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RetailX Brand Index 2019

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EDITORIAL Time to listen to the kids

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Millennials, Gen Z and now Gen Alpha are all hungry for change, but can retail keep up?
Millennials, Gen Z and now Gen Alpha are all hungry for change, but can retail keep up?
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Kids are reshaping the world: they are green, clean and tech savvy – retail and regulators need to keep pace

Kids are organising school strikes. Kids are putting growing pressure on everyone from their parents to the governments of the world to tackle climate change. There are even school kids protesting against Brexit. Young people, it seems, are increasingly engaged – and this is going to have huge consequences for retail.

 

While the race to be the next UK Prime Minister is now an inelegant fist-fight between a group of middle-aged white men – “male, pale and stale” as my other half has it – it is easy to forget that there is a growing swell of young people out there who, it seems, are tired of being ignored.

 

Climate change is obviously the biggie: today’s kids will be the ones who reap the whirlwind of the wind the rest of us have sewn. However, they are increasingly going to be the driving force behind how retail needs to reshape itself. And reshape itself it needs to do: in the UK, May has logged the slowest online sales growth ever – something needs to change.

 

Part of the problem is that retail – online and off – as we know it ihas been far too slow to adapt to the (admittedly rapid) shift in behaviour among ‘young’ people – and by that I mean millennials downwards.

 

But this is just the tip of a worryingly large and youthful iceberg. According to Beano Studios (yes, really!), the current crop of 9 and 10 year olds – or Generation Alpha as they will soon be self-referencing themselves during ‘show and tell’ – are the ones that retailers should be watching. These small people, born since 2010 are as old as the iPad and know a world only dominated by screens, instant gratification and deep-seated qualms that their parents and grandparents have really f**ked things up on a local, national and global scale.

 

These kids are super-tech-savvy, as you’d expect, but they also have a raft of other, less obvious, traits that are shaping their future relationship with retailers – and they aren’t what you’d expect.

 

These kid are ‘The new old-fashioneds’. They love their tech, but they also value playing outside, engaging with real things and, get this, “valuing family time”, says the study. This means that, their relationship with tech is no longer the slavish devotion seen in Millennials and Gen Z, but treating it more as the enabler of their passions.

 

This is borne out by research from the Fashion Retail Academy, which finds that finds that the use of resale apps in the UK has exploded, especially among people. Admittedly, they aren’t the Alphas, but the 18-24 age group is similarly showing signs of doing things differently.

 

Young people are driving environmental concerns and digital change, as well as shifting habits around sustainability and more. These things are already having an impact on planet retail, especially in fashion, where fast, throw-away fashion is increasingly coming under scrutiny from the very people who are meant to be buying it.

 

The changes in shopping habits these younger demographics make now are going to be the tropes by which retail has to reshape itself. Take Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency launch: this is something that taps into the burgeoning digital way that young people live. Forget for a minute Facebook’s appalling record on data and focus instead on how it connects people, businesses and things and Libra not only starts to make a lot of business sense, but also fits with how people think.

 

Naturally, the banks, governments and officialdom have weighed in with how this has to be regulated and shouldn’t be allowed, but they would say that wouldn’t they? Governments and central banks have been trying to rubbish and shut down cryptocurrencies since they were invented – they fear them as it takes control of the actual money away from those institutions.

 

But this is the sort of step change that the young want. They want new ways of paying and doing things and, as the old generation make more and more of a mess of it (Brexit, Trump, Trade Wars, Proxy wars with Iran etc etc) the more they will seek these new ways.

 

So, expect more recycling. Expect more demanding customers wanting to know the provenance of things. Expect people to want to pay in new ways. And expect them to not necessarily want to shop in the ways that their parents and parent’s parents did. Times are a-changing and we need to change too.

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