Shortages…..what do you mean? We are not in the middle of a bloody war !

National archives (Note: Fires not Fries)

Toilet rolls …No. Sanitisers ….No. Pasta….No. Chips….Yes.

Now before you start calling your local chippy and Pre-Ordering your month’s requirements or buying a new freezer to keep a years worth of frozen chips, it is not the tasty sort we are talking about.

Jaguar Land Rover, Ford, Volkswagen, Tesla to name but a few are cutting back on production because there is a shortage of semi conductor chips that are used in modern day vehicles. This has come about because during the pandemic there was a huge drop in demand from the automotive industry so chip makers switched to chips for laptops, electronic gadgets, and mobile devices etc as the demand spiralled .

Yet this is just the tip of a veritable iceberg. Just go into your local supermarkets, and look carefully at the shelves, you will start to see a lot of stuff missing . Construction materials , medicines, bikes, and many food products are just a growing list of products that are going to be hard to get over the next six months .

The construction materials shortage has impacted self builders, renovators and DIYers, and further problems are expected

Jack Woodfield Homebuilding & Renovating

There is currently a global shortage of raw material shortages, stemming from global demand and other external factors (including the slowdown and in some instances, factory closures, outside the UK), which continues to constrain production of certain products, such as insulation, paints and adhesives, as well as packaging for products.

Jack Woodfield Homebuilding & Renovating

Samsung warns chip crisis could lead to shortage in TVs and home gadgets

Samsung’s chip division saw profits drop after it had to close vital US factories in February James Cook ,Telegraph April 2021

A combination of covid, major supply chain disruption , demand changes , cost and organisational issues within world shipping have created that oft used phrase a perfect storm.

What may come as a little bit of a surprise to some (but not perhaps those within our own industry ) is that you may not be able to not be able to pop into your local Party store , or your favourite party web site and buy the latex balloon of your dream. The worlds latex balloon manufactures are being faced with exactly the same problems as that of rest of worlds supply chain.

  • Extraordinary demand (throughout Covid)
  • Shortages of raw materials
  • Manufacturing limitations due to covid restrictions
  • Shipping disruptions

The following is an an extract from a statement put out by the Balloon Council of America (Organisation representing major Latex Balloon Manufacturers in the Americas.)

Industry Update: Growth and Supply Chain Impact
It has been over a year since the pandemic began impacting our lives and business. As leaders in the balloon
community, it is important that we address the disruptions in the supply chain that the industry continues to
experience.
Although we are shipping large quantities of balloons, we have seen a marked increase in demand and the reality
is COVID-19 continues to impact all segments of our industry. Some of the challenges that we faced early on
continue to cause disruptions and impact the overall business.
• COVID-19 has continued to impact employees. Safety is essential. In many companies, new work rules,
social distancing, and physical barriers have been necessary to ensure a safe work environment and these
changes usually mean a reduction of efficiency and output. We have also faced challenges in finding and
retaining employees during these challenging times.
• Balloons are an element of a global supply chain, and many suppliers, both here in the U.S. and overseas
that we don’t control, have been similarly hit, impacting their ability to deliver raw materials or services.
This has been an ongoing issue in the past year.
• The whole supply chain, including freight companies, continues to struggle to operate efficiently and has
not been as predictable pre-COVID-19.
We know this is frustrating for balloon buyers at all levels. Manufacturers, related products suppliers, and
distributors are doing everything in our power to ramp up volume and responsiveness. TBC members are trying
hard to control the things we can, such as increasing production capacity, asking our employees to work overtime
and recruiting additional workers.
It will take more time for the supply chain to reset but we are tirelessly working to achieve our goal to return to
pre-COVID-19 service levels as quickly as we are able.
The global vaccination effort currently underway offers a beacon of hope that a return to normality is a possibility
in the not-so-distant future. That said, every day we are hearing stories about new variants that may or may not
respond to the existing vaccines. Few expected the pandemic would be this severe for this long, and none of us can
really project when its impact to industry will be over.
Balloons have brought joy to many people throughout the pandemic. As an industry, we are committed to doing
everything possible to get business back to pre-COVID-19 service levels. We are all working to make that day come
soon, and our teams won’t be satisfied until we achieve that.
Thank you on behalf of all the manufacturers and distributors who are TBC members for your patience and
understanding during these challenging times.

I make no apologies about the length of this specific extract as hopefully it will be of interest to the odd reader who is involved within the party industry and it would be remiss of me if I did not highlight these problems, particular as this product has put food on the plates in our household for many years.

Moreover, these issues are the very same (or similar) facing the entire supply chain in many product areas.

Most consumers wont even notice , or rather they may have difficulty in getting their brand , but there will be an alternative. Yet higher up the supply chain, the pain will be greater. Because of the way the supply chain operates in most markets, it is just not that straightforward in finding another supplier.

What does of course happen when supply dips , and demand remains constant or increases then so do prices.

Yet we are not at war. Well maybe we are in a sense, of all trying to fight a virus, which is complex enough but then putting into the mix the complexities of world trade, there is a inevitably about the impact of the supply of goods and services. Despite this ‘inevitability’ , none of us actually know what is going to happen from day to day . So if you cant get exactly what you want today, but you want exactly what you want, hang on a bit and you will probably get it. If you don’t want to wait buy something else.

High Street Dying? ….or maybe it’s just started to Live ?

Dying …..The High Street

Living……People

We, apparently don’t want shops anymore but we want more places to live.

It has been muted that because of the demise of the High Street, planning laws will be altered to enable developers to turn shops into living according accommodation. Shock and Horror.

There are those who say this would be the final straw.

