About Howard Saunders

The Retail Futurist, otherwise known as Howard Saunders, is a writer and speaker whose job it is to see beyond retail’s currently choppy waters. Howard spent the first twenty five years of his career at some of London’s most renowned retail design agencies, including Fitch & Company, where he created concepts, strategies and identities for dozens of British high street brands. In 2003 he founded trend-hunting agency, Echochamber, inspiring his clients with new and innovative store designs from across the globe. Howard relocated to New York in 2012 where the energetic regeneration of Brooklyn inspired his book, Brooklynization, published in 2017. His newfound role as champion for retail’s future in our town and city centres gave rise to the title The Retail Futurist. Howard has been interviewed on numerous television and radio programs and podcasts for BBC Radio 4, BBC Scotland, the British Retail Consortium, Sky News Australia and TVNZ, New Zealand. His talks are hi-energy, jargon-free journeys that explore the exciting, if not terrifying, retail landscape that lies ahead. When not in retail mode, Howard has recorded, literally, thousands of digital music masterpieces, most of which remain, thankfully, unheard.

RETAIL ROLL OF HONOUR

The dark earth smoulders twixt broken bodies strewn

Whilst pale ghosts dance to a deathly tune

Now is as good a time to tell

Of all our beloved friends that fell.

Tis hard to fathom the devastation

That cursed this war torn island nation

Friends young and old, some frail, some meek

Some in denial of their losing streak.

This verse is dedicated to dearly departed Debs

And a rag tag smattering of sorry urban sheds

Like cavernous Oak Furnitureland

where you can’t see the trees for the wood

Or sleepy Benson Beds, best avoided if you could.

Oh Forever 21, you were far too young to die

Though she still remains the apple of her father’s roving eye.

What happened to old Hawkins was, frankly, quite Bazaar

And Bon Marche was, sadly, never destined to go far.

Surviving world wars one and two

Was not an easy thing to do

So just imagine how it feels

When a microscopic virus eliminated Beales.

Weep not for the lovely ladies who suffered a terrible fate

They were middle aged, out of place, unfit and over weight.

I refer of course to Wallis, Dotty P, and Burton too

Taken to the cloud by angels, that’s why we cry Boohoo!

Throats slashed open with a deadly sharp razor

Bled quietly to death like the House of Fraser.

Soletrader died on the battlefield alone

Antler packed his bags and wandered off home

But you cannot charge a serving soldier to roam

(Unless you’re Carphone Warehouse or Vodafone)

The loss of those with children seems particularly unfair

Like cuddly Mamas & Papas and loving Mothercare

Your choice of burgers too is considerably diminished

Now that GBK and Byron are virtually finished.

Go Outdoors he ran away and is never coming back

Whilst mighty DFS up and swallowed Feather & Black

And yes, Victoria’s Secret is well and truly out

Though frankly it was nothing much to write home about.

A couple of ditzy hippies were disposed of in an instant:

Mad Laura Ashley and crazy Cathy Kidstone.

Much loved Warehouse suffered a massive heart attack

Whilst poor old TM Lewin lost the shirt right off his back.

The army that lost the greatest number of lives

Was the battalion of chefs all brandishing knives.

Leading from the front is never very easy

Just Ask, Cafe Rouge, Bella Italia, YoSushi! Wahaca, Wasabi, Pizza Express, Pizza Hut, Carluccio, Jamie Oliver, Itsu, Revolution…and Zizzi.

Lest we forget Quotidien, Hummingbird and the artisan bakers

Yes, the strongest of our fighters have gone to meet their makers

There are amputees aplenty in this fearful goddamn place

Like poor John Lewis, M&S and Paperchase.

Some say they saw Oasis holding up the rear

Turned out to be a mirage and not distinctly clear.

Accessorize & Monsoon drowned together in a storm

Resembling twin Ophelias…but in army uniform.

Far too many lives were lost upon this bloodied field

Oliver Sweeney tripped and died in his fancy heels

Alongside Aldo, the Shoe Zone and beautiful Bennett LK

Only the bravest foot soldier will return another day.

Our war photographer Jessop, he was absolutely fine

Until an unknown enemy missile came hurtling across his line.

