Retail, shopping & leisure

Repair cafes

In 2009 the first ‘repair cafe’ was set up in Amsterdam and cafes in the UK, Australia and Silicon Valley followed suit. A repair cafe is a face-to-face meeting of volunteers and locals who offer their fixing skills in a community workspace or meeting place. People with broken things – bikes, furniture, phones - show up and try to get them fixed. The fixers might be tradespeople, but more often than not they are just ordinary people with some tinkering skills and an interest in helping other people.

What’s interesting here isn't the fixing per se, although the idea of fixing and repairing items rather than throwing them away is a sustainable departure from our disposable culture. If one goes back a generation or more, the idea of repairing things, of making do and mending, be it hole in a shoe or trousers, was commonplace. But we haven’t seen anything like this since the 1950s, when mass market disposable culture started to emerge in developed economies.

More interesting though is the idea that, in the digital age, people want to use their hands and physically connect with other people. This trend links with the Maker Movement and low carbon living, but it also marks the re-emergence of shared community spirit where everything, from tools to talents, is shared for the good of the whole. Watch this space.

Ref: The Conversation (Aus) 16 May 2014, ‘Repair cafes are about fixing things – including the economy’ by J. Herriman.
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Search words: Sustainability, digitalisation, connection, community
Trend tags: Digitalisation

The ascent of experience

As economies mature and individuals become more comfortable with their wealth, we know spending shifts from outward display to inward experiences. Within retail, companies must adapt from merely selling products to selling events and unique experiences. This means a physical store becomes more of a destination playing to sensory triggers, as distinct from convenience and price, which dominate online retail.

But some interesting questions emerge. First, if there is a parallel shift away from outright ownership to partial ownership or simply towards on-demand access, how might this impact enjoyment? If enjoyment is partly to do with having access to things that others don’t, how far can you push the paradox of industrial (mass produced) craftsmanship? As the world becomes more rootless and homogenised, how will provenance and authenticity play out and how big can brands get before they lose their realness?

Ref: The Economist (UK) 13 December 2014, The future of luxury: experience counts.
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Search words: Experiences, sensory retail, craft
Trend tags: Experience

Same day delivery

Whatever it is that we want we definitely want it now. The idea of delayed gratification now seems as old fashioned as Sunday best or half-day closing, which is one reason why Amazon Prime and Uber Rush have entered the ‘can’t wait’ space. The latest company to enter this frantic marketplace is Google, which is experimenting with Google Express same day delivery.

The service, which costs $95 membership, was first tested in San Francisco and has now expanded into New York, Washington DC, Chicago and Boston. But the interesting aspect of Google Express isn’t speed, but the model of using third party couriers who, in theory, could be anyone interested in making a few dollars for a local delivery.

We’ve had a rush of similar services before. The first boom saw the likes of Webvan and Kozmo try (and fail) to deliver packages to people although, with smartphones, it might be different this time. What’s also interesting is that, if one-hour delivery can be made to work in large cities, this may just destroy one of the remaining advantages of local physical retail.

So what’s next? Amazon has announced it will open a physical store, which is a small but noticeable trend with other online retailers. Another, older idea is personal lockers like large post office boxes where deliveries can be placed. These might be located in other stores, post offices or possibly storage units, although more futuristic options might include drone delivery, driverless delivery vehicles or 3D printing.

Ref: New Scientist (UK) 25 October 2014, ‘I want it, and I want it now’ by A. Rutkin.
See also Daily Telegraph (UK) 3 July 2015, ‘The online shopping revolution is upon us and gathering momentum’ by G. Ruddick.
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Search words: Delivery, immediacy, speed, convenience
Trend tags: Culture of now

What ever happened to the ‘big shop’?

If you want solid proof of change, the supermarket is a good place to start. A few years ago, the Big 4 had the UK market sewn up and shoppers were attracted to giant out-of-town box retail for their weekly or bi-weekly food shopping. Not any more.

First, the Big 4 (or 5 or 6 depending on definition) have had their profits sliced and diced by Aldi and Lidl, the two German discounters that have taken away the frills and dropped prices. This could be a simple reaction to belt-tightening in the economic downturn, but there’s surely more to it than that.

The big shift isn't about money, but how people shop. Gone or going is the big weekly shop and, in its place is regular shopping in a variety of different stores, online, in smaller specialist shops and farmers markets.

One reason for this change is the shift in working practices. More people are now self-employed or working part time and they do not have to join long queues in giant supermarkets at weekends. They can also shop at work online. Smaller, more frequent shopping is more sustainable and creates less food waste (the Waste and Resources Action Programme reports food waste in the UK has fallen by 21% in 5 years). It’s also more enjoyable to shop lightly and locally, especially if you can leave the car at home or drive less far.

Another reason for the shift might be that, at home, we increasingly sit alone staring at screens. Home used to be where people came together, but we tend to do this out of home now, making the social aspects of shopping more important. Retailers claim shoppers have become more promiscuous but perhaps this is because so much of retail has become impersonal, anti-social and anti-human.

Ref: The Daily Telegraph (UK) 23 October 2014, ‘How we fell out of love with the big shop’ by H. Wallop.
The Guardian (UK) 3 October 2014. ‘The UK’s big supermarkets sowed the seeds of their own decline’ by
D Orr.
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Search words: Shopping, retail
Trend tags: -

Have we lost patience?

Our earlier story, Same day delivery, is interesting in the context of a seemingly unrelated statistic we stumbled on recently: average ‘dwell time’ in front of the Mona Lisa is 15 seconds. Yes, most people spend a mere 15 seconds looking at the most famous painting in the world.

What do these people think they are doing? What are they actually seeing? Is this just ‘tick box’ tourism and, if so, what are some of the implications for the retail and leisure industries?

One is the need to make queues move more quickly, but we suggest by far the most interesting opportunity lies in the opposite direction.

How could retailers or leisure operators decelerate their customers so they really appreciate what’s on offer? How could society teach people the art and value of not only patience, but sustained looking and shopping? If people value experiences, then surely deep and immersive seeing and shopping must have value?

One of the biggest fears people have is losing control and we increasingly feel like slaves to the technology we carry around. Surely a good way to give people back a sense of power would be to reduce the speed of everyday life. One of the best ways of doing this would be to ritually switch things off and tune into the natural rhythms of life itself.

If retailers really want to achieve customer focus, then perhaps they need to allow people to connect with other customers, staff and the goods themselves, at a pace that’s more human and less impersonal. How about blocking mobiles from shops and removing those self-checkout terminals as a starting point?

Ref: The Big Think (US), ‘Can art teach patience? by B. Duggan.
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Search words: Patience, speed, convenience
Trend tags: Slow