CORONAVIRUS AND THE RETAIL APOCALYPSE


“WHATEVER WE’RE GOING THROUGH RIGHT NOW, IT IS A CATALYST FOR GOOD AND BAD”

On Wednesday 11th March 2020, Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered his first Budget in the House of Commons. In this special edition of ‘What’s In Store’, Andrew and Zana Busby give you up-to-the-minute reaction on the UK government’s tax and spending plans for the year ahead. Bringing in the retail futurist Howard Saunders as a special guest, the three discuss what the budget means for retail and the future of the high street. The coronavirus outbreak features heavily in the conversation, as its impact on the economy is clearly reflected in the Budget and is already beginning to put customers off visiting physical shops. Is this a major turning point? Could it be the start of the so-called ‘retail apocalypse’?

  Howard Saunders   Mar 13, 2020   Uncategorized   1 Comment   Read More

BIG KID: THE RISE OF KIDULTIFICATION

All television has finally become children’s television. It wasn’t always like this. Not so long ago there would be proper debates in which fully grown adults opined on matters with original thought and genuine contemplation. Today, our juvenile brains can only process a well rehearsed soundbite if it’s accompanied by a manic drumbeat. We’ve even grown to love our Cheshire-cheeked presenters of mundanity, pumped with Blue Peter enthusiasm and avuncular vowels. Somewhere up there, in the great conspiracy in the sky, they want us all to be obedient children that grin inanely as a parrot performs card tricks or something.

Infantilism has now infected retail and leisure with a torrent of kidult concepts and products coming to market every week. In the gluttony department, and egged on by Instagram, we have dinner plate sized, candy floss collared ice creams at Milk Train, overladen cones at Udderlicious, Sticky Toffee Warmies at the Chin Chin Dessert Club, Bilog purple ice cream deep fried buns at Mamasons Dirty Ice Cream, hip versions of Mr Whippy from Soft Serve Society, and the £99 Billionaire Soft Serve at Snowflake. If these outrageous gelatos are not kiddified enough for you, how about the cookie dough brands like My Cookie Dough (Stratford), Humbledough (Shoreditch) and Naked Dough (Camden Lock)? (This might be a good time to confess my addiction to Little Moons mochi balls. I can’t even type that without salivating). Ultimately, no adult activity is safe from infantilisation. I mean, what young bride doesn’t dream of a Disney themed hen party-cum-singalong at Funktion Events and a unicorn wedding cake from the Maid of Ginger Bread? 

Invention has no limits when it comes to impregnating us with glucose. From Bubbleology’s Electric Yuzu bubble tea through to Kinder Egg ice rolls made fresh for you at Pan-n-Ice, it’s never been easier to pretend we’re five years old and Mummy is buying us a treat. For advanced narcissism you must go to Candy Mechanics who will make a 3D printed chocolate lollipop of your very own head! What sort of self obsessed idiot would ever want one of these?

Away from the global obesity craze there’s a slew of adult ball pits at the moment from brands such as Ballie Ballerson (Shoreditch & Soho) and at The Museum of Ice Cream (SoHo, NYC) one of the many Instagrammable places emerging along with Happy Place (Vegas & Philadelphia) and the Selfie Factory (O2, London). Even trusty old John Lewis held a selfie workshop at its Southampton store. Not that this has any great social significance you understand, ahem, but boy would Freud freak.

With legacy brands disappearing at a silly rate of knots, shopping centres are racking their brains for engaging replacements to plug the often huge, yawning spaces traditional stores have abandoned. Intu was quick to add adult play areas into the mix with their funky, two storey climbing brand Rock Up seen here at Lakeside. And who could ever forget Bompas & Parr’s Grope Mountain at New York’s Museum of Sex?

Puttshack is doing a roaring trade at Westfield London at the moment with the kind of crazy golf we dreamt of as kids, but sadly never discovered. Topgolf, Junkyard Golf and the cheeky sounding Swingers, mix crazy golf with cocktails to appeal to our inner juvenile. Other brands jumping on the big, squishy, kidult bandwagon are Go Ape (ziplines), Flip Out and Jump Giants (adult soft-play and trampoline parks).

One of the most imaginative up and coming activities is the urban adventure trail. Brands like Hidden City, Secret City Trails and Foxtrail construct tours via cryptic clues sent to your phone, while you dash breathlessly through London’s drizzle. With the advent of Augmented Reality, we can expect to see groups of terrified tourists wandering around Whitechapel in search of ghostly apparitions and virtual gore. The gamification of tourism is here to stay.

Some of the most creative ideas can be found at immersive events designed by the clever people at Escape Room, Gingerline, Colab Theatre and Secret Cinema. These venues are where you dress up to be dragged into a choreographed fantasy world for a few hours, presumably to expunge the memory of your daily commute. If that fails you can always head to The Cauldron where you make your own magic (alcoholic) potions, dressed as a wizard of course.

