Retail, shopping & leisure

Social shopping

Ever wondered how social networking sites like Myspace will make money? One way might be social shopping. e-tail is obviously a massive trend but in many ways online shopping is divorced from the real world. For example, online supermarkets are usually just text-based lists of products - you cannot walk through the store. Indeed, despite the convenience factor, online shopping has little or nothing in common with its real world equivalent and in some ways this is an opportunity. For example, online you generally have to know what you are looking for and most people shop alone. In the real world shopping doesn't happen like this. Shopping is more of an event. It is an experience, usually shared, and customers listen to the recommendations of friends and trusted experts. This fact obviously hasn't escaped the attention of some savvy Internet retail entrepreneurs and we are therefore starting to see the emergence of what is being called 'social shopping'. Examples include sites like Crowdstorm, ThisNext, Karboodle and Stylehive. These sites are a mash-up between search engines and social networking sites and allow shoppers to browse and buy based upon what other customers recommend. For example, if you Google 'Men's shoes' you will be faced with a list of big and very big brands that have effectively bought their way onto page one of Google's rankings. Do the same search on a site like ThisNext and you will be given a list of much smaller - and arguably cooler - brands based on the personal recommendation of other site users. Dig a bit deeper and you may also find information about the music and films that are liked by the same shoe wearing cognoscenti and chances are if you like their shoes you might like the music too. And of course the best bit, if you are a small brand, is that getting a listing on such sites is absolutely free thanks to the actions of unpaid volunteer brand evangelists.
Ref: Inc (US) February 2007, 'The power of suggestion: social shopping sites turn online shopping into a group activity', R. McCarthy,
Search words: search, social networks, shopping, e-commerce, e-tail
Trend tags: web 2.0
Source reliability: ****

Shopping at school

Last Christmas parents that had children at the Holy Ghost primary school in South London could pick up a Christmas tree when they dropped off their kids. The idea of schools selling school uniforms is nothing new but why stop there? The idea sounds faintly ridiculous at first, but when you actually stop to think about it, it makes an enormous amount of sense. Parents with school age children tend to be very busy and if both parents work driving to a supermarket or the local garden centre is an annoyance to put it mildly. So why don't schools start selling organic vegetables or ready made microwaveable evening meals for kids? The attraction of this idea is partly convenience and partly simplicity. Most people don't need a choice of ten types of Christmas tree or thirty types of jam and would trust their school - or more precisely the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) in many cases - to make the selection for them and have them available for collection when their kids are dropped off or collected during the week - or perhaps even when they're not, at weekends. The trend is nothing new in the US where schools distribute whole catalogues of products for parents to buy - usually with at least some of the proceeds going to the school - but even in the US the products tend to be vaguely school or child related. Another reason why this trend could really take off is that, given a choice, many parents would support the fund raising efforts of their local school rather than the bottom line of supermarkets and other giant retailers. Schools could be the providers of other services too. Recycling is an obvious example but why not everything from second-hand car sales to book retail? There are some clouds on the horizon, in the UK at least, because the Department of Education is considering whether to make such school based retail illegal, although this wouldn't stop PTAs selling products at school. The whole thing strikes me as a really good idea, not least because school retail sits at a confluence point of numerous retail trends ranging from ethical shopping and convenience to anti-supermarket sentiments.
Ref: The Guardian (UK) 19 December 2006, 'My trees from the Holy Ghost',
J. Moorhead.
Search words: schools, kids, convenience
Source integrity: *****

The future of online shopping

What's next in online retail? Contenders include online clothing fit calculators and body shape libraries (e.g. Zafu.), visual search shopping (e.g. and visual search engines (e.g. Riya), social shopping and comparison shopping sites like Become and local shopping sites like Licketyship. One trend that does come through loud and clear within all this is that shoppers like to research online before buying in a conventional bricks and mortar store, so allowing people to search locally is definitely a trend we'll be seeing more of in the future. For example, NearbyNow is a start-up launched in July 2006 that makes the inventory of local malls searchable by local shoppers. Licketyship is also local in the sense that the promise is to deliver anything ordered online within 4 hours in most cases., whilst not local, is particularly interesting because it allows shoppers to search visually for items seen on celebrities. This is rather difficult to explain in text so if you're interested take a look at their site. The final online trend that is worth mentioning is user generated content (UGC). Most people are by now aware of the impact UGC is having in media such as newspapers and gaming but so far its impact on retail has been relatively modest.The idea here is shoppers write reviews about products they've bought which help to influence the purchasing behaviour of other shoppers. The most famous example of UGC in retail is probably the reader reviews section within but other retailers like Macy's, Petco and Burpee are following the trend.
Ref: Red Herring (US) 4 December 2006, 'Material girls...and boys', F. Bhuta.
Search words: retail trends, online shopping, UGC
Source integrity: ****

