Retail, shopping & leisure

The wrong bandwagon?

It seems like the tide is slowly turning against plastic bags. The anti-bag movement is growing and local governments (who pay to dispose of them) are jumping on board the bandwagon. The problem is certainly real enough. The UK uses somewhere between 9-17 billion plastic bags every year and globally it is estimated that between 500 billion and one trillion bags are thrown away each year. That’s 150 bags per year for every man, woman and child or the planet. However, as many as 80% of these bags are either re-used or recycled according to bag suppliers and bags account for less than 1% of global landfill. One thing that is agreed on by both sides of the litter strewn fence is that biodegradable bags are not a solution because they don’t stop people littering and they don’t contribute to resource sustainability. Part of the problem is visibility. Bags are much more mobile than other types of rubbish. They are also symbolic of a disposable culture and a much easier target than air pollution or environmental destruction.

So what is the solution? One answer is taxation. In Denmark a bag tax was introduced in 1994 which led to a 66% fall in bag use in supermarkets. In Taiwan a small charge for bags was introduced in 2001 which led top a 69% drop in usage. Most famously, Ireland introduced a customer levy in 2002 that resulted in a 90% reduction in bag use. Another route is a total ban. In Bangladesh you can be fined on the spot if you’re caught with a plastic bag while in India bag users face jail. So what are we to make of the Co-op (UK) supermarket’s decision to launch 100% degradable plastic wrappers for all it’s own label bread products. A step in the right direction certainly, but probably more of a marketing gimmick than a long-term solution..

Ref:, New Scientist (UK) 11 September 2004.

Price isn't everything

Shoppers rate convenience and location ahead of choice and even price according to a survey by Lancaster University Management school. A similar survey in 1980 also ranked price #3 ahead of store layout and having everything under one roof. The results suggest that customers are growing tired of large 'megastores' and prefer to shop locally when time is at a premium.

Ref: The Times (UK) 12 June 2004.

Obsession with appearance

Clothes (26%), make-up (19%) and hair (14%) are the things that make young women feel confident according to a survey of 500 17 year olds in Britain. Friends scored a rather miserable 4% in the survey. 45% of respondents also said they would think about cosmetic surgery to improve their appearance.

Ref: The Times (UK) 23 October 2004.

ATM for music downloads

A machine that allows people to download songs and ringtones has been spotted at a trade show in Berlin. The machine, called E2Go, also prints photographs and burns CDs. Payment can be made with cash or plastic (and eventually, one presumes, mobiles).

Ref: Trendcentral (US) 16 October 2004.

Print your own book

Six Borders bookstores in Philadelphia are offering customers the opportunity to print their own book at a cost of US $675 for 10 copies. For an additional US $395 you receive an ISBN number and 5 copies are put on sale in the stores and on the Borders website. Self-publishing used to be seen as a desperate last resort for would-be writers. Now it’s the logical first step for would-be writers and budding publishers.

Ref: International Herald Tribune (US) 5 November 2004.

Radio Starbucks

Having pioneered music downloads in coffee shops, the megacorp is now set to launch it’s own national radio station in early 2005.

Ref: Trendcentral (US), 11 August 2004.

Business class seats (in cinemas)

‘Gold Class’ is a private area within the Greater Union cinema complex at Bondi Junction (Aus). Customers (aged over 18 only), receive complimentary drinks and snacks and there is also a fully stocked bar. Seats are fully reclining and feature a table for drinks. There is even a chef and waiters to supply cocktails and light meals.

Traffic light labelling

UK supermarket Tesco is testing a ‘traffic light’ packaging system to indicate the levels of sugar, salt and fat in its ‘Healthy Eating’ range. The traffic light idea was first developed by Great Ormond Street Hospital to help obese kids lose weight.

Keep the change.

A shop in New York has adopted a rounding down policy to get rid of small change. A bill for US $14.75 is reduced to US $ 14.00. Apparently the idea has increased business and reduced the number of customers asking for discounts.

Ads to floor even the most loyal shoppers?

Floor advertising is nothing new but a company called the Egg Factory in the US has unveiled a product called the Intellimat – a flat TV liquid crystal screen that you can stand on. The matt can be linked to a PC and used to run anything from still graphics to TV commercials. As its name implies the matt is clever too. It can tell the difference between being stepped on by a person and being rolled over by a trolley.

Ref: IT Alive/The Australian 10 August 2004.

Only in America?

