Howard Saunders is a retail futurist based in New York. What do you believe will be the defining mood of the retail industry in 2016, and why?
Mood is a tricky one, in that it's intangible and highly subjective, but I would say there's certainly an air of unease at the moment. It seems that just as the threat of online is being dealt with, or at least accepted, retailers now fear the next level which includes, of course, the mobile empowered consumer, searching, comparing and probably knowing much more than the shop staff about a specific product or brand.
The way we counter that, of course, is to have better trained staff... experts in hospitality, for that is what retail has become. In the not-too-distant future, payment technology will become more invisible, allowing staff to focus on what they should be focusing on: the customers. Smart retailers are investing in those staff now. I think this is the next big shift, and I don't see the division being [between the] Northern or Southern hemisphere, but rather good and bad retailers. Savvy brands know that they must invest in good, hospitable and intelligent staff if they are to build long-standing customer relationships.
If you're just selling stuff on low price, don't bother. But if you want to be a ‘brand' then you'd better start having a meaningful relationship with your ever-more-demanding customers.
Will ecommerce sales keep growing at the same explosive rate or are we about to see them leveling off?
Ecommerce, like all things, will level off eventually when we all find a reasonable balance in how we like to access the stuff that furnishes our lives. Some markets, though, have really yet to take hold, so expect to see dramatic online sales for a while yet. Amazon's entry into grocery is one to watch. Most supermarkets are not enjoyable places to visit anymore and humans are, if anything, a logical species. If it's easier to re-order through Amazon Dash, then we will. If, however, our supermarkets retaliate with cosy or vibrant, healthy, good-value restaurants, then we'll tie the shopping trip into a day out and meet friends or family at the same time. Remember that 'going online' to make a grocery order is getting easier and simpler by the minute. How fast are stores reacting?
Are we on the cusp of a broader shift in the retail industry or will next year’s developments be part of a logical progression from those of 2015?
Dramatic happenings in 2016? Well no, we won't see it like that, not over the course of one year. I like to say “the future creeps” because it creeps up on us without us noticing. Suddenly, you can look back 10 years (like we can now) and it's hard to imagine a world pre-Facebook, before the smartphone - a world where we weren't checking our phones every ten seconds. That's dramatic. But we don't notice the shift as it seems to occur in a gentle, Darwinian manner.
So, the changes won't happen dramatically in 12 months, nor will I predict which brands will thrive and which will die, though we all have a pretty good sense of that! I'm interested in the big shifts in attitude and in behaviour and those happen over years rather than months.
Over the next five, six, seven years we are going to see a bigger move towards products with meaning and values, rather than simply value. In mature democracies we will shift towards more gourmet, fast casual foods and away from big, fast food chains. We will want bespoke products in all categories: the product not just a product. We will be more discerning about food and fashion, more concerned about where it's made... and certainly not just for ecological reasons.
More and more of us will want the best the world has to offer as it becomes much easier to know what that is. There's no way you can turn that clock back. We are turning into a more demanding, more easily turned off, more sophisticated bunch of very tricky customers. And before you start complaining about them you'd better realise that it's us!
Can you name five retailers from around the world which you believe are well placed to take advantage of next year’s retail developments?
I guess we can start with the ones I admire for always being smart and reacting to change quickly. As a mega-brand Nike has to be in there, as would Apple as it'll be incredibly interesting to see what changes Angela Ahrendts makes to the second generation of stores. I always think Burberry are super smart and stay ahead of the game. Then there are the other interesting retailers who have started to produce some amazing new store designs. I'd include Hunter Boots, Nixon watches, Shinola, Restoration Hardware, Sweetgreen, Toms, Converse, Melissa, Club Monaco, Kit & Ace… The category that is least prepared, even though you didn't ask? Department stores. If you are an average generalist then the future may not be as bright as it once was.
And just as a bit of fun, can you describe 2016’s ideal retailer?
Right now? I'd say it would have to be a food brand. Fast casual, authentic and good value. It would feel like it's a return to tradition in many ways but the logo and design would show that it was contemporary and 'cool' with a strong online and social media presence. They would make a signature product that everyone wants, everyone is talking about. Want to come into business with me?
WGSN is an international trend forecasting agency. We asked its director, retail and buying, Sara Maggioni, what trends retailers can expect to dominate 2016.
