Wednesday 23 March 2016

How We Shop Now

The Easter weekend is almost upon us, which can only mean one thing. No, you fool, not that silliness with the eggs. I'm talking about the UK's favourite leisure pursuit–shopping. And with four days of freedom ahead of us (well, Sunday discounted; a day of rest is not such a bad idea) there's guaranteed to be a trip to the shops in store for most of us.

Our shopping habits have changed radically over the last thirty years. The online revolution has given us the ability to do the weekly food shop, or indeed to snag anything our little hearts desire, on the sofa in our jimjams with a nice cup of tea to hand. Environmentally the approach is a bit questionable, to say the least. More deliveries mean more cars and vans to get to your door, which means more toxic emissions and greenhouse gases. Then there's the whole uptick in consumption as a whole–buying more doesn't necessarily mean buying wisely.

That being said, how do retailers cope with the change in shopping habits? A survey conducted by Westfield, one of the biggest mall developers in the country, brings up some fascinating insights into the way we shop now and how we'd like to shop in the future.

One of the biggest potential upsets to the market is rental. What is the point of buying that perfect little black dress for a party when you're only going to wear it once? What if the next time you go to put it on it's...erm, shrunk? With high-end expensive apparel, it makes much more sense to rent rather than buy. One in five consumers would be interested in a subscription to their favourite store that allows them to grab anything they like from the racks, as long as they return it in a usable condition. Think of it as Spotify for John Lewis. The logistics are a bit of a head-mangler–presumably a pick-up and delivery service would be part of the deal. But it makes sense in a lot of ways. You'd have your measurements to hand in the store to make sure you always had the right garment with the right fit. It's the service that all good tailors used to offer. Why shouldn't it make a comeback in our connected age?

The notion of connecting with brands is one that the British public is, apparantly willing to embrace. We already love our loyalty cards. But we would be prepared to snag points for all sorts of out-of-shop experiences. Westfield customers have expressed an interest in getting rewards for exercise, recycling and even charity volunteering. It seems that to become a better citizen, all you have to do is offer money off vouchers.

The shopping centre is already looked upon by many as a place to hang out or spend leisure time. Restaurants and cinemas make up part of the whole retail experience in many big city malls. Remarkably, Westfield customers would be happy to spend even more time there in the pursuit of personal fulfilment. One in three who took the survey expressed an interest in taking classes in the shopping centre, in everything from languages to cookery. Who knows, perhaps they could hook those achievements into their loyalty cards. Take music lessons and get money off a digital keyboard. The possibilities are endless.

Our View: there's an element of gamification about all this, of course. A lot of the suggestions here are about getting rewards for things we should be doing anyway. But then, if a little retail encouragement gets us learning and exercising, who's to say that's a bad thing? A personal side note: I wear an Up band that tracks my exercise and sleep patterns. That's hooked into an app that sees my progress and translates them into points I can use for money off my next coffee or cinema trip. I can sneer all I like, but the simple truth is that I'm already engaged and using some of these ideas.

The future of shopping, it seems, is already here.


For more, check out the results of the Westfield survey here:

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