YoyaMart is a dad-friendly store in New York that sells clothing for fickle children and hip gadgets for their dads. Meanwhile, Neighborhoodies is an online clothing retailer from Brooklyn that sells localised clothing (t-shirts emblazoned with the words East Side, and Queens’s etc). Finally, Between $1 and Five is a store that sells pocket money items to tweenagers.

The future of supermarket shopping?

OK, we’re seen the self-check out isle and we all know about Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID) so what’s next? In the US Piggly Wiggly supermarkets are testing a new trolley gadget called a Shopping Buddy. The idea is that you scan your loyalty card and the gadget then tells you what you bought the last time you visited the store. It can also direct you to the correct aisles and suggest recipes and ingredients. Another new product is a fingerprint-based system that negates the need for a wallet. Customers swipe themselves into the system, which is pre-loaded with debit card information.

Ref: Trendcentral (US).

Sick proof suits beat classic tailoring

If the half-yearly results of fashion retailers Austin Reed and Ted Baker are anything to go by it looks like lad culture is still in the ascendant. Austin Reed made a loss of GB £3m on static sales of GB £57m. In contrast, Ted Baker made a profit of GB £5m (up 26%) on sales of GB £50m (up17%). Austin Reed make classic suits at GB £300 each while Ted Baker sells the euphemistically named Endurance Suit which is vomit proof and contains special pockets for condoms and a cell-phone. One really nice touch is the changing rooms at Ted Baker which display the name of the customer once a loyalty card has been swiped to gain access.

Ref: Financial Times (UK), 5 July 2004. The Weekly Telegraph Issue # 690 (UK)

Great idea from the global ideas bank

We’re seen gift-wrapping departments before so why not introduce an unwrapping service to remove unwanted packaging? The idea helps recycling and could be fantastically useful for older people who are partially sighted or suffer from arthritis.

Car vending?

Avis Rent A Car has introduced vending machines in California to sell items such as maps, cameras, flashlights, drinks and snacks. Will we ever see the day when you can buy cheap cars from giant vending machines?

The future of the mall

The Mall of America in Minnesota had more visitors last year than Disney World. Both are fake creations but both reflect what the vast majority of families currently want. However, there may be a change coming. Most mall developers are just that - property developers. They sell real estate to retailers and are one step removed from the end customer. Hence they are somewhat out of touch with what customers want. Customers are becoming disillusioned with characterless spaces, homogenised brands and vast inaccessible car parks.

Ref: The Call of The Mall by Paco Underhill (Simon & Schuster) reviewed in The Atlantic Monthly (US) June 2004.

Fractional ownership

Fractional ownership is a new term being applied to the part purchase of luxury goods and services (think timeshare for the rich and infamous). A good example is NetJet which is growing at a rate of 15% per annum. Another is Damon Hill's supercar club called P1.

Ref: Marketing Week (UK) 8 July 2004.

A machine that tells the difference between apples and pears

IBM has developed intelligent scales for supermarkets. The scales, which use new 'veggie vision' software, can tell the difference between produce whether it's packaged, bagged or loose. The scales are currently in use in Metro's 'future store' in Rheinberg (Germany). Other technologies being used by the store include touch screen store navigators ('where's the milk?") and electronic shelf labelling.

Ref: BBC Online 28 May 2004.

New hip hop shop

The hip hop singer Sean 'Puff Daddy' Coombs has launched a flagship 3,500 sq ft 'lifestyle' store in New York. There have been scores of musicians launching clothing ranges recently but what make this unusual is the sheer scale of the venture. Another feature is the address. The store is located on prestigious Fifth Avenue.

Ref: New York Times (US) 31 August 2004.

The simple life

A recent conference of designers, trend forecasters and consumer researchers in France made the following predictions for retail:
  1. There is too much choice so we will witness a growth in curated (edited) consumption.
  2. Most people have got enough stuff so experiences will become increasingly important.
  3. Products and services that save people time will continue to grow.
  4. Customers want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about products and the companies behind them.
  5. Individualism still rules but there will be a tension between the needs of the individual and that of the (local) community.
  6. Consumers are looking for sensual experiences and we will see an increase in the use of sensual (5-dimensional) branding
  7. Consumers will increasingly act as the co-producers of the products and services they buy.
  8. Small islands of luxury (treats) will happily sit alongside oases of well-being and austerity.
  9. Localism and tribalism will be the counter trends to globalisation.
  10. Sanctuary, private spaces and solitude will be the antidote to urban living and workplace stress.