There are leaders and then there are followers. Generally the idea is to be the former.
But perhaps it's worth a shot to look at this phrase the other way around. Maybe to be a leader, it's worth being a follower.
The people who lead the way with awesome ideas and unique talents did so by acquiring knowledge and applying it in new and interesting ways. We all need to learn stuff to lead stuff. And those who do it best inspire others to act.
They are Thought Catalysts. Here they are as told by the movers and shakers from Speakers' Spotlight.
At first glance, the queues for 2016’s hot-ticket holiday item, Snapchat Spectacles, might not have looked all that different from the round-the-block lines that formed for the Tickle Me Elmo craze of 20 years ago. But a closer inspection reveals how the simple act of shopping has been quietly transformed during that time.
Rather than waiting at the mall to make their purchase, Snapchat’s hopeful customers were lining up to buy specs at Snapbot vending machines in exotic locales such as the Grand Canyon, the Rose Bowl and Big Sur.
From limited releases of hot products sold in the unlikeliest of places to personalized shopping experiences that meld the online and offline world, the world of retail is poised to get even more interesting in the year ahead. Here’s a look at what’s in store:
Stores are out, experiences are in
Ten years ago, walking into a cool boutique to see a DJ spinning was novel. Today, it’s about the least a store can do to keep up with the times. Brands that are standing out are pulling out the stops to turn shopping into a rich and immersive experience.
Back to Snapchat, for example: selling those specs via vending machines was a quirky touch, but the real genius was in putting them in oddball locations. By doing that, Snapchat turned the simple act of shopping into a treasure hunt and adventure — even for those who didn’t manage to snag a pair before they sold out.
Similarly, brick-and-mortar outlets are also upping their game. Now that anyone can buy anything online, stores that are staying relevant are offering highly curated and immersive experiences. Whether it’s yoga classes and running clinics at Lululemon or grabbing a haircut and an espresso at Frank + Oak’s flagship Toronto store, we’ll see stores become less about being a place to consummate a transaction than a place to immerse yourself in a lifestyle.
Forget faceless brands, connection is key
Back in the day, you had a personal connection with the shops on Main Street. Malls and big-box stores changed all that. These days, however, we’re no longer content to buy from faceless — even if well-known — brands, and smart retailers are using creative tools to build a personal relationship with would-be buyers.
Currently, nowhere is this trend more pronounced than in the world of celebrity. Last year, for example, the likes of Drake and the Weeknd extended their personas into popup shops and full-scale brand lines that give fans more of what they want: direct ways to connect with their favourite personalities.
Meanwhile, Kith NYC designer Ronnie Fieg recently used Instagram to create a real-time window into a product launch event in Aspen. What we’re seeing in all of these cases is online sellers leveraging technology to humanize and personalize a transaction — emphasizing the link between maker and user — which is a far cry from the kind of shopping experience you get in a big-box store.
Evolution — and democratization — of the flash sale
Flash Sales are a time-honored tradition in the world of retail. But enter the Internet and things get a lot more interesting.
These days, putting a time limit on a product or price isn’t just a means to unload overstock, it’s become standard practice for product launches. Celeb cosmetics queen Kylie Jenner has expertly employed this technique, with her limited edition birthday and holiday collections flying off the virtual shelf.
But, of course, bots and resellers have also infiltrated the online sales space, with everything from Kanye West’s Yeezy sneakers to Hatchimals winding up on eBay for several times the retail price. In the year ahead, you can expect smart companies to come up with ways to ensure the right people — actual customers and fans with a history with the brand — are being ushered to the front of the queue. (Shopify launched one product aimed at solving this problem this year, which allows buyers to check out with one tap and sellers to handle thousands of orders per minute.)
Direct-to-Consumer takes a bigger piece of the retail pie
This holiday season, US shoppers spent as much online as they did in actual stores. But behind that headline is an even more interesting story: the direct-to-consumer revolution. From Michael Kors to Oreo, more companies are sidestepping the middleman. Ditching department stores in favour of selling directly to consumers will continue to be a powerful force transforming the way we shop in 2017.
Why? Selling straight to customers creates an intimate and immediate feedback loop that leads to a better customer experience. Companies like AYR, Bonobos and DSTLD jeans are pioneering a highly responsive approach: using sales data and customer feedback to adjust their styles, cuts and size runs in real time. A reality where your favourite store is never out of your size or preferred style is right around the corner.
Shopping gets more social
Imagine browsing your social media feed and buying any product that catches your eye with the swipe of your thumb. In 2017 this will become a widespread reality. Social media platforms like Pinterest, Houzz, Twitter and Instagram are already breaking the browse/buy barrier with options for in-app impulse buying. Now add to that streamlined pay systems like Apple Pay, which is poised to go from a niche payment option to a mainstream expectation, and ordering that eye candy will become almost dangerously easy.
Meanwhile, online sellers are also teaming up with services like UberRUSH and Postmates to solve the delayed gratification problem posed by buying online. (Check out this video for a glimpse of how this works in New York City.) Teaming up with innovative services gets products into the hands of customers on the day they buy and contributes to a shopping experience that’s faster and more convenient.
With the retail world in the midst of a reinvention powered by technology, one thing’s for sure: the only limitation today’s merchants face is their own creativity. The bar for retail was raised in 2016 and it’s set to go higher in the year ahead. The good news for consumers: there’s never been a better time to be a shopper.
*This article originally appeared in Forbes, January 2017.