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EDITORIAL 2020 Visions – with the benefit of hindsight

Twenty years ago I wrote an article for a magazine about what mobile telecoms would be like in 2020. It was part of a series of pieces in a telecoms mag with views from all sorts of interesting people (and me) snappily titled ‘2020 Visions’.

I can’t remember much about what was said, to be honest, but I am pretty sure that no one predicted the ubiquity of the cloud, the rise of social media, nor streaming of TV, music and everything else.

One thing I do remember is that I suggested that mobile phones would one day be more than just a phone. I believed that, having seen the rise of text, there was way more to phones than just getting smaller and thinner, but that they had much more potential than that.

I would love to say I predicted that mobile would be the remote control for life and that we would be shopping on them, but I didn’t (and nor did any of my fellow contributors to the December 1999 issue of Computer Telephony Europe magazine). But that is what has come to pass, just two decades later.

Fast forward to 2019: Black Friday was an intensely mobile affair this year, with more than 70% of UK shoppers buying at least one thing on Black Friday using their mobile.

Of course they did: it is the ideal tool to watch for deals day and night, wherever you may roam. But there is more to it than that. Mobile is now the go-to device for that instant fix of shopping. No one could have foreseen just how powerful the combination of Amazon’s super-easy-to-use-app and the mobile would be when it came to instant retail gratification.

That said, this peak season is starting to see some other changes. Gen Z shoppers are – hard as this is to believe, with several of them at home – starting to look up from their devices and are wanting what they annoyingly see as a ‘traditional’ shopping experience; in a shop. How quaint!

Research has shown that Gen Z shoppers are heading to stores, looking to browse and socialise and to hunt out bargains. They are also looking for novelty goods and, as a result of the commoditisation wrought by Amazon’s super-easy-to-use-app, are looking for different.

And this is the key to the changing world of retail. The kids will buy the utilitarian everyday things from their phones – nothing you can do about that – but they are also looking to indie stores and novel shops (or even novel stuff in old fashioned shops) for gift and the out of the ordinary.

Combine this with the a drive to be more sustainable – such as with H&M in Sweden renting clothes rather than selling them – a growing love of ‘pre-loved’ and vintage (everything, not just clothes) and you can see the full scope of home much retail has changed in the past 12 months, let alone since I got all prophetic in 1999.

With experts predicting that global retail will slow in 2020 – thanks mainly to the US trade war affecting the Chinese economy and therefore dragging down the world economy – it is also understandable that a majority of commerce company heads are actually excited about the year ahead. There are huge challenges, but from them come some great solutions. And, with Black Friday providing some clarity as to just what ‘retail 2020’ now looks like it is the chance to actually transform sometimes stale businesses models into something that really is fit for purpose. That’s my 2020 Vision.

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