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How Retail is Being Disrupted

People are always going to go shopping. A lot of our effort is just ‘how do we make the retail experience a great one?

Phillip Green, Chairman, Arcadia Group

The only things that I hate more than shopping are root canal and slow internet. I, however, come from a family where the women are obsessed with shopping. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, you can drop them off at the mall at 10 am and when you offer to pick them up at 6 pm they look at you as if you have taken leave of all your senses. Eight hours is not nearly enough time to do all that they need to do.

For me, shopping is a military operation. You get a plan of the shopping mall. You then look at the weather to forecast the potential foot traffic in the mall. Rain means higher than usual flow. If the flow is expected to be high, you investigate the opening hours. You then find the parking entrance closest to the store – find the closest parking spot, secure the perimeter and then make a full-scale assault on the store. You need to limit civilian casualties but if someone has to be sacrificed, that is the cost of war. You locate and then liberate the merchandise, pay with cash (credit card delays are too much of a risk) and then head for the exits.

The entire operation is done within the 15-minute parking tolerance and you are out in the clear.  Door to door you are looking at 30 minutes tops – you are back in the man cave watching rugby and drinking beer before the wife has chosen the pumps she is going to wear for the day.

Five Major Retail Trends

Trend 1: Cheapness is the New Black

Traditional retailing is under threat and thank heavens for that. Physical stores are under pressure as people migrate online. Amazon is the greatest thing since 30-minute guaranteed pie delivery at Dominos. It has irrevocably changed the life of the simple man and to you, Mr. Bezos, we are all eternally grateful.

Even shopaholics are welcoming e-commerce with arms wide open.  They go to the store, find what they want and then go online to find the best deal.  Paying less for more and bragging about it has become a trend in itself. Consumers are educated on pricing strategies and are now prioritizing value. With more options and information at their disposal, consumers prefer to do their product research and then execute on the best price.

ShopSavvy is an American app developed to target the price-savvy customer. It allows users to scan the barcode of any product and compare all the best prices on the internet and at nearby stores. It also alerts you if the retailer follows a price matching policy.

The app claims to have the largest database of retailers, products, and prices in the market. ShopSavvy has now become the world's most popular shopping application with more than 100 million downloads and over 50 million product scans a month. Long live consumerism, materialism and all the other –isms that were thorns in Lenin's crotch.

Trend 2: CAP the Hell out of It

CAP stands for Customization, Accessorization, and Personalization. Millennials are looking for unique and customizable fashion and are shunning large retailers in favor of boutique stores. They want to be able to accessorize. I had to Google the word accessorize. It involves making the garment your own through the addition of numerous dozens of sequins artistically configured in the face of one of the guys from One Direction. I don't judge. I once had a massive man-crush on the lead singer from The Smashing Pumpkins. I was, however, able to restrain myself from silk-screening his bald head onto a pair of my underpants.

This high level of customization is also known as "from we to me". How often have you gone to Google, typed the letter "h" and Google's autocompleting spits out "holiday in Caribbean all-inclusive adults-only strippers included" and you get blown away. That is exactly what you were looking for – except the strippers obviously – you were thinking "slippers included". Today it is possible that retailers know exactly what you want before you know it. We know that your smartphone is collecting data on you every second, but that is so 2020. The future goes beyond analyzing your Google searches and Amazon purchases. The new frontier will analyze emotional data, eye movements, and DNA in addition to the searches and purchases.  When your phone senses that your biorhythms are down, it will know exactly the retail therapy you require – a new pair of Manolo Blahnik heels.

Trend 3: Let Your Voice be Heard, Sister!

The number of people with smart speakers with voice-activated virtual assistants has almost doubled from 2017 to 2018, to 27 percent. Voice-controlled shopping is set to explode over the next four years to $40 billion by 2022. At the core of this trend is the need to make life easier as we hurtle towards total passivity. Technology is turning us into a bunch of lazy idiots. Before cell phones, you had to work out mentally the amount of an 18 percent tip on a bill of $100. Now the first thing that we do when the bill arrives is lunge for the phone as the left side of our brain falls into our chest cavities and starts to calcify. Sixty-five percent of Americans think conversational assistants will make their lives easier. The interactive nature of this experience makes it possible for the smart speaker to become the central technology in our home.  Who does not rely on Siri to resolve factual disputes, provide marriage counseling and assist in the completion of tax returns?

