London calling. Google’s Pixel 3 ‘Curiosity Rooms’ in London.

Whippet Australia ECD Tod O’Reilly was in London late last year, and couldn’t resist making a quick trip to Google’s popular ‘Curiosity Rooms’ pop-up experience at 55 Regent Street.

Designed to drive hype around the launch of Google’s flagship Pixel 3 smartphone, three floors of the stunning period building were transformed into an immersive experience to artistically demonstrate the Pixel 3’s cutting-edge features.

The ‘Google Lens Laundrette’, in all its striking pastel pink retro kitschiness highlighted the mind-blowingly sophisticated AR tool that is Google Lens.

Just focus the Pixel 3’s camera on pretty much anything, and you’re presented with information and options aplenty. For example, Google Lens was able to identify a pair of Nikes spinning around in the faux washing machine, explain what they were, and give suggestions on where they could be purchased. Super cool.

Venture upstairs to the seriously Instagrammable, abstract room created by L.A-based artist Darel Carey. Using just electrical tape, Darel had created a mind-bending masterpiece to change the viewer’s perception of space – which made for a perfect backdrop to demonstrate the Pixel 3’s Group Selfie feature in action.

Heading, or rather sliding, back downstairs allowed for the Pixel 3’s Top Shot feature to shine, where the phone automatically analyses a photo you’ve taken, then recommends alternative shots you could have taken based on a bunch of different factors like lighting, exposure time and even whether everyone’s eyes were open. Genius.   

As the saying goes, nothing lasts forever, with the doors to Google’s ‘Curiosity Rooms’ closing after 5 busy weeks. We did note, though, that the Curiosity Rooms were just a few tube stops from Google’s first ever pop-up store on Tottenham Court Road in 2015. Fast forward almost four years, and the world’s second biggest internet company still has no permanent retail locations, although it’s building a strong reputation for cool and creative pop-ups.

It seems that when it comes to getting consumers to experience a new brand or product, nothing beats a real-world store – even if it’s fleeting.

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All they wanted for Christmas was a bargain.

Photo by John Henderson.

How the pre-Christmas sales are affecting retail.

It’s a cliché that the Christmas sales seem to begin earlier every year, but this was particularly noticeable last year. Now that most of the stats from Q2 are in, let’s take a look at how Black Friday and Cyber Monday are affecting the rest of the retail year.

From the numbers we can find, there appears to be a trend for stronger Novembers and weaker Decembers, followed by even weaker Januaries – both in-store and online – and this seems to be fairly consistent across the US, the UK and Australia.

For example, last year was the biggest Black Friday ever in the US, with USD$6.2 billion spent online, a growth of 23.6% on 2017. (Complete official statistics covering both online and in-store are still yet to be released due to the US government shutdown).

Australia followed suit with a record AUD$400 million spent on Black Friday, before a subtle dip in December.  

Things were a bit different in the UK, with a 1.3% rise across November in total, but decreased year on year spending on Black Friday, before a fall of 0.9% throughout December – although experts are putting that down to Brexit uncertainty. Taking a broader view, sales were up overall across November and December, albeit by a subdued 0.3%.     

So, all in all, stronger Novembers and weaker Decembers. Put this together with the slow but steady shift of sales moving online, and it can be summarised that, at least in the US, UK and Australia, people are spending more money earlier in the year, and increasingly online.

If this is simply a case of November stealing from December and online stealing from in-store, then this is hardly anything surprising. But is there something more that can be learned? Maybe.

Weaker Decembers mean more pressure on the post-Christmas and January sales, and greater temptation to bring the new season sales even further forward. If this pattern continues, we could soon be seeing heavily promoted non-stop sales events well into the new year. The temptation to chase targets with continual sales events is never ending.

The consequence of sales events becoming more and more frequent is customers becoming ever more accustomed to buying at a discount – so they instinctively learn not to buy anything (within reason, of course) unless it’s on sale. This creates a feedback loop where retailers rely upon discounts to drive sales because the numbers appear to support it, even though many of these customers were going to buy anyway. The opportunity to sell at a higher margin is lost.

Of course, this applies to both bricks-and-mortar retailers and online retailers, but it’s more dangerous for the former. Here’s why. It’s well known that customers who shop online are more likely to shop purely on price, and they expect things to almost always be cheaper online. So if a bricks-and-mortar store is having a big sale, it’s simply expected that the prices will be the same or even better online.

The huge overheads of running a bricks-and-mortar store make it impossible to compete on price alone, and therein lies the problem. Heavy discounting can only ever be a short-term fix for slow sales numbers. Long term, it’s a losing battle that will see more and more sales lost to online, and more retailers lost to the ether.

Does this mean real-world stores are destined to be relegated to history? Not quite.

In-store sales still far outweigh online sales the world over. In the US, online sales make up only 10% of total sales. In the UK it’s roughly 18%, and in Australia it’s 8.9%.  Although these are all trending upwards, the numbers are still heavily stacked in favour of bricks-and-mortar stores. So instead of just discounting, what value can real-world stores offer customers that online simply cannot?

As we wrote in October last year, a more immersive and interactive shopping experience, salespeople with expertise, immediate receipt of goods, and the ability for customers to try before they buy are a good start.

The next time a new sales event emerges, bricks-and-mortar retailers should consider whether joining in the hype is really in their best interests. In the meantime, perhaps tax reform will help level the playing field? Time will tell.

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Your (very revealing) year in review

From our phones to our watches to our cars to our fridges, these days everything seems to be harvesting and harnessing our data, yet most of us seem to be OK with sacrificing a little privacy as long as there’s some benefit to us.

