podcast | Mar 2, 2020 |
This trend forecaster is predicting the next wave of retail

At first, Piers Fawkes didn’t even know what a trend report was. This was in the early aughts. He had arrived in New York from his native England, and was getting into the then-booming world of blogs. (At a party thrown by Gawker founder Nick Denton, he met Arianna Huffington and reasoned, “If she can do it, I can.”) Fawkes’s blog collected technical and artistic innovations from around the world and collected them for an audience of obsessives. Then, out of the blue, a beer company reached out with an odd request: “You seem like you know trends—will you write us a trend report? … It was my first job.”

Now, it’s Fawkes’s entire career. His agency, PSFK, collects “weak signals”—student projects, academic white papers, hacker experiments—and recognizes patterns. Then, he conducts interviews and contextualizes the research with input from experts to formulate reports for an audience of blue chip companies who pay for access to his findings. His readers include employees at Target, Johnson & Johnson, Apple.

So what is Fawkes seeing around the bend? First of all, we may have finally reached peak “experiential” retail. “[Stores] will say, Hey, no one’s coming into my store, so we’ll make it into an experience,” he tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of the Business of Home podcast. “There’s only so many neon signs and wings you can put on the wall.” He sees the next wave being “useful retail”—stores that come up with ways to deal with customers’ needs in real time.

Unlike a lot of doom-and-gloomers, Fawkes doesn’t see physical retail coming to an end anytime soon. People have always had a need to physically gather to shop, he reasons, whether it’s at a marketplace, or a mall that sells D2C brands. And just as importantly, having a store is an essential way for companies to gather feedback from customers in a way that online sales simply can’t—that won’t go away, no matter how ubiquitous Amazon gets.

Fawkes has also been looking at what the home of 2030 will look like. Interestingly, he doesn’t envision a hyper-technological future dominated by giant screens on every surface, and 5G Wi-Fi-enabled bar carts. Instead, clients, especially affluent clients, will place a premium on privacy. “Does Google really need to know I’m at home?” Fawkes reasons.

Some of Fawkes’s research points to a home of the future that will strike some present-day readers as unorthodox and even a little dystopian—a vision of parasitic housing (semipermanent dwellings attached to underused urban structures) and the ubiquity of co-living in increasingly dense cities. But the future always seems a little strange—until it’s here.

This episode was sponsored by Buildlane and High Point Market. Listen to the interview below, and if you like what you heard, subscribe to the podcast (free of charge!) to get a new episode every week.

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