Case study: HelloAva Can a chatbot replace a dermatologist's recommendation for skincare products? I damn well hope so. That's the idea behind American start-up, HelloAva. HelloAva helps consumers determine their skin type through a 12-question SMS or Facebook Messenger conversation. The bot then recommends skin products and regimens based on the person's answers. Mattie Khan, a beauty blogger for Elle claimed Ava made her skin regime much easier. "It's not hard to trust the bot. Like a good first date, Ava seems interested in me, invested, even".  It remains to be seen if HelloAva can be taught to differentiate between basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma – although skin cancer is a topic that should be left for the second date, along with crossdressing and gender reassignment surgery.

Trend 4: Experiences – and Nothing Else Matters

Millennials are obsessed with new experiences. Gone are the days when you could pack your kids into the Chrysler minivan with five liters of coke, a basket full of sandwiches and head over to Aunt Mavis dirt farm for the summer. They are looking for unique experiences that they can post on Instagram. Social media is as important as the vacation itself. They want to bushwhack through the Malaysian jungle, stumble across a virgin beach that only Leo Di Caprio knows about, catch a ride on a green sea turtle that whisks them through to a secret cave where they find a never before seen sketch by Pablo Picasso on the cave wall dedicated to them – and Metallica is playing in the background.

More than 75 percent of millennials would rather spend money on an experience or event, than on an item or asset. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they believe attending live experiences helps them connect better with their friends, community, and people around the world. Retailers are now looking to find ways to monetize this. IKEA hosted a sleepover in one of its stores for 100 customers. In addition to all the features you would typically associate with a sleepover (gossiping over boys, complaining about other girls and detailed wedding planning), sleep experts were on hand to provide tips on achieving that perfect night's rest in addition to how to find optimal sleeping positions and partners. I wonder if the Ikea sleep manual will replace the Karma Sutra - saucy Swedes.

Trend 5:  Let the Healing of the Planet Begin

Shoppers are starting to pay attention to the environmental footprint of the articles they buy.  In Mexico City, mounting pollution in the early 1990s lead to a curious decision from the government. They decided to give the Beetle taxi cabs their first official facelift. All cabs were required to be painted green. This would lead people to believe they were more environmentally friendly. They even went so far as to call the cabs "Ecological Taxis" even though Mexican built Beetles were still carbureted. They did not have catalytic converters until 1991, and fuel injection was introduced two years later. Despite the "eco" paint jobs, the VW's were the same cars that had always been contributing to Mexico City's ever-growing pollution problems.

The fact that a product looks green or says that it's green is no longer enough.  Today's discerning consumer can see through clever tactics and demand more. Nowadays, retailers cannot just say they have a goal, they need to show the consumer that they are acting upon it. The younger generation is concerned about the environment and avoids retailers that sell the products of serial polluters.  Linked to the environment is the increased demand for second-hand and rental clothing. Clothing companies place a heavy strain on the environment. The trend in rental clothing forms part of the shared economy. Instead of buying and article, using it once and then condemning it to collect dust in your closet, why not just rent it, take it out for a good time and then return it (dry cleaning depending on how good the night was).

By 2028, 13 percent of the clothes in women's closets are likely to be secondhand, up from 6 percent in 2018 according to ThredUp. The secondhand market, which includes resale, thrift, and donations, has grown 21 times faster than the retail apparel market between 2016 and 2018, to a $28 billion industry in 2018. It is projected to be $51 billion by 2023. The main growth driver is the resale market, which is expected to quadruple between 2018 and 2023. Sales in the apparel rental market have also surged, becoming a $1 billion industry in 2018 that could reach $4.4 billion by 2028, according to GlobalData. By 2028, 4 percent of a women's closet will consist of subscription and rental products. For those deviants out there, second-hand underwear in unlikely to go mainstream – you will need to go into the dark web for that.


My wife loves to spend, but she has great taste in all things except in men. In her closet, she has Louis Vuitton bags with the tags still attached. My back-of-the-envelope calculations would suggest I have enough bags to fund a small South American war and still have some change for a second hand Tesla. The question is how to monetize these bags. Unless you have been living in a cave for the past decade, you would have heard of Amazon, eBay, Bonanza, eBid, MercadoLibre (in Latin America), Craigslist, Facebook, and Instagram – tell me when to stop. We have never been more connected. Instead of fannying around Facebook watching cats dressed up as rappers, the time has come to use your network to monetize used merchandise. And once I am finished with my wife's bags, I am going to make a start on her Imelda Marcos shoe collection. Bring on the Benjamins.

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