What do you believe will be the defining trends for next year’s high street clothing retailers?
A return to femininity will definitely be one of the most important messages of the season, so expect plenty of ruffles, lace - especially in panelled designs, broderie anglaise, focus on the shoulders and florals. These will work into both romantic themes, rendered in a soft colour palette, pretty blooms, lightweight sheers and will also update boho and western looks, moving them into a more prairie direction. This femininity will also emerge as a more Latino-themed aesthetic, which will do very well commercially, with off-the-shoulder necklines, bolder prints and a sassier colour palette.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, we are also expecting the ‘Maximalism’ trend from the spring and summer 2016 catwalks - which taps into eccentric dressing - to have an effect on high street retailers, but certainely not in its literal form as we saw it on the catwalks. Bold prints like saturated florals, bright and acid tones of pink and orange, 3D embellishment, particularly for footwear and a more-is-more, quirkier approach for accessories which will feel new.
Of course clean utility and minimal looks will continue, especially for the contemporary market. We also keep hearing about the importance of fashion pieces which are office appropriate, which will resonate with fashion conscious career women.
What fashion trends will be dead by next year?
I hope the 1970s! Although I don’t think they’ll die completely, they will evolve into something a bit less literal, most probably as a 1970s-1990 mash-up, so embracing a cleaner, retro vibe particularly for juniors or as a more subtle reference for a prairie and boho look. Retailers took the 1970s to the extreme last spring and summer with very literal renditions, so I feel the 70s have truly saturated the market and the customer will want a change. As I said, some 70s references like boho prints and fringes will still be there, but it won’t be about the total look like for spring and summer 2015, which to be honest not many people bought into. It was more of a styling direction in store.
Regarding southern hemisphere trends, are we likely to see anything unusual taking place next year?
I think we are seeing key items and popular silhouettes sticking around for longer periods of time. Customers are not necessarily ready for new pieces all the time - they certainly want newness but they don’t want drastic change. So I definitely think that even here in the southern hemisphere a lot of the bestsellers from 2015 will carry on and evolve. Saying that, spring and summer 2016’s focus on femininity will provide a refreshing change to the minimalist and sport-inspired trends of previous seasons, but particularly in Australia, a more feminine aesthetic is always quite popular so it might not seem as drastic a shift as it might feel in the UK, for example.
Tell us about the interior trends we might be seeing in retail stores next year.
I think Scandinavian, Nordic-inspired design will continue to do well, especially in the southern hemisphere. It has definitely started but it’s not tired yet and a lot of retailers here in New Zealand and Australia will continue to push it.
Also there’s a return to a natural aesthetic for interiors with really rustic wood, unfussy ceramics, natural woven baskets, botanical prints, macrame and knitted wall hangings. Sustainability is a buzz word for interiors with materials such as cork and responsibly sourced cottons becoming more important.
For colours, we are seeing dark palettes picking up pace for 2016 so dark plates, linens and bedding. And for something a bit quirkier and fun, Memphis-inspired looks with sherbet and pastel colours offset by brights and darks in soft silhouettes will continue.
How best can retailers take advantage of the upcoming trends for 2016?
The feminine looks will work great for occasionwear, so it’s a fantastic trend for races season in Australia for example. But also the more prairie looks will be really key for festival and beachwear. The Maximalism trend will be key for statement accessories and footwear and it’s a great trend for styling, impacting store displays, lookbooks, campaigns and Instagram imagery.
In your opinion, what 2016’s ideal retail store look and feel like?
The ideal retailer has a store that you don’t want to walk past without going into it, somewhere where you always find something that you want or you aspire to have. Great visual merchandising and in store events are important - customers need a reason to go into the stores nowadays.
However, the store is not an isolated being anymore. It’s part of the whole ecosystem that all retailers should have: strong social media presence, curated Instagram accounts, innovative marketing campaigns… all this will drive people to the stores constantly.
- Collaborations with cool brands and up-and-coming artists, designers, style influencers are also very important.
- [Increasingly popular] lifestyle interests, from food to wellness, are also something that retailers should really keep in mind.
- A consistent brand voice is paramount: be really confident in what you represent and be consistent and innovative with your message.
This story originally appeared in NZRetail magazine issue 741 December 2015 / January 2016