We allow our data to be sent to advertisers so we can use Facebook.

We allow Fitbit to receive our data so we can keep tabs on how our fitness is progressing.

We allow Google Maps to track our every movement so we can avoid traffic and not get lost.

If we didn’t see the benefit in all these services, we wouldn’t agree to surrender our data so freely.

Of course when taken to the extreme, like in China’s Social Credit System or when it falls into the wrong hands like in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, data collection can look a bit like a dystopian nightmare. But most of the time, all it seems to lead to is extra convenience, improved performance or just highly targeted ads. No harm no foul? In fact, when it comes to advertising, studies in 2016 showed that people actually prefer targeted ads, however more recently a subsequent caveat has been added – it must not be creepy.

This preference for targeted, personalised communications is also behind the trend of brands creating one-to-one ‘Your Year in Review’ emails, digital engagement experiences like Spotify’s 2018 Wrapped or Facebook’s Friendship Anniversary videos.

This softer and more engaging use of data developed further with Spotify’s recent ATL work celebrating worldwide users’ listening habits, and last year’s awesome A Year With Uber wrap up video. Here brands are hoping that you’ll be interested in what everyone has been up to, and most importantly what you personally have been up to.

For example, it’s interesting to know that Amy Shark’s ‘Hi’ was played on Spotify over 24 million times throughout 2018, but it’s far more interesting to you as an individual to learn that your most-played song beat out your second-most-played song by a whopping factor of 5.

These highly-targeted, one-to-one comms are novel in that they’re a win-win for the brand and the consumer. For the consumer, they’re a bit of entertainment mixed in with a bit of flattery – it’s nice to think that Spotify noticed you and what you rocked out to all year – and they’re a retention tool for the brand by creating a stronger emotional connection.  

So when the next Marriott Hotel-esque data scandal hits and the world learns all about your guilty pleasures playlist, at least Spotify made you smile by letting you know just how many times you indulged throughout the year.

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Fast-casual dining hooks Scandi customers

Pink Fish fast-casual dining in Bergen

Pink Fish Bergen

On a recent visit to Norway we uncovered an exciting new fast-casual dining experience that’s quickly swimming upstream.

Thanks to the abundance of fish off their shores, Norwegians love to consume seafood. They’ve shared that love with the world by exporting no less than one million tons of farmed salmon in the last year.* Despite that, the inclusion of salmon and seafood dishes in the local quick-service food scene has been slow to appear, besides the overwhelming prevalence of sushi offerings in the country. When it comes to ordering salmon off the menu in Norway it has traditionally been baked or boiled and served with mashed potatoes. So it hasn’t really been a go-to dish for young diners on the move.

Enter Geir Skeie, Norwegian chef, restaurateur of the group of fine dining establishments Brygge 11, and winner of the 2009 Bocuse d’Or world cooking contest. Skeie observed that, despite its popularity, there was a gap in the market for offering salmon in a “convenient and flavourful” way to younger consumers. Like many chefs world over, he has recognised the potential to make more money selling tasty, cheaper food to the masses than by selling expensive fine dining to the elite. So, with his business partners he launched PINK FISH in Oslo twelve months ago, quickly rolling out three more stores and a fifth in Bergen over the past year.

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Pink Fish fast-casual dining S&S

Pink Fish – Steen & Ström, Oslo

PINK FISH has all the hallmarks of an upmarket diner – think Australia’s Grill’d, LEON in the UK, or New York’s Dig Inn – but it focuses on only one protein, salmon. So perhaps it bears closer similarity to something like Nando’s. At its core though is a simplicity of offering and a healthy menu. Focused on a modest fifteen key items, grouped as Burgers, Salads and Wraps, Hot Pots and Raw (poké). A handful of sides/desserts and drinks are available to accompany the meals. Nothing on the menu is over 800 kilocalories, while many items are astonishingly less than 300 kcal. What’s more, achieving these low-calorie counts doesn’t come at the cost of flavour!

PINK FISH is reasonably priced for its positioning. Most dishes cost around 110 to 120 Norwegian krone, which when compared to the cost of a Big Mac at 49 kr, reflects the higher quality product and global standards for fast-casual dining.

It all adds up to a delicious alternative for Norway’s discerning young diners looking for a healthy, tasty and affordable substitute to the usual (and ubiquitous) burgers and sushi.

Signs show things are going swimmingly for PINK FISH, as next year will see two more outlets open in Norway and the first international branch at Singapore’s Changi airport in March. We think there’s a strong chance that very soon the rest of Europe, and maybe one day Australia and the US, might even land a PINK FISH of their own. Here’s hoping!

*Reference: https://en.seafood.no/news-and-media/news-archive/salmon-exports-valued-at-nok-64.7-billion-in-2017/

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Adam Rafferty

Group Account Director

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Whippet wins Silver at the Transform Awards Asia-Pacific

Tuesday night’s Transform Awards Asia-Pacific held in Hong Kong saw Whippet pick up not one but two silver medals for our work on leading Sri Lankan supermarket brand Keells.  

We were thrilled to see our name up in lights in both the ‘Best Brand Experience’ and ‘Best Visual Identity from the retail sector’ categories against some formidable competition.

Says Whippet founder Steve Stoner: “It’s great to have our work received so highly at such a prestigious event. Many thanks go to the Keells leadership team for their complete trust in our vision, which allowed us to pull off a complete brand transformation in under 16 weeks.” 

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