2042

No one knows what technological advances will be waiting for us in twenty year’s time but we do know that the planet has just emerged from one almighty global experiment…and the results are in: After two years of being locked up at home and having our ankles photographed by the Amazon driver every few days, we have learnt to appreciate the true value of our local shops. Turns out they are much more about community than simply getting  hold of essentials. Indeed, the local butcher, baker and even the candlestick maker are currently enjoying a much needed renaissance.

It seems we needed reminding that consuming in a vacuum is no replacement for getting out, engaging with the community and feeling alive, relevant and connected. (And if you want more evidence, Google the number of staff Amazon has shed since the tide turned only a few months ago). Two thousand years ago we would wander down to the Forum in our togas to buy bread, check out what’s new and maybe have a glass of wine with a friend. I confidently predict that in two thousand year’s time we’ll be doing something pretty similar. It’s strange how our visions of the future often eclipse our innate understanding of humanity.

So, we should expect to see an army of hungry, young, independent stores, delis, bars, take aways and pop ups on a mission to revive so many of our confused and listless town centres. And best of all, locally sourced product will return to the reborn market square.

Meanwhile, our cities will have followed a very different path. As centres of entertainment, as distinct from ‘shopping’, our major urban centres will become brand playgrounds. Stores will no longer need to ‘store’ things, nor necessarily display products tidily on shelves. Conventional ‘stores’ will be reborn as venues for brands to show off, seduce us and tell us why we should include them in our lives. ‘Stores’ will be replaced by ever-changing, immersive and interactive digital experiences. It will be the age of immersive storytelling. These brand playgrounds will help us determine which products are cool of course, but more importantly, which best align with our personal values. And, of course, they will know all about those since we carry them around on our smartphones. In the same way that our individual preferences shape our social media feeds today, digitally immersive spaces will shape the brand stories around us individually. Imagine how seductive it will be when we become central to a brand’s story. Once upon a time, marketeers talked of demographics, a tool that sketched an approximate picture of loose sections of the population. Egographics will enable AI to target you specifically. 

With delivery times getting quicker and quicker, could we see ourselves living in a world of instant delivery by 2042?

It’s worth remembering that this quest for ultra convenience – to the point of instant gratification – was kickstarted in the sixties with the arrival of the supermarket, labour saving gadgets and ready meals. So based on what we already know it seems that delivery times will continue to decrease as we increase the extent of AI into our lives. Predictive algorithms will offer us things we didn’t know we wanted or needed yet, while smart devices will quietly replenish essentials without us having to get involved at all.

However, instant gratification comes with a peculiar paradox: the more accessible something is, the less we value it. Consider how we value music today compared with thirty or forty years ago, now that it’s largely free and on tap absolutely everywhere. Therefore, as our priorities shift towards wanting sustainable products from simple supply chains, ultra convenience will come wrapped pretty heavily in guilt.

Convenience is a relative concept based upon how we value our time being spent across different activities. For example, the arrival of many hundreds of electric vehicle charging hubs across the country will create an exciting new platform for retailers and brands to entertain and sell to us while our cars are being charged. Only retail can magically transform this additional demand upon our time into a convenience. Perhaps we’ll come to see these hubs as the new Forums.

But the technology that’s most likely to satiate our relentless thirst for instant gratification is not a predictive algorithm, or even a swarm of delivery-ready drones hovering overhead. It’s the 3D printer. In simple terms, 3D printing democratises manufacturing, opening up incredible opportunities for independent designers in bedrooms and basements across the world to create products available for us to download anywhere. In 2042 you’ll be able to watch a designer in Seoul create, say, a bike or a guitar to your specification that you can download and assemble. It won’t be instant but it will eradicate distance instantly. And while we’re on the subject, imagine how the eradication of distance, complex supply chains and delivery will revolutionise your local high street. Now that’s an innovation worth waiting for!

