Saunders says the Global Financial Crisis at the end of 2008 marked an apocalypse for retailers, especially corporates, and a “rebooting” for consumers. Shoppers have emerged from the crisis with a different mentality – one that privileges a “hero mentality”.
“Out of the cinders, we generally emerged as different customers.”
The new breed of “Post Apocalyptic Man” and, presumably, woman too, wants to change the world for the better. Customers like this also want the products to buy to have more meaning – they want products that are “the” watch, sandwich or cup of coffee rather than an interchangable example of the form.
“It’s stressful having lunch right now because you go, ‘Is this the right sandwich? I don’t know.’”
Authenticity of the kind that PAMs and PAWs demand is not transferrable, Saunders explained. He spoke of visiting the bakery where Dominique Ansel first invented the cronut, where punters queued for more than an hour and half for their fried-pastry experience. This contrasted with an imitator, Crumbs bakery, which tried unsuccessfully to market a near-identical ‘crumbnut’ before going bust.
Saunders also emphasised the importance of expertise and specialisation, borne out in the growing popularity of short menus and eateries specialising in just one food.
Shoppers with a “hero mentality” are self-absorbed, Saunders says. He believes the increasing popularity of personalised and bespoke items is evidence of this.
“People really, really want to think, ‘I’m the centre of the universe’ and clever retailers are responding,” Saunders says. “If you’re a retailer, if you’re selling stuff or making stuff, you have to think bespoke.”
Saunders has considered whether this movement towards individualised products is a short-lived fad, and decided that it isn’t: “We’re in for the long haul on this one.”
He championed the idea of personalisation in websites, saying too many websites “throw you the keys to the warehouse” when consumers prefer a curated selection of products that would best interest them. Companies seeking to succeed online need a clear “brand identity” which positions them as an expert with defined opinions.
The implicit element of community-building which has always underpinned retail is becoming more and more explicit, says Saunders. Retailers which openly seek to create communities around their product or premises are being rewarded – Saunders revealed an astonishing explosion of new farmers’ markets in the US, speaking about other market-style offerings and stores which model their floorspace on “clubs” by offering additional services.
These changes are being driven most of all by post-apocalyptic millennials, Saunders says.
“These millennials, you’ve got to inspire them. The old world is not exciting to them anymore.”