A group of Yankees scarpered home to be closer to their mothers.

The deserters’ names I hear you ask? J Crew and the Brooks Brothers.

Some spirits they were lifted in the war to stay alive

But Pier1 decided it was best to simply take a dive.

A pair of dismal troopers died, neither men I know

One by the name of Peacock, the other M&Co.

Bandaged up like zombies they stagger up your street

With smashed and badly severed limbs limping to retreat

Oddbins, Clintons, TJ Hughes and Kikki K

Most are mortally wounded or stitched together in some way.

I must avoid salaciousness, as your solemn narrator

But Evan’s earthly departure did leave a plus-sized crater

Twas not an easy year for the fuller of physique

(just ask portly Philip Green about his winning streak )

And what of the loss of Topshop? Well it hurt an awful lot

Vanished over the horizon just like a super-yacht.

The carnage was extensive and the list is way too long

The bill will be expensive but the battle will be won

So when you see the Covid-reaper dancing up your street

Remind him in a year or two we’ll be back upon our feet!

For our soil has now been watered by a thousand merchants’ tears

On seeds that have been planted for a good two thousand years

Pushing through the ashes you’ll spot us green and strong

For this is my clarion prophecy, and remember…I’m seldom wrong.

Follow me on Twitter @retailfuturist for daily insights and wry retail based musings.

  Howard Saunders   Jun 08, 2021   Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

THE REBOOT

Looking back it was obvious really. Ridiculous rents and rates marching onwards and upwards meant eventually something had to give. For years our high streets were kept teetering on the edge, terrified of change and too poor to try anything new. Switching off the global economy in 2020 resolved all that overnight. Yes folks, the retail reboot is here.

When it comes to predicting what’s next for our town and city centres the general consensus seems to be that everything will shift online apart from the edge of town space-age supermarket, manned by robot shelf stackers and illuminated by Minority Report style hologram-ads. But rest assured, this is the vision of the techno-nerd, and techno-nerds are experts in misunderstanding humanity. Their vision of the future won’t happen for one simple reason: we don’t want it.

But we have changed. Lockdown, has taught us a lot. We probably bake a bit more, or read more than we did previously. We’ve learnt how easy it is to buy online and have it delivered the next morning. Posing with our feet next to a parcel for a doorstep snap has become part of our daily routine. But lockdown has also taught us what we secretly knew all along: that shopping was never just about buying stuff, it was about getting out and having fun.

What’s more, now that we’re armed with that magical little black slab of glass, (that smart device that carries the sum of all human knowledge with us wherever we go) our expectations are primed for take off faster and higher than Elon Musk’s Space X. We have access to everything now, we compare notes too, and cannot be suckered by your seductive advertising like we were a mere decade ago. Today we’re connected, we live at the centre of the universe with our eyes wide open, and we’re crying out “whatever you’ve got for us, it better be good!”

The world has changed too. There’s no doubt that 2021 is the year retail sheds its skin. It’s also the year we draw a line under the ever-rising rents and rates that thwart fresh blood from flowing through the arteries of our towns and cities. Call it the Great Reset if you like.

But while we’ve been stuck at home watching Netflix, the cleverest brands have been plotting and planning new and exciting ways to tell us their story, entertain us, inspire us and put us at the centre of their universe. They know that the online world alone can never do that. And they know that they cannot simply reopen their stores the way they were in 2019. They’ve learnt a lot too and very soon they will gather up all their online knowledge and data and drag it into the real world to create truly immersive brand experiences that know exactly who we are.

So, in our cities the rich multinationals, (the brands that sell us the stuff we want but don’t need) will build spaces, places and pop-ups that make a mockery of that little word retail to encompass events, exhibitions, social spaces, work places, leisure hybrids and workshops to provide us with an ever changing array of branded entertainment. The old model (product in the window, stock on shelves and out the back) will make way for engaging spaces that immerse us in a brand’s story. Their job will be to get into our brains and our bloodstreams, not to sell in the conventional sense as they won’t care where or how you finally get hold of their precious wares.

