. Green is starting to fade.
Whatever happened to organics? In the UK sales of organic food have plummeted by 20-25%. Equally global warming has been put on ice while people focus on more immediate priorities. This is not to say that either of these things has gone away. Indeed, environmental concerns have now started to merge with economic worries, with the result that saving the planet now saves people money too.
9. Simplicity in back
Complexity is out. People are fed up with things that they can’t understand and both transparency and simplicity are back. To some extent this is a shift back to basics but there is possibly a shift to old-fashioned values going on here too. Look out for counter-trends involving analogue, stripped down or unplugged products.
10.Local not global
We still shop around the world but globalisation appears to be slowing down. Economic protectionism (Buy British, Buy USA, Bye Bye Chinese goods etc) is back and provenance seems to be more important than ever.
So what’s next?
Some commentators have hailed some or all of the above as a permanent change to the consumer culture. My comment is not so fast buddy.
In my view the answer depends on what happens to the economy. If things pick up sooner than expected I’d expect many of these new attitudes and behaviours to be ditched. They will prove to be little more than short-term reactions to a short-term situation. In other words, we all have ridiculously short memories and we will return to our selfish, debt-ridden, materialistic ways before you can say Prada bags or organic water.
However, if the economy takes another nasty turn downwards and we are confronted with five years of belt-tightening or even a decade of doom and gloom then I’d expect these new attitudes and behaviours to stick. We will start to fundamentally change how we live and we will also start to question how everything from business to politics operates.
What’s left of my money is on the first scenario.