Shoppers don’t all wake up in the morning with a simultaneous hankering for the item of the day – they’re driven by cyclical, measurable trends. Jenny Keown examines the trend-generating cultural shifts likely to affect retailers this year.
It was the morning of October 2, 2016. A frenzy of people was gathered in Auckland’s largest shopping centre, Sylvia Park, for the opening of Swedish apparel giant H&M. Beyoncé’s Get Me Bodied started up, and the impressive swag of staff in black t-shirts and jeans began a dance routine. They smiled, clearly enjoying themselves.
Yet a few metres away, behind the eager shoppers, sat a bunch of students who had taped black masking tape to their mouths to represent the silenced voices of the workers who make H&M’s clothing in unsafe conditions.
So, in a nutshell, here are the tensions inherent in fast fashion, played out in a mall in little old New Zealand. Even despite Kiwis’ love of personal space, 1,000 people still lined up for the opening of this store, because they had to be there, to be part of that experience, and couldn’t wait a day.
That is despite plentiful research and growing awareness that the fast fashion model is not sustainable. In the lead-up to the opening of H&M, Washington-based Workers Rights Consortium said hundreds of thousands of workers making H&M garments in factories in Bangladesh were doing so in dangerous conditions.
H&M country manager for Australia and New Zealand, Hans Andersson, defended the company in an interview with The Register shortly after its Kiwi opening, saying H&M works with around 850 suppliers in 32 countries, and its inspectors carry out more than 4,000 factory inspections per year to make sure no unsavoury practices find their way into its supply chain.
As we go in to 2017, these tensions in fast fashion and other retail sectors are going to heat up even more as consumers demand more transparency from brands about where and how they source and manufacture their products.
We will see a rise in independent clothing brands, with a genuine, ethical business ethos such as Mallu in Christchurch. This new retailer has partnered with a charity working in Kolkata, India, focused on getting women out of the sex trade and into garment work, earning a decent wage.
Yet just as the same consumer might shop at a global fashion brand, and the next day, at an independent ethical clothing business, the consumers of 2017 are hard to define, and in constant flux.
According to Euromonitor International’s Top 10 Global Consumer Trends for 2017, consumers’ identity is multidimensional, with shoppers more likely to have a hand in defining themselves and their needs.
We had a go at unpackaging this so-called multi-dimensional consumer into more bite-sized trends.
The rise of the ethical, considered consumer
You don’t have to go far to find cool, ethical, independent brands in New Zealand. We plucked out a couple for a close-up look: Christchurch start-up Mallu and long established Martinborough business Thunderpants.
Rising consumer interest in fair trade products and social enterprises was one of the main drivers for Clive Antony (24), Jess Langtree (20) and Meg Gerrard (20) to create streetwear fashion label Mallu in July last year.
“I used to work as a retail manager for Huffer, then I started working in sales at Karma Cola, and that opened me up to the world of social enterprise and how consumers are excited about fair trade certifications,” says Antony.
Mallu has partnered with charity Freeset, which employs women in Kolkata to make garments for a living wage, taking them out of the local sex trade. Freeset was initially just making t-shirts for conferences – Mallu was their first retailer.
Mallu saw a gap in the market for ethical clothing targeted at Millennials with a design and brand x-factor, reflecting the subculture of surf, street, and skating.
Antony’s family are from India, and he and his family go back to his home region of Kerala every two to three years. The Mallu logo is a reference to their local Keralan language, Malayalam.
“Choosing India made sense, and felt good. We went over there and stayed with the Freeset owners and saw everything in action,” he says.
Josie Bidwell founded her business Thunderpants 21 years ago, before ethical shopping became a buzzword.
She was frustrated about buying underwear that was flimsy and never lasted, and as a design student, decided to do something about it. She and her sister set up a shop selling ‘decent underwear’, and have only recently sold the store to focus purely on online sales.
“As the years have gone by our customer base has become more aware of the issues around fast fashion and we’ve tried to incorporate sustainable solutions in our product, and our customers have increased because of it,” she says.
The organic cotton the company uses is grown in Indonesia without the use of chemicals or pesticides. Most of the fabric is knitted in Levin and Thunderpants hand-prints its bold designs on to the fabric onsite in Martinborough. Organic inks and dyes are used for printing and dyeing of the fabric.
According to Colmar Brunton’s Better Futures Report 2016, which surveyed more than 13,000 people throughout New Zealand, 71 percent of consumers said they were prepared to pay more for sustainable and ethically produced products – a 6 percent year-on-year increase from 2014.
Curated and authentic are cool
The term ‘curated consumption’ has been around for a few years, yet shows no signs of abating in 2017. Just as more consumers turn to ethically sourced products and demand more transparency of products, they also want thoughtfully-chosen, well-designed products.
Louise and Dan Buckley bought Ponsonby-based business Everyday Needs late last year. This cutting-edge retail offer is focused on ethically sourced, well-designed products for the home.
