How countertrends can open up new opportunities for innovation
Trends are the forces that change society. Keeping an eye on these changes and aligning one's own innovations with them is regarded as a promising strategy for every company. But it can also pay off to swim against the current. In this blog post you can read about trends and counter-trends using the example of trade, and why you benefit when you develop innovations that contradict the spirit of the age.
Human progress is anything but linear. Rather, it follows the movements of a pendulum. Each trend generates one or more counter-trends, which on the one hand can lead to conflicts and on the other to symbioses. This can be seen, for example, in the changes currently taking place in the retail trade:
Do click and voice commands replace the shopping cart?
We all buy more and more online. In Austria, e-commerce has grown strongly in recent years and already accounts for around 10 percent of total retail spending. Not so long ago, it was considered unthinkable to order certain goods online, such as furniture, clothing and shoes or even fresh food. And mobile phone shopping was given little future. But both are now part of everyday life. Ordering a pair of shoes on a smartphone is nothing special today.
The reasons for this trend are quite plausible. As consumers' time budgets are becoming ever tighter and the desire for even more convenience is growing, we are seizing every opportunity to do our everyday duties even more efficiently. Thanks to mobile shopping, weekly shopping can now be done on the go via smartphone and is delivered to your home a few hours later. It is therefore hardly surprising that mobile commerce in Austria has recently recorded a growth rate of around 20 percent. And the next technology that will further increase the efficiency of shopping is already in the starting blocks. The Voice Commerce boom, fuelled by devices like Amazon's Alexa, seems to have already reached Austria.
Online shopping is efficient - but boring
But does this triumphant advance of online shopping herald the end of stationary retailing? Not really. Although the Brick&Mortar world is losing market share to online giants such as Amazon, Alibaba and Co. But the real business premises are not empty. Because they offer something that e-shops can hardly offer: Experiences. When the child gets a cookie from the nice shop assistant at the baker's. When a passionate amateur photographer gets his hands on the latest camera model to try out. When a mountain biker can test ride a new bike on a joint tour with the dealer. No online retailer can offer such small and big adventures. And honestly: Who doesn't long for Aunt Emma, who always had time for a short chat, had a lot to tell about her own range and knew exactly what which customer liked and what not? Although online providers try to do the latter, they fail miserably if a customer buys something for his mother-in-law via his online account.
Shopping becomes an adventure
According to the motto "Strength Your Strengths", retailers try to surprise consumers with new adventures. The sales formats that appeal to as many senses as possible are gratefully accepted by consumers: The opportunity to surf on the multiplex terraces of Shopping City South attracted around 250,000 guests. The late night shopping events of the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Parndorf regularly cause traffic jams on the motorway and its exits. More and more luxury companies and fashion houses are opening imaginatively designed pop-up stores that are only open for a short time.
In retail, however, there is not only the counter-trend of spending more time on shopping and turning it into an adventure. The philosophy, perfectly implemented by online traders in particular, to meet the wishes of the "king's customer" so quickly and comprehensively, possibly even before he knows exactly what he wants (keyword Anticipatory Shipping), is questioned in some places. True to the motto from a song by the Upper Austrian band Attwenger: "de leid de san jetzt kundn und da kunde der is könig und da könig der is bled", some consumers want to dispense with the background noises of the trade such as high-gloss advertising, packaging mica and discount orgies. They miss honesty in price and goods and take the whole trade into their own hands as a group project.
Food Coops: When the dealer becomes superfluous
So-called Food Coops already have several thousand members in Austria. The members of these modern consumer cooperatives organize their purchasing directly from the producers themselves and carry out the necessary work, such as distribution, themselves and on a voluntary basis. A trader thus becomes superfluous. The need mentioned at the beginning to be able or willing to spend less time on shopping is thus not met 100 percent. In return, shopping becomes a motive for meeting with like-minded people, exchanging ideas and making the world a bit "better" together. In Food Coops, people are organized who have more or less lost confidence in the conventional production of food and also in the trade. They want to know exactly what's on their tables and buy only from producers they know themselves or who have a solid certification. Some of them even produce food themselves and pass on the surplus they do not need to other members. Admittedly, there can be no talk of a strong trend towards food coop in Austria. But these consumer cooperatives are spearhead projects that can also leave their mark on the mainstream.
Modern counter-movement comes from the past
The interesting thing about all these counter-trends to the online boom is that they are not all new: A few centuries ago it was just the central city and village squares where consumers wanted to experience something in addition to shopping. In the Middle Ages, for example, jugglers provided entertainment on market days. Today, shopping centres on greenfield sites compete with shops in town and village centres. Food Coops are not a new invention either: As a result of industrialization, the first consumer cooperatives were established as early as the middle of the 19th century. Everything has been there before!
How to take advantage of countertrends
The trends and counter-trends in retail clearly show that a very strong development like the online boom sets many opposing forces in motion. They can open up new niches in which microtrends dominate that are contrary to the general trend. If such a niche is large enough, it can make sense to fill it with innovations.
Examples of how this is possible in retail are the zero-waste supermarkets, several of which already exist in Austria. In the age of convenience and increasingly tight consumer time budgets, it seems - to put it mildly - courageous to open a shop in which the customer has to spend much more time and brains (keyword: bring your own packaging) on shopping. But: to counter a megatrend such as online shopping has meant that these businesses can enjoy a high level of media attention and thus do not have to spend a lot of money on advertising. In any case, the concept seems to be working, as shops already exist in several Austrian cities.
Conclusion: How countertrends can open up new opportunities for innovation
Every company must align its innovation activities with trends. This does not necessarily mean, however, that the novelties must correspond to the supposedly strongest change. Society is not changing progressively in one direction. This change takes place in oscillating movements. Consider and observe carefully how society actually reacts to a supposed megatrend. You can discover promising opportunities for your business.
Born in Ried im Innkreis. As former Head of Innovation, he was responsible for the entire project management and specializes in the areas of fuzzy front end and business model innovation.