We’ve already witnessed this from global behemoths Apple, Samsung and Nike who have created ‘stores’ that are part town square (Apple, Chicago & San Francisco) stores that are more of an events venue (Samsung, New York & London) or stores that are ever-changing exhibitions (Nike House of Innovation, New York & Paris).

These are the places where technology can really enjoy itself. Stores will be aware of your arrival, know how many milliseconds you paused over their new product on social media, know your tastes in fashion, music and how often you exercise in order to direct you to things that can be tailored especially for you: limited edition, numbered, tracked and even insured… all you have to do is swipe your thumb. Here, the online and offline worlds will meld seamlessly, with you at the epicentre.

More flexible leasing will finally allow brands to show off and have a bit of fun without signing up for ten years at a time. So our shopping centres will become venues for product launches, branded experiences and pop-up exhibitions like the Samsung Experience in London and the Adidas Originals exhibition in Seoul, shown here. The empty boxes left by our dearly departed stores will open up a thousand opportunities. Some will be converted to digital interactive leisure concepts such as Toca Social’s football based games (opening at the O2 this summer) or e-racing concepts from brands such as Zwift (zwift.com). These brands will kickstart a retail revolution tentatively entitled ‘competitive socialising’. Other big box spaces will become health and beauty hubs offering fitness and yoga sessions, lunchtime botox, teeth whitening and de-stress injections.

By contrast, much of the future will also be about reinventing the best of the past. Back in our towns and suburbs you may have already noticed that the age of the independent is returning. Your local butcher, baker (and candlestick maker) have been given an electrifying lease of life, heralding a decade of young innovators and entrepreneurs desperate to revitalise our communities now that rents are set to be somewhat more sensible. They’ll open funky new bars, delis, health food stores and restaurants on more flexible terms, which in turn will make for a more dynamic local retail scene. Our luckiest towns might even see their moribund concrete shopping centre replaced by a glazed market hall, brimful of fresh produce and eateries, not unlike the Victorian ones we demolished in the sixties.

So don’t listen to the techno-nerds. The stage has been cleared and new players are waiting eagerly in the wings. The audience has greater expectations than ever before and, oh boy, we’re determined to get out and enjoy ourselves. We want to experience things we’ve never even thought of. We want to see pop-ups and wacky brand collaborations. We want to hang out in big, breathtaking dining halls and cosy, artisan coffee shops and delis. We want our fast fashion chains to host start-ups and our favourite national brands to promote young talent in their branded incubators. We want to go to concerts, exhibitions, product launches and festivals of music, food and culture, and we want to join local clubs and go to workshops in the evening.

Above all, we want to live again. It’s obvious really.

This article was commissioned by my good friends (and loyal client) Aptos.

  Howard Saunders   May 06, 2021   Apple, Food, Future, Retail, San Francisco, shopping, smartphone, technology, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

TEN LOCKDOWN LESSONS FOR LIFE

Lockdown was horrendous but it also forced us to adapt and see things differently. So what are the key lessons we can take with us into the post Covid world?

10. Shopping

Hopefully, we now realise that shopping was never just about getting hold of more ‘stuff’. In fact, now that we’ve had a year-long Spring clean of our drawers and cupboards we are acutely aware that we don’t need any more stuff…ever again. And if you’ve given any of those over-entitled TikTokkers their daily fix of attention, you’ll surely need to hang out with a few civilised adults gently browsing and squeezing vegetables, instead of gyrating provocatively to a misogynist bass-line. The derisory term ‘shopping’ is too small a word for what is actually a nuanced dance of social validation. Consumption in a vacuum is kind of meaningless. 

9. Twinkling

Lockdown has proven how important eye contact is to our needy little species. With most of our face covered we’ve been forced to switch our eyes to full twinkle mode in order to maximise our social acceptance rating. When we’re finally allowed to lose the masks let’s not lose the twinkling.

8. School

One of the biggest lessons we learnt…was about lessons. Zoom-school was fun for a bit but without the peer pressure to either concentrate or take the piss we just switched off. Ask your kids to name three things they learnt in a Zoom class. 

Precisely.

