Retail, shopping & leisure

Invasion of the body scanners

Personalisation or, more particularly, mass-customisation is a big trend in many industries and the US $181 billion (2005) clothing business is no exception. Finding clothes that actually fit is obviously an issue for many shoppers, especially the 96% of women whose bodies are not the same size as supermodels. However, help may soon be at hand in the shape of body scanners and made-to-order clothing. The idea of creating customised clothing isn’t new. Levi Straus offered custom jeans in the late 1990s but the idea never really took off because of hassles surrounding measurement and manufacturing. In short most people wanted instant gratification and couldn’t be bothered to wait for their custom jeans to show up. But fast-forward to 2007 and things are starting to shape up. A company called TC Squared (owned, interestingly, by a non-profit unit of the American Apparel and Footwear Association) has developed scanning technology that measures individuals with over 300 light beams and two-dozen digital cameras to create highly accurate 3D models. These scans will cost around US $20 and will reside on a database and be accessible to any participating retailer worldwide. Or at least that’s the theory. On the face of it perfectly-fitting made-to-measure clothing should appeal to a lot of people but there’s still a problem – the high-volume homogenized clothing business isn’t set up handle mass-customisation, either from a logistics or a business model perspective. Moreover, at this early stage it is far from clear what that the average person will make of having their most intimate measurements sitting in cyberspace. A number of US retailers like Land’s End, JC Penny, Target, Nike and Tommy Hilfiger already offer customised ordering but mostly it’s just the ability to alter colour, fabric or a few basic measurements. So what’s likely to happen in the future? First, we’ll probably see scanning technology embraced by luxury clothing brands that have the profit margins to allow them to create customised limited edition products. If this works, the idea will slowly drip down into the mainstream with everyone, ultimately, owning a body-double avatar that can try on clothes and adjust sizing in cyberspace before the item is manufactured and delivered in real life.
Ref: Red Herring (US) 12 February 2007, ‘Digital Tailors’,
See also
Search words: personalisation, customisation, sizing, clothing, fashion, scanning
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Carried away by the mob

In the UK (and increasingly elsewhere) you can’t buy a raspberry or a cup of coffee without being beaten over the head about where it’s from and how it was produced. We’ve got food miles, carbon credits and fair trade products. We’ve also got conflict-free diamonds, ‘green’ gold and zero-emission potato snacks. Indeed, it’s probably now easier for an African dictator to slip into the country unnoticed than it is for a non-documented kiwi fruit to arrive via the local supermarket. People are reconsidering what’s good and bad and many of the status symbols that have stood unchallenged for centuries are being reevaluated and re-priced. In other words, people everywhere are shifting from conspicuous consumption to conscientious consumption although most people are confused and stuck somewhere in the middle. Everywhere that is except the fashion industry, which still seems to exist in a bubble disconnected from reality. Sure you can buy an ethical Edun frock from Bono’s wife or a Giorgio Armani jacket made from ecologically-responsible corn-fibres but, generally speaking, it’s about the label. Luxury and status are still the name of the game, it’s just that we’ve gone Eco-Luxe and the colour of money is now a slightly paler shade of green. For example, the socio-cultural event of spring 2007 in Britain was undoubtedly the launch of a limited edition GBP 5 shopping bag by Anya Hindmarch. The idea was the brainchild of Sainsbury’s supermarket that, quite rightly, wanted to put a dent in the 17 billion plastic shopping bags that are produced and then thrown away every year in Britain. So who could argue with a rope and canvas bag bearing the legend ‘I’m Not a Plastic Bag’? Well the problem, of course, is that nowadays when style meets ethics you’re on to a bit of a winner, so women were almost killing each other to get hold of the ‘environmentally responsible’ bag with some ending up on eBay priced at several hundred pounds. And what was even more ironic was that a plain brown bag designed to help the environment ended up adding to its destruction because the bags were made in China where its makers were are paid next to nothing and where they then had to be shipped thousands of miles back to Britain.
Ref: Various including The Spectator (UK) 7 April 2007, ‘Green is the new black’, M. Spencer,The Times (UK) 7 April 2007, ‘Carried Away’ R. Morrison.,The Observer (UK) 29 April 2007, ‘Come on Kate, lead the way’, M. Riddell.
Search words:Ethics, brand ethics, environment, fashion, consumption.
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Carbon labelling

