ICSC CONFERENCE: It’s the 'Me' age


Retail futurist Howard Saunders hails the entry of formerly online-only retailers onto the high street, even if some of them are only dipping their toes into pop-up retail.


Speaking at the ICSC European conference in Warsaw, he highlighted Google, Ebay and other retail behemoths who want to join the high street, and said that such retailers could do worse than have a look at the massive growth in food and beverage retail for inspiration.

‘Markets have really expanded since 2008, now there around tens of thousands of them providing activity and enjoyment rather than just delivering a product or service,’ he said. ‘Burgers aren’t just sold, they’re created to an authentic recipe in front of the customers by people who love what they’re doing and that format has been taken up by other retailers.’

 It’s the age of ‘Me’, people wanting authentic experiences within communities, he added.

With information coming to the consumer rather than consumers hunting for it, retailers must put their customers centre stage. But some are finding it tough to differentiate themselves as Millennials and Generation X’ers seek their own unique experiences.

‘What scares Starbucks? It’s independent artisan coffee-makers. What worries Cadbury’s? It’s the little guys doing their own artisan chocolate. McDonald’s? Sweetgreen in New York is offering farm-to-table food,’ said Saunders. ‘Artisans make customers feel as if they are investing in the community.’

Citing a local example, Saunders highlighted Koszyki Warsaw, a renovated market hall offering independent brands and ‘real food’.

‘Some shopping centres may be dying, the high streets might be empty, but retail isn’t dead, it’s just often in the wrong place,’ he added.

Brand playgrounds

But big brands needn’t throw in the towel just yet, they just have to reinvent themselves as ‘brand playgrounds’.

Nike’s Soho store in New York allows customers to design their own shoes, try them out on an in-store baseball court and film the wearer while they’re playing.

Yoga and running gear retailer Lululemon provides a social area underneath its New York store, offering yoga classes, cultural talks etc. Speaker designer Sonos, electrical retailer Dyson and others are all creating immersive retail experiences to boost sales and awareness,’ he added.

‘Stores are dead. We must understand that we need to build a model that allows flexible leasing, short-term spaces for the small guys alongside the big money retailers.

 ‘The digital age has revealed what we really want. We want community. We want artisan stuff, we want brand playgrounds from the big guys. Big data can and will create and augment the real-world experiences.’

But this isn’t the end for malls, he said. ‘Shopping centres are in a unique position to be able to curate whole experiences.’