Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Explosion of High Touch To Counter Balance High Tech

First there was a story in the British publication, House & Home that featured a Paris pied-a-terre. 

The designer talked about how it was fashioned to express the French love of style and culture.   How the owner was passionate about having “a mix of soothing colours” and “bold statements of personality.”

The owner was barely 30 years old.  He made his zillions in “technology integration.” 

The designer notes that owner was a bit of a geek, but valued the richness of French Culture even spending two years studying Parisian literature written during the French Revolution.

Right now I am sitting in a coffee house in Atlanta that is located right in the middle of a Millennial lifestyle group called “Young Digerati.”

The Claritas PRIZM cluster, "Young Digerati" is described as “affluent, highly-educated and digitally-connected.”  

Its description goes on the say Young Digerati folk are into yoga clubs, clothing boutiques, local antiques and flea markets, home décor, juice bars, coffee houses and microbrews.

No question that the tech-heads have their own unique set of social skills. 

They are drawn to the indie coffee houses.  They purchase the organic, politically correct and local coffee blends.  They have the cream foam crafted to look like flowers or birds.  They sip their coffee in groups. 

But once seated, instead of talking with one another, as a communal group they interact with one another plus their other friends on social media.

High Tech… High Touch… even when they leave home for the office…

A front-page story on this morning’s Wall Street Journal is titled, “Restrooms Get a Makeover.” 

The article is all about how office restrooms are transforming quickly into “centers of retreat” complete with areas to relax, listen to music, watch nature videos and converse. 

There is a picture that features a women’s restroom in a WeWorks co-working space.  A spokesperson from WeWorks describes how staff now takes possible co-workers into the restrooms after showing them the high-tech conference rooms.

And… the restrooms are now what sells the co-workers on making WeWorks there offie destination.

Airbnb is featured in the WSJ article with its installation of forest-themed restrooms with tree stumps and the sounds of crickets chirping at its San Francisco headquarters.

In Airbnb’s Portland office, the men’s room is retro-videogame themed with stations where guys can play Pac-Man and Mario Bros. arcade game.

The West Coast is high-tech haven and just a tad… a tad… out there. 

The article also notes a Raleigh North Carolina marketing firm using more than 20,000 pennies to create custom tile for the restroom floors.  All the coins have been installed heads-up except for one. 

Apparently, new employees are given a bonus if they can find the one coin that is not heads-up. My bet is that the new employees might not be that time-efficient in actually doing the work they were hired to do. 

There was an article earlier this week about how the grocery stores are dashing quickly into the digital order online and drive-up to get the orders.

Article after article… stat after stat… shows that few of the programs are actually netting dollars in the red and most of the retailers doing it are not just losing money, but are losing a lot of money. 

Ace is the place with the helpful hardware man.  

Ace is also the place that draws in the techie Millennials because they can interact with a human being that cares vs. going to a Big Box home store with self-checkout lanes only.

Every day I hear more and more and more and more and… about digital, digital, digital, digital. 

Just as the press has it engrained in their headsets that Trump will not last through his first four years, the press has it equally engrained in their headsets that the Jetsons world of automatic cars and self-cooking kitchens is going to be reality in the next few years. 

Unfortunately seeing the world through Manhattan, DC and the West Coast does not provide the most accurate portrayal of not just American society, but the techies too!

There are brands that do get it.

Maybe first in line is Apple. Check out the TV ad running right now about Apple Security.

As much as Airbnb has gone a bit overload on the design of their restrooms, if you have not used Airbnb for travel bookings lately, take a look at the website.  It is way more High Touch than you might think. 

I used to own a MINI back 10 years ago.  Not like I am a High Tech genius, but I do interact a lot with digital literally… with stats and numbers.  

I purchased the MINI because it was hip and cool. I have yet to see a MINI ad that promotes its High Tech equipment... but whether I am in Atlanta or San Fran or Austin or LA, I see a lot of the techie geeks driving MINIs.

My fun car today is a 2003 VW Beetle convertible.  Other than power windows, there is no digital anything on that “fun car.” 

I write these blog-posts NOT to have answers… but more so to stimulate thinking and cause brand leadership to ponder as their models of assurance are disrupted. 

I will end this post with a line I have myself saying over and over and over again to our partners and clients. 

The Millennials are literally driving the marketplace right now as they couple, purchase their nests and begin birthing kids. 

Will we experience a repeat of the same market dynamics of the 70s and 80s and Boomers did the same thing?  Nope.

