Howard Saunders   Jan 11, 2024   Uncategorized   0 Comment

2023 will be remembered for the year everyone went on strike. Doctors, nurses, Tube drivers, train drivers, firemen and teachers all colluded to ensure that absolutely nothing of any significance happened. Even Hollywood shut down. Were it not for the entertainment provided by Philip Schofield, Huw Edwards, Nicola Sturgeon and Matt Hancock our mental health would certainly have tipped us into an existential crisis. The only truly historic moments of 2023 were that loooong coronation and the fact that The Beatles capped off their unsurpassable legacy with the dreariest single ever released.

So, let me put my neck on the line and make some pertinent prognostications for the coming year.

Are Friends Electric?

Despite what we’ve been told will happen, despite a virtual consensus that electric vehicles are our prescribed future, there’s a nagging voice inside the majority of us questioning whether it’s the future we want. We may express our concerns as ‘range anxiety’ initial cost or the eco-truth about cobalt and lithium mining, but I have a sneaking suspicion it’s something else entirely. I think that an average family living in a semi in Bolton or Bournemouth cannot work out for the life of them how to run a cable from their bay window to their EV in the street, assuming they can get a parking spot directly outside. All the political willpower, eco-propaganda, hefty discounts and draconian penalties for non-compliant manufacturers are utterly futile unless they can bridge that little gap from the window to the car. End of.

And if you’re looking for an amazing new year’s bargain you can pick up a two year old, £130k Porsche Taycan, for just over £50k. Yes, it’s the resale value of an electric car that will kill it for the average driver.

Chickens. Home. Roost.

For the last three years London’s cluster of glass and steel stalagmites, once the towering engine rooms of the economy brimming with the brightest young minds, has become a kind of spookily illuminated graveyard to WFH. Turns out those brilliant young minds, given the choice, prefer to watch Countdown in their stained pyjamas than go back to the commute. But thankfully the tide is turning. Plummeting productivity has seen employers nudge, bribe and very occasionally even tell their workers to come back to the office…only when they’re ready, of course. We’re currently witnessing the WFH craze collapse like a chocolate fireguard. Even Zoom founder Eric Yuan, who personally made billions out of WFH, recently admitted that remote working has some serious issues. He said  it leaves his team unable to build trust or a sense of team spirit. “Trust is a foundation for everything,” Yuan said. “Without trust, we will be slow.” Holy sheesh.


Have you noticed how much easier it is not to do stuff? Not washing up, for instance, not making the bed or not cleaning the windows. Well, this is a trend that’s caught on so fast that councils up and down the country no longer trim verges or cut the grass, but instead erect little wooden signs with pictures of bees on them. It’s so cute. This is clearly a trend that began during lockdown when unkempt-chic became the new formal. Things accelerated quickly when the Chelsea Flower Show celebrated not doing stuff with a garden that looked like a disused allotment, complete with a ramshackle shed and stagnant pool. Art.

Ironically, of course, not doing stuff in this instance involved dozens of diesel fuelled journeys delivering weeds, flotsam, jetsam and a multitude of both dying and dead grasses. You don’t need a degree in psychology to realise that this is all part of our self-loathing phase, brought to you by the ‘planet would be much better off without us on it’ brigade. Anyway, my point is, as WFH becomes ever more embarrassing and millions of workers are forced to find their trousers once again, unkempt-chic will be replaced by sharp suits, ironed shirts and manicured gardens. You’ll see.

US of A

2024 is a massive year for the US with its hyper-tribal, globally scrutinised upcoming election. It should be a lot of fun this time as it arrives amid an unprecedented maelstrom of indictments, trials and corruption allegations along with a big fat dollop of full blown dementia. But here’s the thing. This super heavyweight rematch, this global tug of war that the entire planet is fixated on will come to nothing as neither Biden nor Trump will make it. My prediction is that a nifty manoeuvre, a Democrat sleight of hand worthy of David Copperfield, (had to get his name in somewhere) will unveil an oven-ready Gavin Newsom or similar. By the way, I still haven’t given up on my 2015 prediction that the first female president of the United States will be Michelle Obama…so I’ll just leave that hanging there for the time being.


