Retail, shopping & leisure

Ethical trade trends, where even the bullets are friendly

The movement towards socio-economic based social justice has been ridiculed in the past - but there are now over 1500 fair trade product lines and over �6 billion of ethical investments in the UK alone. The conscientious consumer, or the 'conscious consumer' was born from the idealism of the 1970s, and was catalysed by the 1988 publication of the Green Consumer Guide, a best-seller which concreted the idea that our purchases could have a positive, or negative, effect on the future of the planet. Consumers now want to buy intelligently, and buying merely 'luxury' has been replaced by buying to 'do the right thing'. Interestingly, this has followed a trend for corporate green reporting, led in 1988 by DuPont, once the world's largest producer of ozone-destroying CFCs, after it brought a safe alternative to market. But it's not just chemicals that get our attention. In particular, the rising popularity of organic food proves that consumers are willing to pay a premium price for a premium product - and especially products with a story. Buying local and buying fair are now ingrained among conscious consumers. Fair fashion is also in fashion, having grown beyond Anita Roddick's Body Shop and protests in the 1990s targeting everything from fur to sweatshops. Sainsburys put in its largest order for organic cotton last year and using sustainable fabrics to create clothing has become mainstream. London Fashion Week now includes an ethical fashion section, highlighting the huge shift. It seems that when aesthetics collides with ethics, commercial success is assured.Of course, there will always be cynics trying to jump on the green bandwagon. An arms manufacturer, BAE systems, is developing environmentally-friendly weapons - reduced-lead bullets, reduced smoke grenades, and reduced-toxin rockets. Maybe we can call it 'environmentally-friendly fire'.
Ref: The Observer (UK), 29 October 2006, 'The rise of the conscious consumer', L. Siegle
Search words: consumerism, ethics, sustainability

The past has a tail to tell

The Internet has shown that there is money to be made from the dusty backlists of music and book catalogues. For example, Joe Simpson's Touching the Void, off bookshop shelves for years, became a best-seller after readers bought a book about another mountaineering tragedy, Into Thin Air. What happened? Amazon's reading recommendations. Random house had to publish a new edition of Simpson's book to meet demand. 'The long tail' is the name of this phenomenon - a term coined by Chris Anderson in an article in Wired, and the book his article grew into became the most talked about business book of the year. The buzz phrase has faced some criticism though. The original article stated that over half of Amazon's book sales were not among the 130,000 titles typically stocked by an average Barnes and Noble. But by the time the book was published, a quarter of Amazon's sales were from the top 100,000 titles stocked by Borders. Anderson says there was a mistake in the original figures. Regardless of the critique, the idea isn't too new. Penguin Books have been capitalising on the classics for a long time. The long tail idea was also behind a decision by Universal, the world's biggest media company, to open its music catalogue last February and put its backlist online - including albums by Nana Mouskouri, Jacques Brel and Brigitte Bardot. By October, some 250,000 tracks had been downloaded. Whereas old-world media is confined by space, new media is only confined by time and can cater to niches with its unfettered amount of content. Video sites like YouTube are perfect long tail businesses, with consumer-led content creation catering to the individual niches in an enormous market. Even if it seems that established media players are under siege from internet start-ups, who are killing off traditional mass-market media formats, the reality is the web is owned more and more by a few giants - after all, where would iTunes be without the big music companies? The fact that YouTube has been bought for US$1.6 billion highlights the irony that the long tail, while niche in content, is not in its ownership.
Ref: The Sunday Times (UK), 29 October 2006, 'Retailers tackle the long tail', D. Rushe; and 'Big earnings from small steps,' C. Anderson.�
Search words: long tail, Internet, niche
Trend tags: connectivity

New heights for retailing

Retail spaces made of rental units erected above parked cars is no pie-in-the-sky idea. The idea comes from Tokyo, of course, where space is in short supply. A company called Phil Co has signed up more than 100 retailers, restaurants and assorted businesses to open mid-air offices, creating a whole new cityscape. The unit's frames are made of lightweight aluminium, are earthquake resistant, have glass walls and subject to the same approval process as permanent buildings. The use of the space over a tract of land is permitted under the same laws that govern renting or buying air rights. This new model could give relief to innovative start-ups who are unable to afford Tokyo's sky high rents. And the added advantage is that the glass retailing areas are great for display and the shops become even more obvious when they are lit at night.
Ref: The Nikkei Weekly (Japan), 6 November 2006, 'Look, up in the sky! It's retail space', K. Endo.
Search words: space, retail, shops, stores, design

Cheap chic via innovation is Tops!

