From the incremental to the radical, the digitally focused to the resolutely physical, brands need to innovate around space to stay on top of their customers’ expectations, explains Crowd DNA innovation knowledge leader, Aurelie Jamard...

More than ever, retail environments are facing intense challenges due to the growing appeal and convenience of online shopping – and various brands are turning to new technologies to help re-invent their store experience. We’re also seeing interesting shifts from digital to physical, and virtual reality blurring the boundaries between online and offline. Time to explore this area in more detail.

Customer needs are converging

Hot from the press, we hear announcements that Amazon are planning to open physical pop up shops in the US, and John Lewis wanting to experiment with beacons and virtual reality in their UK stores. So what does this mean for the future of retail, and how do these announcements reflect customer needs (if at all)? Customers’ expectations are rapidly changing and strongly influenced by peers, brand experiences and the latest innovations that become accessible to them. Online shopping has grown in popularity, enabling young customers to snap the best deals and allowing parents to shop on their terms, any time, anywhere, and without the kids. On the other hand, shopping in store gives them what websites are still strongly lacking: a feel for the products and a true brand experience. But lack of time, greater choice and technological developments mean that customers have grown to expect a consistent and integrated shopping experience across channels.

Technology as an enabler

The explosion of technological innovations has broadened retailers’ options and created opportunities that would have been unimaginable a few years back, such as being virtually teleported from anywhere in the world to the top of London’s Tower 42, courtesy of Marriott, or visualising pieces of IKEA furniture in our own homes without lifting a finger off our smartphones. So from VR (Virtual Reality) to AR (Augmented Reality), Google Glass to Kinect, and beacons to drones, there is a plethora of options that are being developed and experimented with by brands to make their in-store experience more relevant and entertaining to shoppers. Some brands like Topshop have fully embraced these, and their latest endeavours include offering a virtual reality catwalk in their Oxford Circus store as part of this year’s London Fashion Week, as well as creating a Kinect-enabled AR mirror to re-create the illusion of a fitting room in one of their stores in Russia. Other brands that have embraced AR include Converse, De Beers, American Apparel and Sephora.

Experiences (are all that) matter

But retail experiences are not only the product of great technology put to good use. They can also harness the power of social and experimentation, as IKEA and AirBnB’s partnership in Australia shows, enabling visitors to book sleepovers (and try pieces of furniture at the same time) in IKEA stores overnight. Testing products in store is another way to provide added value to customers. In Germany, outdoor sports retailer Globetrotter boasts a four-storey shop including a pool, a cold room and a shower to enable customers to test the equipment and clothing before making a purchase decision.

So innovating with space around the needs of end users is crucial to any brand with a physical retail presence (and even without one as Amazon and Google rumours suggest…). It can include technology but doesn’t have to; it can be incremental or radically different; it can appeal to one or all of the senses; it can be about display, product experimentation or payment. But one thing is certain: it has to be shaped around customer needs and work with the brand’s vision, as our work with the likes of Topshop has proven.

At Crowd DNA we use various methodologies to uncover insights around end users, but also around space, starting with in-situ work and testing findings against our cultural strategy framework. If you want to know more and/or have a chat about the ever-changing retail landscape, drop me a line.

Exploring trends isn’t simple. For every development, there is most likely one headed in the opposite direction. But as explained by Crowd DNA’s trends knowledge leader, Rebecca Coleman, in today’s world of shape-shifting lifestyles it is regularly the same people that are following both trend and countertrend…

We live in a world of extremes. This means that for every significant shift in our cultural fabric, there will be a pull in the opposite direction. These countertrends may not be as dominant as their mainstream forebears, but they are no less important. In a market where everyone is following the trend, sometimes it pays to be the one offering a rebellious alternative, no matter how niche it may seem at the time.

A trend is not a fad. Trends have longevity. They are a distillation of the effect that major and minor social, political, technological and economical shifts are having on people’s lifestyles and behaviour. By understanding the current consumer landscape in this way, forecasters are able to predict more accurately how our needs and desires might be shaped in the future.

However, humans are not simple creatures and as soon as something becomes a trend it is inevitable that there will be some movement against it. This is the countertrend. It used to be the case that this was often an act of cultural rebellion – for example, when the mainstream trend was to aim for corporate and capitalist success in the late seventies, the punks sprang up to offer an extreme alternative. Interestingly, in today’s world of shape-shifting lifestyles it is regularly the same people that are following both trend and countertrend.

One of the most prevalent examples of this right now is the trend for being “always on” versus the counter trend for digital downtime. This is manifesting itself in a number of ways, from busy urban people taking occasional time out by visiting an off-the-grid holiday home to wearable tech, such as Kovert that alerts people only to urgent calls so that they can live without a phone in their hands 24/7.

We have also seen this via the notion of living by way of our phones versus truly living in (and for) the moment. Who can forget that picture of a sea of glowing mobile screens at Pope Francis’ election in 2013? It seems that everything we now experience has to be captured and shared. As a response, many are extolling the virtues of not filtering our lives through a screen. In a recent TV interview, musician Jack White said that when on tour he had been compelled to ask audience members to step away from their devices in order to enjoy the show with their “eyes and ears”.

Perhaps it is our modern desire to “have it all” that is also making this a time when trends and countertrends can live side-by-side. If you are constantly busy, there’s little point in ever seeking the middle ground. We have both FOMO (fear of missing out) and JOMO (joy of missing out). We want everything and nothing all at the same time and many industries might not exist if it wasn’t for this paradoxical human nature. For example, detox brands would be almost obsolete without over-indulgence.

