The changing retail space: new trends and ideas

The impact of the global economic downturn has extended well beyond the cash register to infiltrate retail design trends and consumer consciousness.

With consumers spending less, saving more and making purchasing decisions with maximum research and minimal impulse, it’s a tough time to be in the retail sector. Being savvy about shifting consumer purchasing and social trends is one simple but astute way to respond to the downturn.

Everything old is new again

Retro is cool again. U.K. Next Big Thing founder and futurologist, William Higham, identified this shift, commenting that the desire for “heritage-inspired products is driven by Gen Y, who’ve grown up on technology but are now interested in other types of manufacture and the old ways” (as reported in Progressive Gifts & Home). Old-school designs are highlighting this trend, showing up in alternative market arts and inner city design hubs, such as Sydney’s recent finders keepers independent art markets. Another factor influencing the ‘retro’ and bespoke movements, is that as a reaction to the pace of change in the past thirty years and current tough times, Gen Xers are looking for comfort and tradition; a return to the safe feelings of childhood. “Nostalgia is back big time”, says Higham.

A move away from mass-produced wares to handmade, crafted or –at the upper end – bespoke items is also evident. Wearing or having what everyone else has is no longer affording the same satisfaction. Being just a little different from the Joneses arguably now has more cachet than simply keeping up. A growing wariness of being seen as just another number, another sheep in the consumer paddock is evident, hence the rise of ‘personalisation’. The ‘celebritisation’ of society also contributes, creating a sense that we can all be celebrities, we can all be special; we can all stand out. It works for technology so why not homewares? You’ve bought the iPhone like everyone else, but can modify it, downloading your choice of Apps for your lifestyle. In the same way, you can customise your laptop cover, create your portable music collection on your iPod or MP3 player, and make your own movies, so why not have your own specially customised homewares and gifts? Designing your own shirt, or searching out unique handcrafted works from trible communities, as GHA member Tractor Home does, are other ways to stand out from the mass-market crowd.

In the city, shopping at local markets is a great example of these trends at work. It’s become a weekend rite of passage, be it organic farmer’s markets, craft and giftware markets, art, fashion or otherwise. People of all ages and demographics are regularly shopping locally, and paying attention to where products come from – tapping into trends for ‘local sourcing’ and ‘personalised or handmade’ wares. Where possible, the DIY trend is still strong, touching into eco-friendly consciousness as well. Planting your own garden, even if just herb pots, and recycling clothes and goods are not just activities of ‘do-gooders’ but a matter of course now. This has been a big shift in the past couple of years. Eco-awareness is finally hitting mainstream levels.

People will still be prepared to spend, but they’ll be much more careful about purchasing strength and longevity. The hot trend-spotting site, www.trendwatching.com, notes what we will be looking for is ‘no frills chic’. That is, “well designed yet affordable products and services”, and also states that the ‘premiumisation’ trend will continue but with a move away from the frivolous to “towards the useful and comforting”.

Nesting is also continuing to be a strong trend driven by economic frugality, but also by a need for real-time community, as a reaction to the technological ‘facelessness’ experienced over the past few years with the rise of social networking sites. There is a growing awareness that being connected digitally does not afford the same contentment that physical community does. While the former has been a matter of course for Gen Ys, their older siblings are still caught in the flux, with many looking nostalgic for the days of safe neighbourhoods and predictability; things they now seek for their children.

Another shift, tapping into the afore-mentioned nesting trend, is that people will look for ‘insperiences’ – “diversions that will make them temporarily forget any kind of misery that has come their way”, says www.trendwatching.com.

These consumer trends are rapidly shaping the retail landscape and being aware and savvy about shifting consumer purchases will help your business survive the downturn.

This article first appeared in the January/February issue of Giftrap, the official magazine of Gift and Homewares Australia (GHA).

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