England's Topshop has transformed itself from 'Topflop', becoming one of the world's hottest retailers by striking a balance between selling budget clothing (items are under US$200) and providing top-end services like a sound-proof VIP room to attract exclusive customers. It now has 290 stores in the UK and Ireland and made US$200 million in profit last year, averaging US$2000 in annual sales per square foot - compared to $400 per foot for Gap. One of it innovations is partnering its own design staff with new and local designers. It's flagship store in London is used as a fashion lab - with niche designs being delivered three times a day, and customers returning to see what's new. The chain also holds parties for its customers to eat, drink and spend. They can also reserve time with stylists, or have their purchases delivered express by Vespa. The plan is to recreate Topshop's success worldwide, catering designs to local tastes.
Ref: Business 2.0 (UK), 'High class, low price', November 2006, E. Esfahni.
Search words: retail, fashion, fast fashion

Scents making sense for the blind

After L'occitane's founder Olivier Baussan noticed a blind woman sampling perfumes, and seeing her response to the scent, he vowed to make his products more accessible to the blind. Originally concerned with the sense of smell, the French cosmetic company is now an advocate for those without the sense of sight, adding Braille to it's labelling and donating proceeds from limited edition products to charities for the blind. The company is creating a bond with visually-impaired customers, who often have a more refined sense of smell. There are an estimated 10 million visually-impaired people living in the US so why aren't more companies doing the same? There are no regulations requiring them to do so, and adding Braille can cost up to 6 cents per package. The CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind, Carl Augusto, says he know of only one other company labelling products in Braille - another French organisation, a winery. He hopes that L'occitane's lead will cause others to follow.
Ref: Business 2.0 (US), October 2006, 'L'occitane. Leading the blind', M. Lev-Ram.
Search words: smell, blind, scent, smell, packaging

Convenience stores are ... convenient

The first Seven-Eleven opened in Japan 32 years ago, but the existing model is declining. Stores that were once highly standardised are altering to meet more diversified needs. Some stores are including kitchens making freshly-made pasta lunches. Customers are notified by beeper when their meal is ready, and can continue to shop while they wait. Customers are generally women aged in their 20s to 30s and find the concept, well, convenient. But stores cannot rely on youthful customers as they have previously. Japan has an ageing population and in the quiet countryside of Kochi Prefecture, senior citizens can check their blood pressure next to the sales counter in their local Lawson Plus. Shelf heights have been changed to make them more accessible to elderly consumers, and the store stocks denture cleaners, hair dyes and magnifying glasses with prices written in large type, for their niche, more senior, clientele. The traditional location of convenience stores is changing too, moving to enclosed locations such as schools, hospitals and apartment complexes.
Ref: The Nikkei Weekly (Japan), 30 October 2006, 'Convenience stores breaking mold', W. Yoshida, A. Takawa and A. Murata.
Search words: retail, convenience, convenience stores, speed

6 billion potential winks

Forty winks for $14. I've written about Metro Naps before but here's an update. You can now buy a nap in downtown Manhattan or Vancouver from MetroNaps - a start-up expanding to the UK and Australia. Its storefronts hold white sleeping pods for busy workers, and it leases the pods to companies with nap rooms. The sleep economy is a growing business offering aromatherapy pillows, high-tech beds, face masks, biorhythmic alarm clocks, and sleep. While it's recommended we sleep eight hours a night, we are averaging just over six due to our always-on lifestyles. We are stressed, and stress means less sleep. In the US, serious sleeping issues are being addressed by more than 2800 sleep centres. Sleep is the new sex, with over US$3 billion worth of sleeping pills sold last year, taking over from Viagra. An estimated 40 million Americans suffer sleep disorders and the lack of sleep equates to $50 billion in lost productivity and $16 billion in health care, according to the US National Institute of Health. MetroNaps founder Arshad Chowdhury hit on the idea of leasing sleep pods while working long hours and the first pod opened in the Empire State Building in 2004. Two decades of studies have shown that napping can sharpen productivity and Manhattan's go-getters are now lunching and napping each week. Pods have become the new gym, or the new oxygen bar, and provide a safe haven for refreshment. Solutions for sleeping aren't reserved for downtown. The sale of luxury beds for the home is quadrupling and top-quality mattresses are a billion-dollar market. Gravity Zero beds retail from US$10,000 to $20,000 and include speakers, aloe vera fibres, massage and microprocessors. There are plenty of opportunities for sleep entrepreneurs. As the author or Good Night, Michael Breus, puts it, 'it's a wide open market'. In Japan, the functional pillow market has grown 30 per cent in the past decade, with the boom peaking in 2004. Researchers have found that people tend to sleep best on the same type of pillow they slept on in childhood - if you had a soft pillow, you'll have difficulty with a firm one. Pillow design includes low-resilience products, and also a pillow that vibrates with either simple regular oscillations, or is designed to reproduce a mother's heartbeat or the sensation of being on a train. The Tokyo-based company's employees and customers have reported that's where they fall fast asleep!
Ref: Business 2.0 (US), October 2006, '$20 billion for a good night's rest', M. Myser.; The Nikkei Weekly (Japan), 18 October 2006, 'Pillows abound in shapes and functions' and 6 November 2006, 'Pillow vibrates for sound sleep'
Search words: sleep, stress, anxiety, well-being