Fantasy can be fun, but it can also be absolutely terrifying. If you’re into being scared witless try ‘Trapped in a Room with a Zombie’ at Apocalypse Events in Charlton. Solve the clues within five minutes or the zombie’s chain will be released another five foot! Grandma loves this one.

Sleepovers are massive too. The Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square, holds all-night pyjama and movie binging parties, while London and Whipsnade Zoos now have permanent sleepover lodges. But best of all has to be the Natural History Museum where the events calendar includes Dino Snores for Grown Ups, silent discos, behind the scenes tours, all-night monster movie marathons and Crime Scene Live where you join their forensic experts to solve a museum based murder mystery. Perhaps some of our retailers could learn a thing or two from our long since dusty museums?

As I’ve said many times, trends aren’t sent down to us from on high, but instead grow inside us as our hopes and expectations shift and change. My inner Freud tells me Kidultification answers a desire to escape adult responsibility. The future has become so scary we clearly yearn to retreat into the sanctuary of our pre-school years…but with added cocktails. My inner mummy just thinks we’ve all become spoilt brats!

Go on, join me on Twitter @retailfuturist for retail rants and wry observations

  Howard Saunders   Mar 07, 2020   Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

WORLD SHUT YOUR MOUTH

Try to count them on your way to work tomorrow. First it’s the lift telling you off: ‘Caution, doors opening’ ‘Doors closing’ then at the tube station it’s ‘Walk, do not run down the escalators’ ‘Stand on the right’ ‘Hold the Handrail’ ‘No Smoking’ (as if we didn’t know) ‘Mind the Gap’ ‘Stand behind the yellow line’ ‘Make sure you have your ticket ready’ and once on the tube, my personal favourite, ‘Please keep your belongings and clothing clear of the doors’ as if anyone, ever, intentionally offered up their bag or coat to the filthy tube door’s impatient rubber gums. And if you were in any doubt, they back up their helpful travel tip with another yellow sticker that shouts: ‘Items trapped in the doors cause delays’. Well I never.

Having your face welded inside a software developer’s sweaty armpit every morning clearly isn’t insulting enough. Avoiding eye contact with your fellow sardines is particularly tricky when the only distraction is the plethora of sticky admonishments warning you not to play dare with the doors. Which, of course, makes you think of little else.

Flying is no different. Despite the fact that smoking on board has been a hanging offence for a quarter of a century they still love to threaten us with it, as if we’re all furtive pipe smokers, desperate to light up at any opportune moment. It’s a safety issue you see, and above all else your safety is their number one priority. The fact that they once actively encouraged smoking back in the eighties, parading up and down the aisle with a tray of duty free Rothmans, is neither here nor there.

Look, I get why the occasional ‘No Smoking’ sign can be useful, but when every Chief Cabin Officer’s announcement must warn us that smoking is verboten I’m starting to think I’m missing out on something here. Maybe this smoking malarkey has got something going for it?

On the ground it’s bad enough. Families heading for a week in Spain, over excited and perhaps a little anxious, are constantly warned by the voice of god that ‘unattended bags will be removed and may be destroyed’. Little kids cannot help but have nightmarish visions of their Disney themed luggage being detonated in nearby concrete bunkers. What a lovely welcome to the big wide world that is.

It’s the relentless state-sponsored finger wagging that’s ultimately so demoralising. They assume we’d all be walking around aimlessly bumping into things, spitting, obstructing entrances, running across railway tracks and opening aeroplane doors at thirty thousand feet with an enormous cigar clenched between our teeth…unless their sensible voice of authority stepped in to save us.

The Health Service (in the broadest sense of the term) is one of the worst offenders. Even my local pharmacy has signs warning ‘all children must be supervised’ and the water cooler must only be ‘operated’ (sic) by those over eighteen. I can only assume, god forbid, that some naughty three year old had some serious fun in there once. And I’m very sure it upset the cheery staff (teehee).

But no, this is not just another anti-authoritarian rant because, believe it or not, there’s an industry out there that does people management very well actually, and it’s one we can all learn from. And guess what, it’s good old retail! Yes, the shining example of how to gently manage and control the marauding masses of dribbling morons is our poor, hard hit high street. There may well be a ‘No Smoking’ sign on the door of Costa or McDonalds but there certainly isn’t one stuck on every goddamn table, and yet somehow we cope without lighting up or jamming our coats in the door. Never have I heard the public address system at Sainsbury’s or Waterstones threatening to blow up my backpack. Nor do they have barbed wire or security glass around the checkouts, funnily enough, despite handling tens of thousands in cash. You won’t find armed guards at the exit either. So, why is that, I hear you ask?

Well, quite simply, because they don’t want to piss you off. You are their customer and they want you to keep coming back and they’ve been on a course (probably) that told them that pissing customers off is not good for business. So the next time you read a sign telling you off remember that it comes from a place that doesn’t trust you, doesn’t respect you, and frankly would prefer that you never return.