For the year ahead, Buckley thinks consumers will look more for a personal connection with the point of purchase, supply chain visibility, ethical practice and great aesthetics.
Last year, unusually, their most popular piece was a set of simple cork coasters. Buckley’s picks for attractive appeal this year are the Isoble Thom salt pigs, Arnold Circus stools and the Japanese handcrafted wooden sake cups.
Consumers’ desire for authentic pieces doesn’t just end at homewares of course. Food trends, particularly around healthier, better-quality food are an indicator of the focus on authenticity.
Consumers want to make more considered purchasing decisions, buying from responsible brands that sell quality products with real value.
Nielsen research from October last year shows that as consumers take the fight against obesity and chronic disease in to their own hands, many are eliminating ingredients that concern them from their daily diets.
For both Australian and Kiwi consumers, animal foods that contain antibiotics or hormones are the most bothersome, with six in 10 saying they actively avoid these products.
More than half avoid food that contains MSG; artificial preservatives, flavours, colours and sweeteners; and also food in packaging that contains BPA. Foods that are high in sugar and sodium and those that are genetically modified also feature in the top 10 ingredients that consumers avoid.
Reaching through the screen
Meanwhile, the way that consumers use digital tools to purchase products is becoming more sophisticated.
Mitre 10’s general manager of marketing Dave Elliott says retailing is a response to culture, whether you are living in 1917 or 2017.
“You need to be aware about where people are at and how people want to shop… and culture says that people are digital, more and more.”
Smartphones are becoming more prevalent, he says. About 70 percent of consumers who use Mitre 10’s website access it via their smartphone.
“They expect it to be a good experience,” Elliott says.
The online retail system is fast evolving in New Zealand. Researcher Nielsen forecast there would be 2.14 million shoppers online by the end of 2016, mainly buying airline tickets, fashion, entertainment, accommodation and books.
And consumers are expected to turn to social smartphone apps, such as Instagram, to buy products even more this year.
Instagram has evolved from a simple filter and photo app to one that includes videos, disappearing content and more. It has various options for brands wanting to advertise on its platform, and it expects these options to increase this year.
Fashion labels, retailers and influencers use Instagram, and other social media platforms, to make themselves known and tell a story.
Influencers like New Zealand makeup guru Shaaanxo, who has millions of fans, wield huge influence over their followings and can cause products to sell out by so much as recommending them in a YouTube clip. Brands are increasingly picking up on this and using it to their advantage.
In 2017, brand content is expected to change, according to Accenture Interactive’s Fjord Trends 2017 report.
Brand owners will step back, stop driving conversations and make room for audiences to shape their own stories. Expect content that’s more personal and instant and to play out as short stories and live video.
Following the bitter presidential campaigning in the US and the UK’s divisive Brexit vote, the world will feel increasingly divided, according to the research.
Many consumers are turning to social media and aggregation sites to navigate the noise and will look for powerful stories to cut through and unite.
US brand Everlane, for example, is using Snapchat to humanise its offering with behind the scenes content. No editing, just raw footage.
I want what I want when I want it
Consumers are impatient, according to the Euromonitor research. They are impulsive and in purse of immediate gratification.
Globally, internet shopping giant Amazon is working on delivering packages to shoppers’ homes in under 30 minutes through the use of drones. In the UK, some stores are sending alerts from beacons inside directly to the mobile phones of passers-by – in New Zealand, similar technology has been harnessed in Wellington by BlindSquarex to help people with visual impairments navigate retail stores.
Meanwhile, next-day delivery is being overtaken by ever-faster delivery possibilities for the shopper in a rush. UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s launched one-hour delivery of food and groceries by bike in parts of London in September 2016, the first UK supermarket to do so.
Closer to home, Australian ecommerce boutique The Iconic’s menu of low-cost speedy delivery options is a major differentiating factor for its young shoppers, and Glassons offers a ‘Want it Now’ service for shoppers based in central Sydney which can deliver items within four hours. Glassons’ ‘Want it Tonight’ evening delivery service manages same-day delivery for customers in central Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. The evening service is matched across its sister label for men, Hallenstein Brothers.
The over-50s are rising up
While Millennials are often the focus for retail analysis, statistics show over-50s consumers are transforming what it means to be older in terms of lifestyle and are more demanding in their consumption needs, creating what is increasingly referred to as the ‘longevity economy’, according to the research.
Anxious, as well as inspired by ageing, they are keen consumers of a long list of health and beauty products and fashion-forward options and are receptive to tech developments.
IHA trend forecaster Tom Mirabile says Baby Boomers “have shattered stereotypes of what it means to be over 50 today; older age does not mean dated design nor does it mean inactive lifestyle.” The pre-Boomer group he calls The Matures (age 71+) may not spend much on housewares, but Boomer family members have a huge influence on purchasing.
Retailer Benjamin Dobbs has been pleasantly with the response to his Fairlie shop, Blank Space, from Mackenzie Country’s older generation.
