Secrets of a retail trend hunter

  • In Association with Spaceworks
  • November 13, 2018
Secrets of a retail trend hunter

International retail trend consultant Matthew Brown travels the world looking at retail, and works with Lizzi Whaley to find the best global innovations. We asked for his perspective on the latest retail trends.

What’s one thing you wish all retailers knew about retail trends?

The most important trends are truly global and apply to every retail sector. No one is immune. This is because real trends - rather than fashions or gimmicks - tap into human nature and answer real human needs. The rise of technology in retail and the near ubiquity of the smartphone globally mean these trends are evolving and moving faster than ever. So retailers need to understand that change and disruption will hit them far faster than they expect.

Are you able to give us any reflections on current trends in New Zealand retail fit-outs?

Retail in New Zealand is still pretty transactional - living in a world where stores are where you buy stuff - the rise of online will change that so that stores will need to evolve to be more compelling places to visit.

For a Kiwi retail company seeking to broaden their design horizons, which country or city would you advise they look to and why?

The four benchmark global cities for retail innovation are Tokyo, Seoul, London and New York - so you can start close to home and work your way further!

These cities are the most important because they are where there is the highest density of innovation in one place - in food, fashion, beauty and technology. They also have the most vibrant street ‘ecosystems’ where retail becomes a destination rather than just a transaction.

That’s not to say other cities don’t have innovative retail - of course they do - because you can find the same trends everywhere - but to get the most value out of your airfare, then those four are best.


Can you list some global trends worth investing in at the moment? What are the best first steps for retailers wishing to incorporate these trends into their offerings?

  • Stores that are unique in their design, theme and merchandising. We call this ‘Anti Big’, rejecting the corporate roll out.
  • Pop-up experiences. Exciting, fully focussed promotional experiences.
  • Personalisation. Bringing manufacturing or customisation in-store.
  • Hospitality and community. Bringing food, coffee, community spaces into stores to encourage more visits and longer dwell times.

What are some global trends that aren’t worth investing in?

Technology that doesn’t add value to the customer experience. In particular, interactive screens, which cost money to install, often stop working - and customers don't use because they all have smartphones anyway.

Is there any way around investing in back-end technology to support integrated ‘unified commerce’ style retail or is this inevitable for all?

There are very few retailers that will be able to get away without selling online. Danish variety brand Flying Tiger can succeed because it sells high volumes of cheap novelty products in a ‘when it’s gone it’s gone’ environment - this means there is always a reason to visit their stores as the assortment changes constantly.

For everyone else, seamless payment, the blurring of online and offline are the new future.

People have more or less stopped prophesying the death of bricks and mortar. Does this mean retailers are let off the hook with regards to change? How should retailers who’ve so far resisted moving with the times start to implement change?

Bricks and mortar retail will not die, but that doesn’t mean individual retailers or even retail sectors are safe! Just look at the music and video sector - (excluding vinyl sales) - anyone remember Blockbuster?!

The mid-market is the most dangerous place to be at the moment - whether in food or fashion - if you can’t compete on price or quality, or offer compelling service or experiences, then you are in serious danger.

In the USA, the mid-market department store - from Sears to JC Penney and even Macys - are really struggling. Lord & Taylor has just sold its Fifth Avenue flagship to We Work.

In the UK, Marks & Spencer is to close 100 stores and House of Fraser is to close more than half its portfolio, including its Oxford St flagship.

The key to survival in the future is a seamless omnichannel offer - with stores complementing online by offering better service, curated ranges, and more reasons to visit and stay longer through hospitality and events.

In a world where you can get everything and anything online, physical retail needs to be about expertise and specialisation

As online retail moves into New Zealand - including Amazon - native retail will feel the pinch.

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