World wide what
12 May 2022
This week: Why less is more when it comes to building community.
The next big thing is something small. For any business, growth is of course a desirable thing — but somewhere along the way, the growth-at-all-costs philosophy became too big for its boots.
Now people are growing weary of the handful of platform giants we rely on to shop and stream and are seeking experiences with brands that feel closer to home. Both online and IRL, a longing for true community and thoughtful curation is shaping the next wave of shopping habits.
• How did we get here? Apparently the internet killed mainstream culture. From music to TV to fashion, there’s little consensus on shared trends or culture anymore (at least not like there used to be). Awards show viewership is one canary in the coal mine. Once a reliable staple of shared water cooler talk and cultural capital, big awards shows like the Oscars and Grammys can’t get anyone to tune in anymore. 2022 had the second lowest viewership in Oscars history, down 80% from its peak, according to a Nielsen report. Rex Woodbury, writing for his Digital Native Substack newsletter, chalks up this division to personalized streaming services, combined with the isolating pressure of lockdowns. “The pandemic accelerated our culture’s fragmentation: we all became more of a digital species, meaning we retreated into our own cultural silos,” Woodbury writes.
• In the fashion world, it’s happening too: none of us know what jeans are cool anymore. If bell-bottoms reigned in the 70s and skinny jeans were all we knew in 2008 — what’s the go-to style of this moment? Writing for the New York Times, Haley Nahman explains, “The decline of the universal trend is the result of a confluence of forces, namely social media, e-commerce and globalization, which have changed everything about the retail experience.” With the rise of mega retailers like Zara and Shein, which reportedly adds up to 1000 new styles to its site daily, the speed at which new products are manufactured, sold, and shared means trend cycles have quite literally spun out of control. What’s wide-leg today, is bootcut tomorrow.
• There’s some early signs that the big-is-better model is faltering. Netflix, which for years enjoyed unparalleled growth, lost 200,000 subscribers during the last quarter of 2021 despite continuing to add more titles to its ever-expanding library. “The era of a few big winners is ending,” Eli Pariser, co-director of the nonprofit New Public, told the Wall Street Journal. “Consumer tastes are changing. The one-size-fits-all approach — they’re seeing how much that’s breaking down.”
What’s that saying about how the mighty fall?
KNOW YOUR NICHE
In small business land, we’re noticing something else, too. Niche retailers are finding success by cultivating their own little corners of the world.
• The e-commerce boom is shrinking back to pre-pandemic levels, and surprise, surprise: physical retail is growing, even outpacing online shopping in 2021. Some physical shops like OFFGRID are using the footfall to their advantage, selling limited-edition sneakers, clothing, and accessories to a concentrated streetwear fan-base in Central London. Founder Sam Morgan wanted to create a more bespoke experience for his clients by offering a personal shopping experience through a private concierge. OFFGRID carries a selection of big global brands, but it is Morgan’s curatorial eye, which stays true to London’s streetwear culture, that sets OFFGRID apart from the fray. “We aim to open retail stores in London hotspots,” the brand told Appear Here, “and in turn we want to use our retail stores to further expand our online presence.”
• It raises an interesting question: can we build actual meaningful communities online, or is an element of in-person interaction needed to make us feel truly connected to something? Appear Here’s CMO, Gastón Tourn, writes in an op-ed for Adweek that digital communities are not enough. Pointing to the success of apparel brands like Daily Paper, which doubled UK sales after a month-long pop-up in London, Tourn writes, “To make a relationship real, you need to take it into the real world. Some brands are doing a brilliant job of showing us how.”
• Cycling retailer Rapha may be a global brand, but stepping into one of their stores captures a feeling that can only be described as local. They run group bicycle trips out of each of their locations, which function more as clubhouses than straight brick-and-mortar stores. People can meet, browse, and enjoy an espresso or a bite to eat at their café, where live cycling coverage plays on TVs throughout the day. It’s possible you could find a greater selection of bikes and gear at one-stop sports shop, but tell us, can you also share a prosciutto sandwich with your cycling partner there?
Brands with staying power will know that online presence matters, but building a living, breathing community (however small)... well, that’s priceless.
Words by Nicola Pardy, a freelance writer and producer living in New York.