The store stocks New Zealand clothing brands like Federation, Huffer and RPM – streetwear designed with teenagers and 20-somethings in mind. Yet he has found a number of older customers buying the garments and wearing them their way.
“There are so many older people – around the 60-year-old mark – buying these dresses, which are 18-year-olds’ dresses, and putting them on with heels and leggings.”
Juanita Neville-Te Rito from The Retail Collective believes there are many overlaps between older and younger generations. Millennials are early adopters of technology and have pioneered “frictionless retail” – where they can buy whenever, wherever and however they want. But this has quickly been adopted by other generations, she says.
Neville-Te Rito says it is hard to generalise generations, with segments now being based on lifestyle, rather than age.
Whether you are a NETTEL (Not Enough Time to Enjoy Life) or a KIPPER (Kids in Parents’ Pockets Eroding Retirement), part of the Sandwich generation (caring for parents and dependent children) or a Silver Styler (cosmopolitan retirees), depends on your situation, she says.
Catering for all these different lifestyle segments involves offering a rich experience, with high-quality products, accessible – or at least researchable – online.
“The key trend is we’ve got an ageing population, they’re more educated and have more disposable income than before. They want a total retail experience.”
One size doesn’t fit all
Special sizes for real bodies, both young and old, are emerging as a sales opportunity in the fashion world, according to the Euromonitor research, although restricted to online stores.
Despite growing waistlines, many consumers have encountered challenges when
looking for apparel and footwear in larger-than-average sizes.
It is this nervousness and unwanted judgement surrounding the term plus size that convinced singer Beth Ditto to launch her own clothing line, critical of a market that tells the plus-size consumer they are bigger, but not supposed to be.
“When I tell people I’m a model, they look at me like I’ve said I murdered someone,” Tess Holliday,a plus-size model with over 1.2 million Instragram followers, revealed to The Telegraph.
In New Zealand, research into the shopping habits of plus-sized Kiwis carried out last year by The Register together with prominent plus-size blogger Meagan Kerr found an alarmingly prevalent dissatisfaction with retailers. Queried about what aspects of plus-size retail needed improvement, 48 respondents called for change, with the most popular comment requesting high-street retailers like Glassons and Cotton On to increase their ranges.
“I would like to see more chain stores extend their range to include larger sizes,” said the respondent. “It would be nice to go into a mall and be able to shop in the same shops as everyone else without feeling marginalised by having to go into a speciality plus size shop.”
The most frequently-mentioned pain point in plus size retail was price points, followed by style and fit. A perceived mismatch between quality and price points in plus-size apparel was much-discussed, with many younger respondents feeling plus-sized fashion tended to be more homogenous than mainstream apparel, and pitched to an older age group.
The experience is everything
Content is king, but it’s nothing without a good experience. This trend will continue to be important this year. Driven by Millennials, it reflects shoppers’ desire for better experiences rather than goods.
Even farmers aren’t immune. Celebrated Kiwi chief Ray McVinnie reckons farmers need to become foodies to reach high-end consumers. We live in an experience economy, and what was produced has to deliver a multifaceted experience, he says.
A study by Contiki last year shows that young people are continuing to place more importance on experiences than ever, with 50 percent of interviewees aged 18 to 35 saying it was a defining trait of their generation. They said their money is increasingly being spent on festivals, entertainment, and travel, instead of retail experiences.
However, with retail becoming an increasingly experiential business, the line between festivals, entertainment, travel and retail may well blur in the years to come.
More food for thought
Every big consumer trend has a smaller one right behind it. Here are some additional movements we’ve noticed gathering momentum within retail in New Zealand – have they shown up in your store yet?
Service-oriented add-ons. Retailers are increasingly tacking services onto their product offerings. It’s a blurring of the lines – service-oriented businesses like Auckland’s Scarecrow café are offering retail add-ons, while some supermarkets now handle prescriptions.
Locavores. As an extension of the obsession with organic and eco-friendly, consumers are now looking to their local communities for carbon-friendly goods which are hyper-personalised to their taste.
‘Buy less’ vs ‘Treat yo’self’. High-end shoppers are increasingly chasing a minimalist lifestyle, where only quality items which earn their keep are purchased and retained. However, at the other end of the market, fast fashion and cheap homewares continue to fly out the door. Is there a schism opening up?
Nesting. New Zealanders are obsessed with houses and all related purchases. As our housing market continues to rise and global news becomes more anxiety-inducing, renovations and redecorating sprees proliferate as Kiwis settle in and make their homes a sanctuary. The rise of foodie culture has also increased the amount of at-home entertaining we do.
Food and beverage. Hospitality is booming, and as customers seek new reasons to put their screens aside in favour of a physical store, retailers are using food and beverage offerings to lure them in. Food and beverage in retail stores is experiential, on-trend, and likely to stick around for a while.
This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 748 February / March 2017