I am speaking at the Informa Fashion Exposed/Business in Fashion conference at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre this coming weekend.
Whilst researching trends across the US, Europe and Asia as part of the preparation for this speaking engagement, I caught up with my old friend Howard Saunders.
Howard, the founder of EchoChamber in London, is now working in New York. He is a favourite and unforgettable retail trend spotter and presenter on the speaking circuit. Many of you will have seen and heard him at various conferences in Australia and New Zealand. His views of the future of retailing are, as usual, very confronting and often counter intuitive.
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There is little doubt that around the OECD countries investment in retail construction has dropped, retail rents have stalled or dropped, and some of the vacant high street and close to town mall retail space is now being used as pop-up stores or ‘dark’ stores; basically smaller tactical warehousing in major towns and cities for the online arm of traditional retailers.
Omni and multi-channel is the norm, and companies like Nordstrom, ASOS and Amazon are investing a higher proportion of their capital expenditure in warehousing to hold online stock, or data warehousing to hold online shopper data than in new stores. The same is happening here in Australia, just at a slightly slower pace.
So along comes Howard with the headline “Last year was all about Omni-Channel. This is the year of the Me-Channel.” What’s the Me-Channel I wondered? So I called him in New York and asked him to explain. Now Howard can talk, so here is the abridged version.
Howard believes the early adopters of online shopping “became the mobile generation and have now become the true ‘me-generation’.” He adds: “They are eponymously connected and constantly looking to self-promote in what we may see as brazen narcissism.”
They appear very self-absorbed. But if you look a little deeper these “me-centric” shoppers are ‘us’; “each one of ‘us’ is seeking a connection with the real time reassurance that we are on the right path, in the right place, right now.” Basically, just like any other shopper who brings their new wares home to show to their loved ones for positive feedback to overcome any doubts that they have bought the right thing; someone else’s positive view to counter our ‘post purchase dissonance’. The only difference is they are doing it, not at home after the shopping trip, but publically in a myriad of online media channels.
So here’s the counterintuitive part. Howard believes the high street is still the true hunting ground for the ‘connection addicted’. However, in their rush to online and omni/multi-channel, major retailers just don’t know it yet. He says: “Retailers can, and must, tap into the me-centric consumer. Retailers have a golden opportunity to connect and engage with us as never before, not just digitally but more importantly, in the real world.” Retailers can connect in the high street once more.
Howard has always been a thinker that sees things differently to most of us. He has also been very accurate on his predictions of trends in retail.
Kevin Moore is a retail expert and the chairman of Crossmark Asia-Pacific Holdings.