What’s the difference between a headline and a trend? We all get a bit dazzled by hype. We tend to believe the headlines when the reality of a situation can be very different.

Trends are important when planning product and service development. Trends tell us what we may face as competition, as well as what the solutions our customers will be seeking might be.

Trends tell us how to anticipate how markets could evolve, be exploited and how we can influence them by delivering value.

Trends aren’t always easy to unpick, though. Here’s a current example: Amazon is the big news today. We see Amazon in every headline and we are told that the company will continue to be part of our lives, even if we can’t imagine how drones and no high street stores will change our world.

Anyone that follows Amazon knows that ‘fun’ is a big part of the corporate ethos and is probably a factor in its success. Who has begun to think that Jeff Bezos and fun go hand in hand? When Jeff goes, will the fun go too?

What we aren’t told is that Amazon is still, roughly, a fifth the size of Walmart. Amazon is growing at @50% year on year. Walmart is growing more slowly: about 2% year on year but from a much larger base. If the current rates of growth persist, Amazon won’t catch Walmart in size for almost half a decade.

Do we think Walmart isn’t already reacting to Amazon? That the largest grocery retailer in the world isn’t working on a strategy to ring-fence its business?

Another trend we read about is the experience economy: consumers spending money in places that offer a real and immersive brand experience (a bit like Walmart delivers). Amazon is a supplier of stuff we want, efficiently and without any real experience attached. In fact, almost none at all. Click and forget.

Once we get over the thrill of drones dropping off pizza and beer, we may want to go and see what’s new on the shelf. Maybe Walmart will develop a new reason for us to visit stores while delivering our groceries via their own drones. Maybe retail isn’t dead after all.

The future of the high street could actually be looking more interesting. Perhaps, when all the commodity chains have stripped their cost base so far that drone delivery and a website is all they have left, we’ll see an uprising of local, artisan, craft and quality makers. Maybe the rise of electric vehicles and taxation on mineral based fuels won’t be matched by the predicted range of batteries we’re told we should believe… or maybe batteries just won’t charge as quickly as we’re told they will so short shopping trips become attratctive again.

Perhaps quality producers of food, clothes, furniture, bespoke services… all the things we love to buy, but struggle to find among the coffee chains and estate agents, will start to look good to more people.

We could see a return to local specialisms based on produce available in an area. Maybe all those community experiments that have been tried over the years (see Transition Towns) will have their day. Maybe it’ll become easier for small producers to reach a shopping audience without the absolute need for e-commerce. Perhaps the trend towards taxing sugar in soft drinks will extend into processed foods and will persuade more people to eat better and shop more locally; shopping local begins to look good for another reason. Maybe shopping more critically will mean we need less plastic packaging.

Maybe we’ll all benefit from a hybrid of efficient delivery of staple items, and the experience of shopping and meeting people too.

I could go on. Trends are important, and it takes an enquiring mind to see past the headline and to where the unmet need is. Maybe we could have a chat about that.

Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do.

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