If you look online, there are some pretty weird things for sale. From niche art products on Etsy, to Amazon’s bizarre range of bot-generated personalized hardware, you can pretty much get anything. In the world of bricks and mortar, retailers are trying not to be outdone. We take a look at the six strangest things you never thought you’d sell.
- Virtual assistants – Until Alexa landed in 2014, the scope of virtual assistants was low. Previously limited to the likes of Siri, the Alexa cloud-based assistant has really changed the landscape. Not only are the Alexa-ready devices (Amazon Echo range) now available in most self-respecting electronics stores, but there are many third-party services you can integrate to give Alexa greater functionality – our friends use theirs to control heating and lights at home. Amazon also announced Alexa integration into other products in September, including a microwave oven, and this year Alexa has been incorporated into 35000 Lennar Corporation homes. She has spearheaded the growth of the smart speaker market, expected to be worth US$30bn by 2024 according to Global Market Insights.
- L.O.L Surprise – Winner of the US Toy of the Year Award in 2017, the popularity of what many feel should have been a five-minute fad continues to grow, supported by multiple You Tube channels run by fans. Buying something without knowing what’s inside isn’t a new concept - Kinder Surprise is still going strong after 44 years. But L.O.L have taken it to a whole new level with several layers of ‘surprises’ and new, higher priced lines launched this year, including the creatively named ‘Bigger Surprise’. L.O.L Surprise taps into the ‘unboxing culture’ supported by social media and online video. The joy is all in the opening, not the consumption of the actual product.
- Cannabis – Two weeks ago, Canada legalised marijuana for recreational use. Just over 100 retail outlets selling pot opened on Wednesday 17thOctober, as Canada extended its laws around medicinal use to allow recreational consumers to buy up to 30g at a time. Uruguay was the first country to legalise recreational weed, and in the US nine states allow limited amounts of pot to be sold for fun with 30 states approving medical usage. In Canada, retailers speculated that while there was no real money in selling the product itself – most provinces have a legal cap on profits – there was plenty of opportunity for growth in the sale of accessories. John Lord, an expat Kiwi running retail Cannabis operations in Colorado said in 2017 he would be keen to bring his model to New Zealand should it become legalised here.
- Nutritional yeast – Although yeast has been used in cooking and brewing for 5000 years, its inactive cousin, nutritional yeast, only started to be commercially produced about 100 years ago. Once relegated to the ‘random’ aisle of the most niche health food stores, it’s readily available in the supermarket today. High in protein and B vitamins, the growth of plant based and whole food eating has certainly fueled its rise. A recent report by Fact. MR stated that 17 per cent of the US population aged 15 to 70 is currently consuming a plant based diet including nutritional yeast, and they expect to see significant growth by 2027 fueled by demand from emerging economies in the Asia Pacific region for vegan products.
- Self-lubricating condoms – Over the last few years, various studies and audience surveys have shown condom usage among millennials dropping to under 50 percent. The Gates Foundation reportedly identified a major issue was lubrication, or lack thereof, leading to Boston University developing a rubber that self-lubricates in a reliable way once it comes into contact with bodily fluids. It’s thought the condoms, which are still in the trial phase, could help improve safe sex advice compliance. They could be on the market within a couple of years.
- Beard oil – In 1988, my dad used to put vegetable oil on his beard to stop it being scratchy, but in 2018, my husband uses beard oil – which is just like cooking oil but it smells nicer and is more expensive. For years, the men’s grooming industry has announced innovations like male make up, which have garnered a fairly-niche-if-anything audience. But with facial hair here to stay (even though hipsters and their beards are, apparently not a thinganymore) beard oil and associated facial products for men are very mainstream. According to Euromonitor, the market for male grooming is set to reach US$60.7bn globally by 2020 (from just US$17.5bn in 2015), outpacing shaving products specifically. Around 80 percent of these sales happen in brick and mortar stores.