Will we witness a shift of everything to high tech and digital embodied in everything from app-only banking to self-driving cars to online purchases with drone delivery to face-time and texting replacing true face-to-face?  Absolutely not. 

I may not have all the answers of what will unfold, but I will place $100 bet that human in-person interaction, expressions of creativity and the arts, personalization of design and style, customization of products further made-by-hand and good home-cooked food made from scratch is going to explode!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The 2019 State of the Retail Union Address

Well the numbers for March have been released and the number of the day is 0.2%.  Yup, a dip of 0.2% in February from a gain of 0.7% in January. 

Wow.  Be still my heart.

The headline for the news release is “Improved Retail Sales Can’t Lift Malls.”  And the 0.2% is the number driving the Wall Street News story. 

Fascinating how statistical variance – however small it might be – drives perception among the masses, the non-statistical public at-large in which the press dwells among.

I have shared in Blog writings before just how much of the consumer and even business community is off in perceptions of the Internet, web-retail world. 

The question: How much did the Internet account for retail sales closures in the past quarter of the year?

The average answers i get among folks on-the-street to folks in top management and board rooms run in the 50%-80% range. 

The most recent numbers released from the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau on March 13, 2019 at 10:00am EDT is 9.7%. 

And it is up... 2.0% from the previous quarter in volume which translates out to about 0.02 percentage points.  


Journey with me for a moment into the generational groups and their respective numbers.

In 2019, the leading edge of Millennials turns 40 years old.  The trailing edge of Millennials turns 25 years old. 

The size of each age group from age 5-25 is smaller size than the Millennial Generation as it moved through the same age groups. 

In 2019, the leading edge of the Alpha Generation turns 4 years old.  And the Alpha Generation grows more and more and more in size – which in 2019 is expected to hit 20 million – each year for the next dozen or so years. 

The Boomers are now turning 73 years old this year with the trailing edge hitting the double-digit thrill of age 55. 

As Boomers evolve into empty-nesters, they begin the process of shedding everything from clothes in the closets to furniture no longer needed to even china and dishes that do nothing more than gather dust. 

So there are some major forces of change taking place right in front of us.  Changes way more statistically significant than a monthly change of 0.2%.  

According to the Wall Street Journal story, retail malls “are finding themselves in a very cloudy, confusing state.” 

The story talks about retailers closing stores in the malls.  

So far this year, they cite more than 5,000 stores closing down.  And they cite brands like Payless Shoes and Gymboree and Charlotte Russe. 

Not too sure that those brands are currently re-positioning strategically for 2020.  

And I would be willing to put a $100 bet on the table that regardless if their locations are in a mall, strip center or stand alone, the stores overall are performing below par.

BUT… according to the WSJ, those store closings represents yet another indicator that retail malls are doomed and digital will soon replace the retail world we have long known.

Thus far in the 2019 calendar year, about 40% of our time at EXPERIENCE has been focused around the retail marketplace with a number of retail brands involved in clothing to house & home. 

And here is what we have universally found to be happening right now. 

(1)  The retail marketplace is at a critical junction point of change and opportunity… and it is NOT the transition of physical shopping to digital shopping. 

(2)  Retailers closing down stores and/or filing Chapter 11 are driven more because either they target market groups that no longer exist or they are anchored by locations in neighborhoods that transitioned and changed.

(3)  Price discounting has chiseled down brand equity to the point where today many brands are throwing as much crap against the wall to see what sticks. 

(4)  Digital shopping is NOT replacing instore, onsite shopping, but instead is adding another storefront to the retail brand experience. 

The critical junction point of change is actually so simple and such a BGO – Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious – that many run from the bright glare in dis-belief. 

Here it is.

The Millennials are in lifestage transition and a transitional change that is in many ways a retail tsunami of opportunity, growth and expansion. 

The Millennials are now building their nests, purchasing homes and birthing kids.  It’s that simple. 

And unless business leadership has become so addicted to Excel in doing their math, future opportunity is busting down the door.

So is O.2% a number worth a WSJ headline story? 

No. But then again, journalism in America is going through a generational life change right now too.

If you are a retailer reading this, call us and we will tell you more.

If you are a politician, a financial firm, a healthcare firm, an entertainment brand, a CPG brand… call us too. 

And always remember, the Millennials fostered the whole trendscape of “helicopter parents” and while the parents have since transitioned to empty-nesters, the need-gap remains. 

When you call us, we will tell you more about how you and your brand can fill that “helicopter niche.”

My Email is  and my phone number is 404-245-9378.  As a Baby Boomer, I prefer to actually speak in person than just in text.