Retail trends for 2007

Yet another list of trends, this time based on a series of interviews and prognostications:

1. Technology - RFIDs keep getting talked about but so far known customer consequences of tagging products electronically are few and far between. Perhaps a better technology trend within retail is reaching shoppers through the use of technology. Cell-phone ads are a good example. The US retailer Meijer recently sent text messages to its customers warning them that it was raising its gas pump prices in two hours time.
2. Speed - The Internet has distorted time and distance and customers are getting busier (or think they are). As a result the pressure to save time is increasing. Living in a hyper-connected world also means that word of mouth travels faster than it used to, which means that cycles are shortening. For example, fashion trends are speeding up and 'fast fashion' retail means that there is increasing pressure to sell - and buy - things first. I'd add to this point 24/7 availability. The Internet has also shifted our
perceptions about when things are 'open'. These days you can, increasingly, do anything anytime you wish and this includes shopping. For example, back in 2002 just 0.5% of McDonalds restaurants in the US were open 24/7. These days it's almost 40%
3. Grocery wars - Two decades ago 90% of American food shopping was done in grocery stores. By 2010 this figure is forecast to have declined to 45% according to Stores magazine. Interestingly this trend seems to move in both directions with grocery stores taking a larger share of non-food items whilst non-food stores enter the food market. Think of moving into food.
4. Green - Organics, sustainability and eco-shopping. Wal-Mart recently announced a campaign to sell 100 million compact fluorescent light bulbs by the end of 2007 and we can confidently expect every other retailer on the planet to jump onto the green planet bandwagon during 2007.
Ref: The Ottawa Citizen (Can) 8 February 2007, 'Four retail trends to watch out for in 2007', D. Drolet, See also Business Week (US) 5 February 2007, 'McDonald's 24/7'.
Search words: retail, trends
Source integrity: **

Supermarkets in the firing line again

You've almost got to feel sorry for supermarkets these days. First they were accused of exploiting low-cost labour to deliver low-prices, then they were accused of making too much money - presumably because their business models were too efficient or perhaps because customers found them too convenient and just couldn't keep away.Then they were accused of putting farmers and small shopkeepers out of business, again because of their buying power and their ability to sell at very low prices.Over in the UK the latest anti-supermarket angle highlighted by a paper on 'emergent thinking in the grocery market ' produced by the Competition Commission is that supermarkets are encouraging binge drinking because they are selling alcohol too cheaply. The idea, which does stack up to a point, is that supermarket giants are using their enormous buying power to buy and sell alcohol below cost as a way of enticing customers into their stores. Evidence to support this claim includes the fact that the cost of alcohol has fallen in real terms by 54% since 1980 although in their defence supermarkets argue that most alcohol is bought by bona fide adults as part of a weekly shop and is consumed at home. On a vaguely related note, the UK Soil Association says it is considering a ban on the use of the word 'organic' if a product is flown into Britain or has too many 'food miles' under its belt.
Ref: Weekly Telegraph (UK) 31 January 2006 - 6 February 2007, 'Supermarkets 'fuel binge drinking', R. Murray-West.,uk
Search words: supermarkets, drinking, alcohol, ethics
Trend tags: transparency, ethics
Source integrity: ****

Luxury lavatories

Remember when lavatories used to be a free public service provided by local government? No probably not. Luxury loos seem to be all the rage at the moment. First there was Charmin's public lavatories in Times Square (US) and most recently WC1, a luxury loo in Oxford Street in central London. You might think that this is all very frivolous - and it is - but you might recall some research a few years ago that said that a decent loo is top of the list when it comes to female customers' requirements in a retail store.Nevertheless, most retailers still don't get it. Lavatories are hidden away, filthy or there aren't enough of them, which causes queuing, and frustration. WC1 is aimed at women and was created at a cost of GBP 1 million and features hair dryers, toiletries and cubicles that are large enough to change your clothes inside. There is also a large communal powder room and a range of 'rescue products' for sale in case you need a toothbrush or a pair of tights in a hurry. The company behind WC1 plans to roll the concept out nationally with two more opening in 2007 and another seven in 2008. Other notable rest-rooms include Venus Fort Shopping Centre in Japan (no less that 64 toilet cubicles) and the 3-D Gold Store in Hong Kong, which is allegedly the most expensive lavatory in the world built at a cost of US $4.9 million and featuring a solid gold wash-basin and floor - free to use if you spend over HK $1,000 on jewellery in-store. In other words you have to be flush to use their loo.
Ref: Various including Springwise (Neth) 15 December 2006, 'Luxe luxury loos',
Search words: customer service, toilets, lavatories, bathrooms
Source integrity: ***