When the media isn’t bashing supermarkets for being too big they are, increasingly, savaging them for selling products, especially food, that have been flown ‘too far’, thus adding to the carbon dioxide that is released in to the atmosphere. In short, our global food supply chain is harming the planet and we should be eating locally-grown food to save it. Or should we? Given the vociferous nature of the debate you’ll think that critics of the present system would be armed to their teeth with reports and statistics but, generally speaking, they are not. Indeed, scientific data to support the ‘food miles’ argument is almost non-existent. One of the biggest problems is the sheer complexity of the issue, which both media and environmental lobby groups tend to over-simplify. For example, the core of the argument against transporting food hundreds, if not thousands, of miles is focused on the final part of the journey but this is only part of the story. Food consumes energy throughout its production cycle and different types of transport have differing levels of environmental impact. Moreover, carbon emissions are not the only game in town. Animals themselves produce huge amounts of methane from flatulence – which heats the planet 20 times faster than carbon dioxide – and animal manure and the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers all produce nitrous oxide that is similarly harmful. Then there’s the issue of growing fruit and vegetables locally in European greenhouses (which generally require heat), the emissions produced by people driving to the shops to buy local produce and even whether or not you count the impact of foreign farm workers using transport to get to work. There’s even the issue that more than one million Africans are financially dependent of the production of perishable food products that cannot be transported by means other than aircraft. Three recent studies – one by Lincoln University in New Zealand, one by the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University (UK) and one by Manchester Business School (UK) all say that there is little or no evidence to suggest that eating locally-grown food is beneficial and in some cases the reverse may even be true. This is a view partly echoed by the Carbon Trust (a UK government consultancy), which says that another important factor is how food products are traded and consumed. So what’s going to happen next? The first thing we’ll probably see is an attempt to create a labelling system to help shoppers compare emission levels much the same way that they already compare prices. Tesco is embarking on one such initiative but given the complexity of the issue one can’t help but think that this is more about politics and marketing than ecological substance. Then again, every little helps.
Ref: Financial Times (UK) 28/29 April 2007, ‘Planes, brains and automobiles’, S. Murray. See also ‘Moveable Feasts: The incredible journeys of the Things We Eat’ by Sarah Murray.
Search words: carbon emissions, labelling, food miles, fair trade, carbon foot prints
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Top retail trends

Terry Leahy, CEO of Tesco, recently spoke at the World Retail Congress in Barcelona and identified seven key trends driving retail, at least in the UK.
1. Simplicity: Customers are busy. They want things that are easy to buy and understand.
2. Speed: People want convenience. Hence Tesco Express, which allows customers to quickly shop on the way home.
3. The ‘Immortality’ factor: Customers are looking for healthy foods and other products to reduce ageing.
4. Globalization: Particularly the impacts of sourcing products internationally, market expansion opportunities and the sourcing of services like IT globally.
5. Consumer information: Comparing prices is so last century. Nowadays customers compare ethical and environmental policies.
6. Trust: Hard to build and easy to destroy.
7. ‘Green’ consumerism: Customers are more aware of issues like climate change and want retailers to do their bit just like everyone else.
These are all obviously very well known trends but the list is a good summary of what is driving retail. One good question then poised by Supply Chain Digest is ‘How can retailers exploit these well-known trends in a way that provides differentiation?’ Fair point. At the moment every retailer on earth seems to be trying to save the planet so perhaps combining the global with the local might be a way to create a better point of difference.
Ref: Supply Chain Digest (US) 4 April 2007, ‘Tesco’s CEO Identifies Key Retail Trends’.
Search words: retail trends, Tesco
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The end of cafe culture?

In case you’re not familiar with the term ‘Third Places’, it refers to intermediary places that are between home and work. Starbucks is a good example and so too is the local pub. However, another trendy term – the Bedouin Worker – is in danger of destroying Third Places and, by default, turning them back into Second Places from which people were desperately trying to escape from in the first place. Let me explain. Have you tried to sit down to drink a cup of coffee in Starbucks or any other wi-fi enabled cafe recently? If you have you may have found that all the tables were covered in laptops, Blackberries and spreadsheets, or else they were all ‘reserved’ for meetings. In other words, rather than being places for refreshment and conversation these spaces have become surrogate offices for people that either don’t have one or can’t leave their work at work. So what’s the solution? One idea might be to ban electronic equipment or restrict meetings to certain times of day. Unfortunately that’s unlikely to happen because as de-layering and downsizing continues more and more people will be left without a room of their own. Furthermore, the places and spaces that have always resisted electronic communications and business conversation – certain London clubs for instance – are becoming rarer than a cup of instant coffee and a paper newspaper.
Ref: (UK/US) 27 April 2007, ‘Is the Bedouin Worker Killing the Third Place?’ See also Bryan Appleyard’s blog (UK) 2 May 2007, ‘Starbucks and the Tragedy of the Commons’.
Search words: Third Places, work, space, cafes, coffee
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