Retail, shopping & leisure

T-shirt Deli

Here’s a really good example of a retailer plugging into some current trends to create an involving and fairly unique customer experience. T-Shirt Deli is a Chicago (US) based retailer that offers customers the chance to design their own t-shirt (think Create-a-Bear Workshop but for Gen Y). The idea of custom T-shirts is nothing new, but the execution is. Customers choose a shirt (size, colour etc) from a ‘deli counter’ and then select a range of ‘toppings’ – design elements and adornments such as letters and numbers. The idea reminds us of Asda Supermarket’s DIY Pizza counter in the UK where customers can choose a base and select from a range of toppings. Both tap into trends like personalisation (made for me, as some trend watchers would describe it), limited edition and freshness (made as you watch). Visually, the concept is also very involving and even theatrical. T-Shirt Deli’s slogan is ‘T-shirts made fresh daily’. Product is sourced from American Apparel (sweatshop free sweat shirts) and prices range from US $15 for a basic T to US $26 for a hoodie. In a similar vein, over in Brazil, Banca de Camisetas is a cross between a fashion retailer and a newsagent. The Sao Paulo based company also sells T-shirts but stock is merchandised like magazines (upward facing at an angle of about 45 degrees). Like magazines, stock is changed on a weekly or monthly basis to keep things looking fresh.
While we’re on the subject of fashion merchandising, check out T-Box from Istanbul.

Ref: Springwise newsletter (Neth), issue 22, May 2005, ‘Re-T-ail’.


Has Marks & Spencer become a metaphor for the times?

In the UK Marks & Spencer (M&S) was once the bluest of blue chip stocks, a retailer that couldn’t put a foot wrong. These days, it seems every time they move they put their foot in it. There has been an image makeover, a new CEO and yet things just keep going from bad to worse. Sales for its clothing lines were down by 19% in the past quarter alone. So what’s the problem? M&S says that its range is ‘too complex’ for its customers to understand (are they oblivious to trends like simplicity and edited consumption?). Others blame rivals like Tesco who have moved into clothing. Maybe it’s foreign competitors like Gap, but people have been saying things like this for almost five years and the company seems to keep on making the same mistakes. So what else could be the problem? One explanation is that the retailer has lost touch with its customers. The company’s slogan, ‘exclusively for everyone’, signals a desire to sell to Mr and Mrs average and suggests that the company understands how the retail market has polarised between low cost and luxury segments, although in the rush to be ‘on trend’ with ‘massclusivity’ it has perhaps failed to recognise that you can no longer be all things to all men (or women). Or as social observers might argue, Mr and Mrs average no longer exist. Society has fragmented and individuals are dispersed across a wide range of tribes. However, if this is true, why do brands like Wal-Mart, Ikea or Tesco succeed? Perhaps the real problem is simply that the needs, wants and aspirations of the average person have changed and, despite the makeover, M&S is still stuck with an image (and products) that remind people of their parents. It’s also possible that the corporate culture has an immune system that rejects anything that’s really new. Remember, this is a retailer that until relatively recently refused to take credit cards and whenever possible hired directly from schools and universities rather than from other retailers. Thinking was therefore internally, rather than externally, focused. So perhaps, while the emperor now realises he’s naked, he still can’t decide what to wear.

Ref: The Times (UK), 28 May 2005, ‘Analyse this: why M&S has got its knickers in a twist’, D. Leader.


Club and sub club cards

Much has been written about the success of Tesco’s Club Card in the UK and there is no need to repeat most of it. However, an article in KPMG’s First Cut magazine (produced with Monash University’s Australian Centre for Retail Studies) makes a couple of interesting points. First, while the size of the Club Card operation is impressive (25 million card holders in the UK of which about 40% are thought to be active) it’s what Tesco does with the information generated by the Club Card that’s really remarkable.
Most retailers that operate similar schemes are either flooded with so much data that they don’t know what to do, or else they use the information for promotional purposes only. In Tesco’s case, the data is primarily used to gain insights into shopping behaviour and to make store visits more compelling. One way they do this is to produce one than one card. For example, there are ‘sub clubs’ aimed at people interested in wine, organic produce, health and baby products – all of which have separate websites. The cards also prompt awareness, particularly for those shopping online. Even more interesting is the fact that a consultant who works with Tesco on the Club Card program (Clive Humby) rejects the whole idea of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) because, he says, customers do not want a relationship with retailers, even Tecso. Hence the Club Card is operated more like a loyalty program, which rewards loyal behaviour with money off or money back.