Retail, on the other hand, intrinsically understands that if you treat people like adults most of them will act as such. The evidence is clear. If this wasn’t the case, our stores and shopping centres would be lawless, violent, smoky, litter-strewn, drug-addled hell holes. Thankfully, our shops aren’t like that. Outside however, now that’s a different story.

For daily retail musings and rantings join me on Twitter @retailfuturist 

  Howard Saunders   Jan 30, 2020   Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

HOW DARE YOU!

Our new Messiah has arrived, and she’s perfect. For one thing she’s female and we’re in desperate need of more of those in the Messiah department, that’s for sure. She’s also a self-confessed autistic, which means she has a unique insight into life on Planet Earth, which more than compensates for any lack of knowledge or experience. Her particularly penetrating Damian from The Omen stare coupled with a voice with the monotone gravity of a teenage Beowulf, means we take her words as gospel. This is critical. Imagine her words spoken by a teenage Brummie or Liverpudlian. Exactly.

This whole Messiah epithet is hardly an exaggeration or caricature. We are all either believers or heretics. There’s no LibDem option here and, therefore, no room for debate. Raise any doubt and it’s like picking a fight with Jesus, shouting abuse from the back of the crowd like in the sermon on the mount scene from Life of Brian. And her timing is perfect too; arriving at the start of a new decade, an era in which we are questioning our role on this planet and riddled with guilt about the damage consumerism is doing to it.

No matter how cynical you may be, Greta’s presence cannot be ignored. Her steely gaze monitors everything you do and, oh yes, she’s judging you alright. She can see your thoughts as you wander the supermarket aisles, she stands over you as you browse a bucket list holiday spot. Swiping along a clothes rail you catch her reflection in the shop window, arms folded in her yellow sou’wester, awaiting your decision. Close your eyes if you want to, her mantra remains in your head: how dare you, how dare you! It’s the perfect put down prefix to anything and everything. How dare you consider another jacket? How many do you already own? How dare you plan another weekend away? How dare you want steak tonight? How dare you consider going to a restaurant when you have some perfectly acceptable sprouting potatoes in your veg drawer? Have you not been listening? Are you not a true believer?

Here’s a prediction: the word for 2020 is köpskam. For those of you who don’t already know, it means shame of buying. The power of this word is sure to cast a long shadow over everything we do in the coming decade. No one is free from guilt. We all have enough stuff: enough t-shirts, enough shoes, trainers, jeans and jackets to last a lifetime. None of us has an excuse to ignore the new commandments.

Köpskam power comes not just from the fact that no one is guilt free, but also because, quite beautifully, our guilt can never be completely soothed. Greta doesn’t offer brownie points for not doing stuff. At no point will she ever say ‘Hey, this girl’s off the hook, she’s only got six tops’. You won’t receive a thank you letter for abstaining from that new pair of shoes. Her laser-gaze has seen inside your cupboards and wardrobes. Greta knows exactly how much stuff you’ve got. She can see the piles of shoes made from dead animals lying lifeless in the bottom of your wardrobe like, err, dead animals. In fact, when you next see her why don’t you ask her how many pairs you’re allowed to own? The ones you’re standing in probably, if she’s in a good mood.

The more reasonable among you will be thinking, ‘well, a little bit less of everything can’t be a bad thing’ and you have logic on your side. The problem is that once the good ship Abstinence has left port it can never reach its desired destination. There’s always a little further it could go. Fewer t-shirts, fewer jackets, fewer stores, fewer staff, fewer deliveries, fewer delivery drivers, less design, less marketing and so on. You get it. We want to purge ourselves, we asked to be cleansed right? Oh, it’s surely coming. No wonder H&M’s CEO warned this clamp down on consumption would have “terrible social consequences.”

In the world of work no one, except maybe those in the emergency or social services, is exempt. Whether we’re in marketing or accounts, make widgets, ready-meals or are just happy as a humble librarian we are all complicit, each encouraging one another to do more, buy more, consume more. It’s easy to believe that a culture of consuming less will only impact the rich with their gas guzzling Bentleys, infinity swimming pools and multiple foreign holidays. Sadly, it will seriously affect those at the bottom of the pile first as we witness the demise of super-cheap holidays, fast fashion, ready meals and discount chains of all sorts. Prepare for increased taxes on fuel, processed foods, fast food and probably fast fashion. But don’t worry, it’ll also come for those $3k handbags. Brandishers of such symbols of conspicuous consumption shall not escape retribution.

The irony is enough to make a grown man weep. After a decade of government imposed austerity we have willingly embarked on a decade of self-inflicted austerity promising far, far deeper cuts into our twenty first century lifestyle than anything our elitist overlords could have imagined. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Happy New Year!

For daily retail musings and rantings join me on Twitter @retailfuturist 

  Howard Saunders   Jan 14, 2020   Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More