7. Home

Amazing really, that after ten thousand years of civilisation it took 2020 to remind us that our home is where the heart is. A cliche, but nonetheless true. Our homes reminded us they are not just the places we kip in before commuting off to work. A luxury urban apartment that promises a contemporary lifestyle, whatever that is, is not a home. Homes are the real us. Our solace, our comfort, our security. Now go clean that filthy sink.

6. Work

Being forced off the train to be left disorientated on the platform we started to realise that being on the train wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be, after all. Our work/life dial definitely shifted a few notches. However, work ultimately gives us our status and it’s difficult to feel significant in rank whilst perched on the end of a divan with a Dell Inspiron warming our knees. Turns out all that inefficient time gossiping around the water cooler builds stronger bonds than anything gleaned from a zillion Zoom calls. Oh, and for the record, a Zoom drinks party is not a party.

5. John, my Butcher

Now that we’ve had to establish ourselves in our local community our priorities have drastically changed. Previously, we might have smugly asserted that we barely go into town, and certainly never on a Saturday. But post Covid we make a concerted effort, not just to shop at the local butcher but to drop his name into the conversation, because we have learnt that this is the most valuable local currency ever invented. If, by some miracle, John the butcher actually uses our name, well that’s like winning the bloody lottery. Forget Bitcoin. This currency is soaring in value and is accepted at any of your local high street shops. It’s a surefire investment, so if you’re interested in dabbling, it’s called Community Spirit.


4. Christmas (and Easter, birthdays, Shrove Tuesday etc etc)

Believe it or not, there once was a time when the elite would roll their high IQ eyeballs at annual celebrations as an irritant that gets in the way of the god given right to earn a living. With plenty of damning evidence they would accuse Christmas of being an over commercialised money grab that comes around way too often, and worse, for longer each time. Well, talk about a turnaround. Lockdown must have smuggled in the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, for even the Scroogiest of Scrooges can now see the joy of annual family gatherings. I for one plan to follow the gorgeous Mrs Silver in Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot, and ensure my tree’s up and fully dressed by the first of August.

3. The Fear Salesman

If I had titled this blog The Sun Will Come Up Tomorrow, then you can be sure that only my mother, were she still alive, would bother to read it. (and then it would be only to check my grammar). My vain hope is that once the frenzy we’ve been whipped into subsides a little, once the fog of fear has lifted, we will realise just how much we are manipulated by the media. And that includes social media, with Facebook, Google and Youtube literally banning dissent or doubt from the mainstream narrative. This relentless catastrophisation is not just wrong, it’s wicked. Shame on the Doom-mongers, for we know now what your game is.

2. The Pub

Like this needed saying, but apparently it does. Pubs are not just dispensers of beer. Lockdown did not starve us of beer. (In fact, we’ve been drinking more of it than ever before.) No, lockdown starved us of the pub: the social levelling institution that is the foundation of British society. (I realise that substituting the word bar, for my international audience, doesn’t quite cut the mustard, but bear with me.) Few relationships, if any, whether family, sexual or business were ever nurtured without the assistance of a pub in the equation somewhere along the line. Pubs, literally and metaphorically, lubricate society and without them we have been grinding our collective gnashers for far too long. Enough said.

1. Other People

Our year in prison has taught us so much about other people. Firstly, they are stupid. They can’t follow instructions, can’t wear masks properly and refuse to stand two metres away. They gather in the park when they shouldn’t, hold illegal barbecues and tea parties in the garden and as soon as the sun comes out they rush in their multitudes to the beach like the very waves they crave. They are arrogant, cocky to the point of reckless, and downright dangerous. They are also timid, paranoid and so unbelievably jumpy that frankly they should never leave the house ever again. Some of them relish the opportunity to tell us off (see my piece on Mini Tyrants) while others can’t do enough to parade their complete and supine compliance. Our loved ones are beyond irritating, especially when you’ve listened to their stupid little sayings for 365 days on the trot. But however annoying, paranoid and cocky they may be we miss them all so very much. We are desperate to reconnect with the ugly, stupid, contradictory human race because…well, it’s where we belong.

Please feel free to add your own lockdown lessons. Then follow me on Twitter @retailfuturist for daily insights and wry musings.

  Howard Saunders   Apr 15, 2021   Future, me age, Retail, shopping   0 Comment   Read More