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

  Howard Saunders   Oct 12, 2022   Blog, Brand   0 Comment   Read More

SUPERHEROES TO THE RESCUE

Here in the West we may have lost faith in ourselves, but an unlikely gang of superheroes may just have come to our rescue.

Not long ago, our once steadfast ship charted a clarion course, sails puffed taut with pride and principle. We rode the waves knowing who we were and where we were going. We had turned our backs on religious dogma and we ruled the world as the vanguard of free speech, free markets and freedom of movement. After the war we had a party to celebrate: a rock n roll rollercoaster of a bash that made gods of lowly Liverpudlians and a teenager from Tupelo. It was the democratisation of fame and fortune, and what a party it was! There was singing, dancing, drink and drugs but somehow through the fog of inebriation we managed to play golf on the moon, invent the internet and put the sum of all human knowledge on a little black slab of glass in everyone’s pocket.

But sadly, every silver lining has a cloud lurking inside. The great dump of absolutely everything onto absolutely everyone ignited a fire of self doubt that’s been raging for over a decade. The party is clearly over and I’m afraid the music you’re listening to is nothing but the drumbeat reminder of the good times we once had. Ask the East what they think of us. They admire our history and tradition but raise their eyebrows over our concocted narcissistic outrage. We bicker over gender, race and religion and squirm over made up pronouns. Instead of facing the future we attempt to dismantle the past: the very history that got us here. Self doubt has grown into self loathing which in turn has morphed into the kind of cultural masochism that saw us wishing Covid 19 was The Plague. We thought we deserved it.

This then is today’s West, the force that faces our latest foe: outraged, entitled, terrified and led by a soon to be octogenarian that cannot enunciate his own name. Surely the battle is already lost. 

But hang on a minute. Who are these superheroes in tight fitting primary colours I see in the skies above? Why of course, it’s Coca Cola, McDonalds, Apple and Starbucks, I could spot them a mile off! They may be greedy, capitalist, exploitative virtue-signallers but at least they’re our greedy, capitalist, exploitative virtue-signallers! They may be flying in the wrong direction but they are our superheroes and I just knew they’d come to our rescue. I’d lost faith in our brand behemoths but here they all are: Amazon hand in hand with Adidas, Aston Martin, Levi’s and Burberry, and good old Pizza Hut arm in arm with Chanel, Disney and Dior. What an historic spectacle! Hurrah for the West!

While we dither in our vacuum of self doubt, these perfectly packaged superstars know it’s time to stand up for Western values and rehang the rusty old iron curtain. As we fumble to find a principle we can agree on, our iconic giants have stepped in to speak up for us. And while we torment ourselves with modern day perplexities such as ‘what is nationhood?’ and ‘what is a woman?’ Ukranian women, unburdened by such decadent debate, prepare to defend their own nation with force. The contrast is sickeningly stark.

Right now it seems brands can say more about our values than we can. But the yearning for the comforting embrace of a mature, motherly, reliable consumer brand runs deep in our DNA, whether it’s a Dior trouser suit or a Big Mac with fries. Russia will never be short of burgers or trouser suits of course, and Kvass is a perfectly acceptable fizzy brown alternative to CocaCola. But the missing ingredient is the tasty bit: the magical zest of the West: the glorious tang of mass produced, unhealthy, delicious, free market capitalism that permeates all our branded icons. That’s what they queued around the block for in 1990 and again in March this year before McDonalds shut up shop. Our appetites may have faded but theirs clearly haven’t.

Yes, consumerism has mollycoddled us into vacuous brand narcissists lacking any sense of purpose or direction. But love them or loathe them, they are our superheroes and they built the Twenty First Century. This superbrand exodus is nothing less than the Twenty First Century turning its back on Russia. That’s some WMD.

Thanks for reading. Now, do the right thing and follow me on Twitter @retailfuturist for daily retail rants and musings.

  Howard Saunders   Mar 13, 2022   Apple, Blog, Brand, Levi's, pizza, Retail, smartphone, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More