xrematon

November 20, 2018

Get real!

Though almost one pound in every six is spent online in the UK and despite the fact I have already written a post lauding the internet, I think that engaging in consumer activity with real human interaction, face to face or on the phone, still has a lot going for it. Let me justify my perspective with three bits of evidence / recently experienced examples.

Firstly, the boring but perhaps surprising nugget of evidence. With the shift to the virtual world, many have proclaimed the end of all things physical. Whilst this may be happening with many forms of media, books are challenging these lazy assumptions. Sales of physical books are expected to grow modestly, by about 1 percent annually, every year. And it seems that ebooks, in whatever form, just aren’t so exciting any more. According to the American Association of Publishers, e-book sales in 2017 fell for the third consecutive year, off 4.7 percent from 2016, to $1.1 billion from $1.16 billion.

Second, let me tell you about my beloved oven, which recently broke down beyond repair. I did the necessary research online in order to get a sense of the different options out there and what kind of deals and promotions were available. Before I made the purchase, I did a quick call to the online retailer, ao, I had selected. Having worked through my various questions with the person at the end of the phone, instead of making the purchase online, I was identified as a repeat customer (my washing machine broke several months ago – not sure I can cope with any more domestic disaster), and without asking or prompting, I was offered a £15 discount. This unexpected bonus would not have been granted if I had gone online only.

My third example comes from a trip to the great extravaganza that is Bird Fair. As hinted in a previous post, I live in a household of keen birders and Bird Fair is the place to go for individuals of this inclination. Though there is obviously lots of activity online in the world of birding, including the indispensable Rare Bird Alert app to keep track of unexpected species appearing somewhere in the British Isles, as well as Whatsapp groups to keep communities of interest in the loop, going to the Fair brought particular advantages. It allowed us to visit stands and ask people the type of questions you ask when you are face to face – more informal, less structured, with immediate follow-up, more effective often than a time-symmetric drawn-out drip-flow of an email thread. You could look people in the eye to see if you trust them with lots of money for a Big Birding Trip. We managed to get binoculars repaired for free, something that would have been very unlikely to happen otherwise. And I haven’t even mentioned the lectures and talks on a whole variety of diverse topics, ranging from ‘Why birdwatching isn’t just a man’s world’ to ‘An introduction to the avian riches of North West Ecuador’ and ‘Why you should never ever write a field guide’ (surprisingly gripping).

Here’s an entertaining bonus photo: of all the different recycling bins at the Fair! But there still were some I felt to be lacking, namely for food. We’ll have to go back next year to see if that is addressed – amongst other pleasures.

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June 16, 2017

Through the keyhole

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Technology,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 8:04 pm
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Time for another photo essay. This time I have some images from a visit to Eltham Palace. Eltham has a fascinating history: in its original incarnation, it was a place where royalty resided, from Edward III at the start of the 14th century to being where Henry VIII spent his childhood. However, it fell into disrepair during the Civil War and then rumbled on as a farm. Like a phoenix that rises from the ashes, Eltham Palace’s new heyday came when wealthy socialites Stephen and Ginnie Courtauld gave the house and gardens a lot of TLC. The Courtaulds restored the medieval Great Hall and then added in a splash of modernity: Art Deco extensions and cutting edge innovations from that time. It was this angle – the latest technology from eight decades ago – that most intrigued me.

Time for the first photo: an image which shows how the building combines old and new. Here we can see the medieval Great Hall on the left, and then the new extension on the right.

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And what about these new technologies? Well, there are some similarities in the approach taken to integrating tech then and how it is done today. One is the desire to make technology invisible: lights were put in alcoves out of sight but with their glow would spread out over the ceiling, often made to ‘go further’ with carefully positioned mirrors. Music would float dreamily throughout the room from hidden speakers – obviously not really visible in this picture!

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Now, how does that compare to these speakers from today disguised as anodyne wall decorations?

Another quirky feature was the centralised vacuum cleaner, powered by a motor in the basement. Better than a robot cleaner surely?

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And there were plenty of other features, such as electrical clocks built into the walls, phones (very new then), underfloor heating, and more. These features were reflective of owners’ concern to make sure that everything was just right. Apparently Ginnie chose the colour of the leather on the seats in the dining room (a soft pink) as this set off ladies’ evening wear best…

The central hall was the most stunning space – Art Deco with lots of lovely warm wood (for both furniture as well as wall decoration). The design here, as in much of the rest of the Palace, was reminiscent of the décor for luxury liners with furniture integrated into the walls and circular shapes (think port hole windows and curving walls).

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I have included a set of final pictures to show another surprising aspect to Eltham Palace. Though the Palace is in London (zone 4), it is surrounded by gardens and fields, and thus walking round outside feels surprisingly green and non-urban.

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The towers and spires of London can be spied as a distant memory on the horizon.

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November 16, 2016

Rematerialism

Compared to the boom consumption decades of the post-war era or the bling-times of 1980s, in more recent years, it could be maintained we have been living in a post-materialistic society. This was true in the buoyant affluence leading up to the global financial crisis and Great Recession when, putting it crudely, we had everything money could buy and we became interested instead in seeking the best, most glorious experiences. Red Letter Days, which lets you buy balloon rides and bungee-jumping as gifts, was the poster child organisation for this set of attitudes. Going through the recession and financial squeeze kept post-materialism still in there, but the motivations and perspectives behind it were different. With little spare money for excess and indulgence, we came to understand what was actually most important to us, and that was often spending quality time with family. In that environment, staying in became the new going out – a more modest experience, but an experience nonetheless.

However, I wonder whether attitudes might be shifting again. Experiences are still very important, in part because of economic pressures: having experiences can be relatively be expensive (compare the cost of meal out vs cooking at home). But now ‘things’ could get more expensive too given that the low value of the pound is pushing up the price of imports.

Beyond the simple economics of higher prices driving a sense of scarcity and thus the need to appreciate material goods, I wonder whether there is something in the way in which we ‘approach’ objects which is changing. There are two dynamics to this:

  • In certain sectors, we are moving to a prioritisation of ‘usership’ rather than ownership. It’s clearest with cars, when we can use Uber or some kind car rental scheme in order to answer our mobility needs other than through buying a vehicle. It’s also pretty big in media: we download films or albums when we want to watch or listen, rather than picking up a box from our shelves. This means that when we do buy ‘something’, it is rather special. Look at how everyone can’t resist getting a fine and fancy notebook in which to write their meeting notes.
  • In addition, the idea of repairing an object and investing in making it last is getting more mainstream. Patagonia is a leader here and on its website, it is possible to access a comprehensive set of easy-to-follow repair guides, from learning how to repair a baffle on a down jacket to replacing the slider on a plastic tooth zipper.

When our lives were full of wonderful experiences, we could fill post lovely pictures on social media of  happy people laughing on sandy beaches etc; I am not sure photos taken whilst descaling the kettle to make it last longer will really have quite the same impact.

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