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The death of discounting and other dumb predictions

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”

So wrote Bill Gates in his 1996 book, The Road Ahead. Looking back over the last (almost) six years of columns I have written for Inside Retail, Gates’ words resonate strongly.

Particularly as I review pieces that I penned on upcoming trends, I can see that the retail world changes relatively slowly in the short term, but massively in the longer term.

The Australian retail landscape is virtually unrecognisable compared to pre-June 2008.

Why that particular month? Well, it’s when the Apple Store launched in George St, Sydney to Beatles-like hysteria, which heralded a wave of international retail the likes of which we had never seen before.

This was compounded, of course, by the rise of global online retail, which I predicted in an October 2010 column called ‘The unseen enemy this Christmas’.

In some cases, I’ve consistently forecast trends, which seemed (perhaps) far-fetched initially, but today are just a part of everyday life.

In December 2009, in an article entitled. ‘New retail for a new decade’, I wrote of “influences that will affect retail in the coming decade”. These included “Constantly connected consumers – consumers being able to compare product and prices, share information and reviews, and buy what they want, wherever, and whenever they want, increasingly direct from their internet-enabled mobile phones”. Fast forward to today and isn’t every phone internet-enabled?

In other cases, I either got it dreadfully wrong, or I simply called it too early.

In December 2010, in a blog called the ‘Top 11 retail trends for 2011’, I prophesied the death of discounting.

“Percentage off promotions are running out of puff,” I commented. “The discounting drug is just not giving retailers the same sales kick as in previous years.” Oh really? Then how come half price is the standard supermarket tactic right now?

A year later, in a column headed ‘Retail in 2012: let the blur begin’, I tagged the trend, “digital wallets take off”. I boldly predicted that “purchasing via smartphones is set to explode in 2012, and it’s a good thing for retailers, because easier payments can translate to bigger baskets”.

At the end of 2013, I still don’t see too many customers (apart from early adopters) waving around their mobile devices paying for goods and services.

In the same write up, I advised readers: “in an omni-channel world, click and collect in its various forms will be big in 2012”. That trend is happening, but I believe it’s really only coming into fruition now. This will be a click and collect Christmas.

There’s one trend I consistently roll out, because a) it’s big overseas; and b) it’s something I wish would catch on faster here, and that’s responsible retail.

In December 2011, I wrote, “increasingly, shoppers will prefer retailers who are socially and environmentally responsible, and giving back to their local communities”.

Maybe 2014 is the year that this will loom large on our shores.

So, as Mr Gates rightly says, don’t expect change to happen overnight, but also don’t let it sneak up on you. In five years’ time, what we see as far-fetched today will be utterly conventional.

In my final column for 2013 next week, I’ll bravely (or stupidly, depending on your point of view) predict what’s to come.

Jon Bird is chairman of specialist retail marketing agency, IdeaWorks, and Octomedia, publisher of Inside Retail. Email: Blog: Twitter: @thetweetailer

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