For brands, it is vital to be aware of both trend and countertrend to tailor the most relevant and authentic response for your audience. When it comes to countertrends, dominance is less important than targeting. Where the countertrend is a niche one, it is often followed more loyally and passionately and is therefore well worth tapping into – if appropriate. Also, often the countertrend can usurp or equal the prevailing trend. Think of slow food starting to overtake fast food (especially with a certain demographic), or the idea of local becoming increasingly important in a globalised economy.

Keep your eyes peeled to the Crowd DNA blog for upcoming trends – and, of course, countertrends.

Ideas for ideas

How do you get to great ideas? Crowd DNA's creative delivery knowledge leader, Eric Shapiro, shares some pointers from a recently attended talk which, among other things, referenced Spandau Ballet, Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies and Manchester's Hulme Crescents estate - and yet all made complete sense...

Hugh Garry has one of the more enviable jobs in media. The ex-BBC producer runs Storythings, an agency that helps clients find new ways to tell their stories, mainly through digital media. Recently, he helped Crowd favourite Gruff Rhys develop an app to complement his new book and aided MOMA in New York in improving their online video offering. Hugh’s job involves consistently coming up with great ideas. In the most recent of the increasingly Crowd DNA-blogged Shoreditch House lectures, he turned his attention to this very topic and advised on a few ways of helping us think more creatively and to come up with great ideas more frequently.

Ideas are a complex blend of serendipity, facilitating the connection of disparate experiences, and opening your eyes to the world around you. The most challenging element of Hugh’s talk involved grasping the concept of allocating time to facilitate these processes. Staring out of windows more often was recommended, as was going on long walks and, perhaps more extremely, taking a year’s creative sabbatical away from the office. Good ideas can’t be forced to happen, but there’s things we can do to increase the odds.

Initially, this strikes as very luxurious. It’s a lovely idea to leave the office and go for a walk around, but sometimes stuff needs to get done, right? Well, yes and no. Good ideas hold water, therefore taking the initial time to come up with something solid will save time in the long run. Furthermore, it’s great ideas that keep agencies like ours relevant and worth their salt.

Why the picture of Spandau Ballet? Among a whirlwind of colourfully diverse cultural reference points, Hugh pointed to them as a case in point when it comes to losing the effortless and the serendipitous, and instead forcing the issue; thus gravitating from just about the coolest thing on his radar as an 11 year old, to bland pop filler by his mid teens.

Nobody wants to end up like ‘Heart Like A Sky’-era Spandau Ballet. So maybe I’ll get out of the office for the lunch break after all.


Great to see the expression FOBO (fear of being offline), derived from our global youth research for Facebook, picking up such impressive industry traction via social media, blogs etc...

Conducted in multiple countries and using a range of innovative methods, more about this work (called Coming Of Age On Screens) from us in due course. But for now you can read about it at Facebook IQ

Promotions At Crowd

Some exciting and well deserved promotions to report at Crowd DNA, as we embark on a spot of restructuring to help us to optimise the quality of our work and the strength of our client relationships...

Chris Haydon, previously one of our associate directors, is promoted to the role of insight & innovation director. Sarah Brierley, also previously an associate director, moves up into the role of strategic initiatives director. They now join commercial director Kelvin Amos and managing director Andy Crysell in making up the senior UK team, with strategic initiatives director Lydia Jones heading up the Amsterdam office.

Also in the UK, Claire Moon has been promoted to associate director from her former role at senior consultant.

Big congrats to all.

Congrats to Crowd's innovation knowledge leader, Aurelie Jamard, for being the latest recipient of our seriously prestigious Kling Klang award - dished out quarterly to the Crowd bod who's really, really delivered (not that we don't all really, really deliver, natch)...

Aurelie has masterminded some fantastic multi-phase development work for one of our telecomm clients; next to juggling commitments across a number of other noteworthy trends projects, co-hosting our brilliant Youth Club event and generally furthering the cause of innovation at Crowd DNA with much energy and gusto. Check out some of her posts for Wired’s Innovation Insights blog


We resurrected this one from our old blog (it's just too intriguing a notion to discard). Data cuisine: bringing research to life in a manner that's humorous and revealing in equal measure, explains Crowd DNA managing director Andy Crysell...

From hacking events to music innovation seminars (and, of course, the odd DJ), the Sonar festival in Barcelona is not short of stuff to get you thinking differently. But we weren’t necessarily expecting to encounter a session on data visualisation – particularly one that involved food.

Susanne Jaschko and Moritz Stefaner’s data cuisine project for Sonar saw them work with a group of 15 people at the Center Of Contemporary Culture Of Barcelona, collecting statistics about the city and expressing them via new recipes, prepared with the assistance of professional chefs. It’s an interesting and radical realisation of the oft discussed challenge of bringing research to life – humorous and revealing in equal measure (though obviously not so easy to knock up when a client deadline is looming).

You can find out more about their work here. Visualisations cooked up to date include a fried dorada, with sections prepared in different ways to represent emigration from Spain (battered fish for the UK, with a wine sauce for France, cooked in beer and parsley for Germany etc); the sex lives of folk in Barcelona depicted through noodles; a cocktail made with measures to represent suicide trends; and an unemployment Pan Con Tomate.

Crowd DNA’s toaster and microwave will soon be put to the test.