Emerging Trends debate

Times Of Change

[Future Trends – typically 2-5 or up to 10 years on, towards 2025]

What follows are notes taken from a panel discussion from last week (24.4.2013) with specialists from various areas responding to questions on emerging trends in their areas.  I wasn’t particularly surprised by anything they said, but this may be because they were playing it safe (I assume) to their audience of city types.  The text in italics came from the flyer for the debate.  The rest are my notes.

The debate was about future trends across consumer, digital technology and political sectors – and the possible response from business and policy-makers. This was live streaming from JLA, a speakers bureau (http://www.jla.co.uk/).

The five panellists and their comments…

Linda Davidson developed the first BBC sites (BBC online), launched E4 and led IT for Discovery in Europe. She now helps companies deliver ROI from online platforms, and throws light on everything from Google ‘hang-outs’ to ‘hackathons’ and ‘unified’ communications.

  • Consumers want collaboration and transparency.  Brands need to be more socially responsible (66% of UK respondents to survey want that).  Important for Apple and Microsoft who aren’t transparent.  33% of UK children live below the poverty line – worst in the developed world [I question that – I didn’t catch her source for this]
  • What is happening in retail that is positive? – Micro payments and virtual currency.  Giving the consumer power.  Retailers are looking at having their own television stations – Amazon TV. [Here is a link to a study by McKinsey in this area – could be of interest http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/marketing_sales/the_coming_era_of_on-demand_marketing?cid=other-eml-alt-mkq-mck-oth-1304].
  • What do you thing will become mainstream (technology, media) within the next 2-5 years? – Millennials are much more diverse than other groups to date.  She suggests that a focus on ethics is needed.  It is a real issue.  She told a story about a young person being very upset that someone stole a bar of their chocolate, yet at the same time bragging about the films they downloaded for free – and that they had never paid for a download.  So ethics is going to be a real issue.


Bill Grimsey has been CEO of Wickes, Focus and Iceland. He sees attempts to revive the high street as misguided, with many retail parks destined to a similar fate. Bill considers the lessons learned and the options for traditional retailers.

  • Think about how retail has changed.  He mentioned that the panellists had been asked to be optimistic, but many of the well-known high street shops have gone bust, so he found this difficult.  He reckons there is a shift in power from the retailer to the consumer.
  • Think about what has happened:
      • Bar code in mid-80’s gave retailers information and power
      • World wide web
      • Mobile devices – think about what these will do (and they are already doing) for the consumer
      • What will the retail headlines be?  The High Street, is it dying? – Do we want to save it?  Not high enough footfall in the High Street to make it financially viable.  We will move towards a big Mall culture, like in the US.  Where products can be showcased and looked at, then likely, bought on line. Success in this future will be to think forward about your customer.
  • What should traditional retailers do?  – They’ve got too much space.  UK has too much retail space.  Many will become ‘tumbleweed parks’.  Retailers need to think multi-channel.  Tesco had just done a huge write-down on land they grabbed.  Amazon needs to be more than just online (and will outdo Argos which he reckons is going to fail).  The High Street will become a community centre, not just for retail any more.  Communities will then become more protective of their own shops and what is in their High Street.

William Higham is a much admired consumer trends forecaster. He analyses how technological and economic factors are moving us from cheapness to value, and from ownership towards resale and product swapping – with an accompanying boost in community spirit.He first looked 12-13 years back in order to look 13 years forward.  He talked about what mobile phones were like in 2000; he reminded us that there was no Twitter, no FB, and no Social Media etc.  He says the next 13 years will be about community and communications.  Convenience, comfort and customisation.  Consumers will pay for convenience.  They need fix-ability, stability… old world attitudes in their new world technology.

  • Have we lost our appetite for buying stuff?  – Very much not in the BRICs.  However, in the west we are losing faith in retail therapy.  In an economic downturn, people think more of what matters (i.e. sense of community).  Value will matter more: what your product delivers.  Young people care about access, not owning things.
  • How will a second decade of austerity affect attitudes?  – New generations are much more serious.  Millennials are starting to get real.  They will come to terms with this and not expect hand-outs.  No more entitlement [culture].

Lord Adonis served as Head of the No.10 Policy Unit, Schools Minister and Transport Secretary. He was a key architect of Labour’s Academy schools and plans for HS2, before taking up a post with a cross-party think tank with a goal to improve the effectiveness of government.

  • There has been a big transformation.  High Speed Rail will give the possibility to go from London to Birmingham in 33 minutes, Manchester in 65 minutes and Scotland in 2.5 hours.  This will dramatically shrink our country.  Cross Rail will mean so many more places are within half an hour of London City Centre.  Places like Slough… There is a transportation revolution worldwide.  Even in the US.  He hopes it will remove the north/south divide by making everything closer.  Urbanisation will accelerate.
  • What are the major consequences of Austerity? –             Big spending is gone.  The electorate is pessimistic, like in the 70’s.  Tough times; people don’t have answers.  Governments find it difficult to be re-elected.  Political cycles will therefore be much shorter.
  • Have we learned anything from past games of political football? – Is there any chance for collaboration?  Politicians are arguing about small things and are currently completely dwarfed by external events over which they have no control.

Danny Finkelstein is Executive Editor of The Times – responsible for the digital edition, leader columns (and a statistics-based football review). A former advisor to Hague and Major, he has compared the Coalition to an American college fraternity: “The more humiliation, the more some want to join.”

  • We cannot predict the future.  But we can start with the fact that in us (as humans) there is a strong desire to reciprocate favours.  Reciprocity is the basis of being human.  Organising, cooperating, this is what human history is based on.  We started with family, then village, then tribe, then town, then city and finally nation.  New disruptive technologies increase the ability for reciprocity.  Disruptive technology will disrupt power systems we have today.  Mass media breaking up, leads to breaking up of political parties and breaking down of status quo.   The Zone of Trust is expanding.
  • Does that mean it is the end of two party politics?  – Mass block buster parties will die.  Party membership is declining.  There will be a diversity of parties.  UKIP can’t even agree among themselves (let alone with anyone else), so they probably won’t survive.
  • Is there a more settled view of the UK/EU? – Their relationship with each other plus the currency (Euro).  Having a shared currency requires central control and political union.  This is unlikely to happen.  If there were a referendum, we would still be in, but there wouldn’t be much interest.  [So, not a good outlook then].
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