A handful of years ago the ESG bandwagon seemed like a pretty good bet. Big corporations could use it as a beautiful smokescreen: virtue signalling on the global stage at the same time as trying to get us to buy more of whatever it is they’re selling. Big companies simply love regulation as it keeps their nimble competitors busy with paperwork and unable to innovate. And you don’t have to be Joe Rogan to know that Blackrock, Vanguard and State Street, the brainchildren of ESG, pretty much run the world, so it’s a forgone conclusion right? Well no. The only thing bigger than these three multi trillion dollar behemoths is (drumroll)…the market.  That’s right, things are starting to turn. The debanking scandal has played a critical role here by revealing how much the elites genuinely hate us. Their over paid, sycophantic smiles have gently dimmed now that we know they truly believe their views are of a higher status than ours. So, as 2024 progresses expect to watch ESG gently crumble like RAAC concrete during little Johnny’s morning assembly.

A Bug’s Life

In 2012 the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation established a company dedicated to promoting the inclusion of bugs in our diet. A year later, completely coincidentally, the UN announced that all of us little people should be eating mealworm burgers and locust patties in order to save the planet. So over the last decade, with the help of their media allies, the elites have been drip feeding us good news bug stories in order to soften us up for their evil masterplan. Every daytime TV show in the US at some point featured a Nicole Kidman, Angelina Jolie or Justin Timberlake alongside a fat celebrity chef grinning inanely as they pretended to enjoy food made from grasshoppers and cricket flour. It’s all good fun, of course, sharing bug kebabs with James Corden, but it’s pretty obvious what’s happening here: giggling celebs are the carrot whilst ‘Beef causes Cancer’ headlines are the stick. Thankfully, it hasn’t worked.

Meanwhile Beyond Meat and its kin had a bloody good bash at convincing us to switch to their meat taste-a-likes. Super powered by some world class PR it looked like things were turning their way for a while. However, once the virtue hunters began to properly scrutinise their byzantine processes and unpronounceable ingredients it became clear that these new foods slotted more neatly into the hyper processed category than anything virtuous. Ouch. The sweet sound of backfire resounded right across the planet. Almost overnight, locally grown meat has been reborn as a simple, healthy, untainted alternative to the freakish new fangled alchemy being forced down our throats. So 2024, I suggest, is the year we can finally put this matter to bed.


We all pretty much get what a bot is now. It’s the thing that sends you that annoying text asking how amazing the service was. But in the year since the launch of ChatGPT these bots have become super-charged with an intelligence much greater than yours. In the first half of 2023 we watched open mouthed as AI spat out research documents, proposals, scripts and essays that read like a real grown up wrote them, one that went to a proper university! While we were still agog with amazement, dizzy with excitement at all the things we could get it to do, along came the doom-mongers to poop in the middle of the party. The end of the world was nigh yet again: they warned us of tipping points, singularity and showed us clips from Terminator 2. It was all very disconcerting.

The good news is the world is still here but perhaps unsurprisingly AI seems unwilling to do all the mundane jobs like we were promised. So instead of working 24/7 in an Amazon warehouse, running governments or big corporations like Barclays or PWC, AI has decided to focus his genius on art, illustration and animation. And some talent it is too. He can turn his hand to anything from classical Renaissance frescos through to cutting edge graphic novels. He can emulate any artist you care to name and even reproduce other iconic works in their style…in seconds. Very soon he’ll be able to instantly produce short movies featuring characters you describe to him, using your dialogue.

Judging by his swift ChatGPT responses he’s certainly well read and incredibly knowledgeable, even if his writing style makes annual reports sound almost perky in comparison. But art is definitely his specialist subject and if you’re not harnessing or at least exploring his talent you really are missing out. This is seriously significant for 2024. The imagery that decorates and dresses our world, the visuals that entertain us on hoardings, bus sides and shelters, product packaging, magazine covers, instagram ads, film trailers, book covers, video clips, illustrations, diagrams, shop signage, carrier bags…all of it sits in wait, whether it knows it or not, for an AI makeover. This almighty creative resource is about to be unleashed on us. Welcome to 2024.

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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.

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