Ref: First Cut (Aus), issue 20, May 2005, ‘Customer service: The success of the Tesco Club Card in winning customer loyalty’ – originally published by S. Powell in the International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, volume 32, #7. (thanks Ian)


Instant medicine

We’re heard of a US supermarket that has an in-store nutritionist offering dietary advice, and another which offers massages for people waiting in checkout queues. Now basic medicine like cheap check-ups can be found in stores like Target in the US. The range of services offered by nurses (not physicians) includes vaccinations, basic screenings and treatment for minor conditions like ankle injuries or eye infections. The American Medical Association is understandably concerned about this idea but customers are embracing it because it saves them time. Appointments at MediMinute, FastCare and QuickClinic are not required and most customers are in and out within a quarter of an hour. In the UK, Medicentre provides a similar service, offering quick diagnosis and treatments on railway station forecourts.

Ref: Various including: Sense Bulletin (UK), 7 June 2005.; New York Times (US) ‘Next to the express checkout, express medical care’, M. Andrews.; Trinity Health (US), ‘Consumer sensitivity – emerging trends and technologies report’. Washington Post (US), 21 December 2004, ‘Off-site surgery is safe, efficient – for some’ and ‘a whole new operation’, R.Mishori,


Retail trends for 2005 and beyond

According to Marita Wesely-Clough, Hallmark’s resident trend expert, attitudes, beliefs and actions evolve into trends – which in turn become a part of culture – if the action, belief or attitude last long enough (usually five to eight years or more). Of course trends can end or counter trends can emerge too. So what are the big retail trends for the immediate future? According to Wesley-Clark they are:
  1. Happiness – people increasingly believe that a (permanent) state of happiness is attainable.
  2. Ostentation – more is more. People that are looking for luxury are trading up from mass-market alternatives wherever possible. (The counter-trend to this is enough is enough or downshifting).
  3. Past perfect – in the rush for new and the better, companies are plundering their past for ideas (the counter-trend to this is the power of now – a headlong rush to embrace new technologies and materials).
  4. Economics shaping culture – watch for new and unusual alliances and collaborations between industries and brands. Also watch for changes in how education and housing is delivered, possibly as collaboration with business and government.
  5. Eastern Sun rising – the influence of Asia and the Pacific Rim (especially China) will continue to grow. (The counter trend could be increased protectionism, ‘buy American’ slogans and ‘keep jobs at home’ T-shirts).
  6. Cultural collective – as technology allows instant communication to almost everyone, nations will become increasingly redundant. Moreover, transnational events (from space missions to terrorist acts) will bring the world closer together. What was private is increasingly public and what was local is increasingly global. Expect to see more acts of collective compassion and global grieving akin to the Asian Tsunami. (The counter trend is individual isolation, caused by the very same technology)
  7. Sleight of hand society – the ends increasingly justify the means and individuals, companies and governments seem to indulge in denial or take the view that it’s ok unless you’re caught. (The counter trend is a return to standards, family values and ethical values – because you’re more likely to get caught, thanks again to technology)
  8. Mono-minds – on the one hand there is fragmentation; on the other there is a push for homogenisation. The need to move fast is creating a sound-bite culture where single-mindedness is required and dissent is suppressed because dealing with dissent takes too much time. As a result, thinking tends to be both short-term and superficial.
  9. Surveillance society – George Orwell was right, he was just 20 years too soon in his predictions. Big Brother is now here with technology watching our every move to ‘keep us safe’. From CCTV cameras to email and phone intercepts and GPS tracking someone, somewhere is watching your every move. But who is watching the watchers?
  10. Migrating boomers – once upon a time people moved out of the city to retire. Increasingly, they are coming back and cities offer a host of mental stimulation to keep people alive for longer.
Ref: Retail Industry About (US), July 2005 ‘Strengthening and evolving consumer trends’, M. Wesely-Clough.