Stink of fish and chips , smells of curry, and stale Chinese food, the aromatic drift of the kebab shop and dry cleaners fumes are a number of the attractions for decades, of living on the High Street (perhaps not High Street Kensington, for those who know about such things).

Living on the High Street is not a new concept , albeit it has never been something that has really been thought about in a considered manner. People go into shops and people live on High Streets and the very same people will, on occasion, go into the shops those very same shops.

What I have noticed in my area during during the last 12 months, new retailers who had just started before the first lockdown or have planned opening for the very first time post lockdown. We are not talking national multiples, we are talking local independents, that is to say people who know the area , what the local consumer wants and where possible sourcing local product, and have built a model during a retail crisis including sophisticated web sites. Within our industry I saw this happen during the financial crisis and it is happening, in a different way again.

There is a whole bunch of stuff that good local independents and good local consumers living next door to each other are a perfect mix. On an environmental level alone, it makes good sense that people shop where they live (or indeed live where they shop!)

Almost three in five British consumers have made more use of local stores in their area to help them through the Coronavirus lockdown, according to research from business consultancy Deloitte Digital.

The study from late May 2020, also found that almost the same proportion said they will be more likely to spend at shops offering locally-produced goods once the lockdown has fully lifted, compared to before the pandemic hit.

So we’re likely to see a change in shopping habits, with customers more likely to shop local. (Deloitte Digital)

Modern retailing in the UK (as we would sort of recognise it today) probably started way back in late 18th century (Debenhams was founded in 1778). It has , naturally, gone through enormous changes since then but probably none more so that during the last 12 months. Much of that involves online purchasing but not a little by the new independent retail entrepreneur having a better understanding of the consumer and seeing the opportunities that still exist. Perhaps ‘Still’ is the wrong word as many of the opportunities are completely new and did not exist 12 months ago. Maybe they did exist but they weren’t aware of them. By ‘They’ I mean both entrepreneur and consumer.

Our time in lockdown has changed our fundamental approach to life. Our attention has shifted towards supporting the local community, our families and the impact we can have on the world around us. Today, we are much more concerned with why we buy and whom we buy from than how quickly we can get what we’ve purchased.

Who we buy from and what that brand stands for are more important than ever before. Our experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic have accelerated our need and desire to feel good about our purchasing decisions. With few retail experiences open, events to attend, or activities to participate in, people are finding fulfilment in associating themselves with brands that do good. The trend towards brands communicating their virtuous behaviour to engage and build trust and loyalty with customers will have a tremendous impact in the future.

This goes beyond consumers’ baseline expectations of a brand’s approach to sustainability, inclusion and staff, to now include how brands support the social causes that they believe in. As brands move towards becoming the commercial and cultural pillars that society looks to for guidance, they are being asked by the public to wield their influence to have a positive impact beyond the products and services they sell.

The year ahead will undoubtedly see brands exploring how the physical store environment can be used to better engage customers in the causes that matter to their brand most. Showing kindness and empathy to your staff, community and customers will outpace customer experience, convenience and price as the key drivers of brand differentiation.

Retail Focus April 2021

I can only see, if planned properly, the High St, having a greater proportion of people actually living on it, will be a more vibrant a much healthier place to live, physically as well as mentally. However, and it is a very big However, I can see this happening in the more affluent of High Streets. Once again the more socially deprived areas will not be so fortunate. Lucy’s Piquant Pale Ale Brewery, Doug’s Derby Dim Sum, or Sally’s Porcini Sourdough bakery will not be seeking their fortunes in these areas. Paddy Power, Denny’s Discount store, and the odd charity shop will prevail. These High Streets are the ones were the future is bleak. I am not sure there is an answer, for many of the locals even, or particularly, online will not be an option unless cheap workable broadband and then much cheaper technology making it accessible to all socio economic groups. None of which is on the immediate horizon. That said if the retailers are not going there surely it is better to make those empty premises into affordable living accommodation.

Courtesy of the BBC- Not a Good place to live
This looks very liveable but hardly a deprived city centre

Reality bites. Without change and reinvigoration and innovation the High Street is very much in danger of dying and part of that reinvigoration will be more people living there, for a whole bunch of reasons already stated. This, I believe, is specially true where the new breed of retailer are unlikely to venture and that are the poorest areas. With, potentially better housing conditions and more people, there will always be retailers who can develop suitable business models. But let it be done thoughtfully so the Living can stop every High Street from dying.

If the last 12 months has taught us nothing else, it is the impact socially and emotionally in not having a functioning High Street. If it (High St) shows a willingness to survive then we should do all we can to encourage its longevity.

Your cash ain’t nothin’ but trash….

You don’t have to look it up , it was the Steve Millar Band 1973 . I think there was an earlier recording, but that’s the one I know .

Take a long hard look as it might not be around for long . Cash that is. Another effect of Covid as an even quicker transition to a cashless society . It has become a bit like washing your hands and wearing a mask ….

Don’t touch the filthy lucre! (For those of you who may not know it is a pejorative word for money)

Or rather the U.K. government discouraged those traders , or rather those allowed to trade , from using cash as it may transmit the virus. Many, not all, adhered to that advice. I do get very suspicious when a retailer still says cash only. The days of it being a complicated processing getting a card machine are long gone. There a bucket loads of services which you can sign up for in ten minutes, have a card reader in a couple of days and be operational immediately at very competitive rates, which are equally as good, and in many cases better than a bank’s charge.

Even some street sellers like the Big Issue or buskers have the facility for contactless payments.

This has all come to the fore because of the first till less, cash less, Amazon store (now two)in the UK

HENRY NICHOLLS/Reuters

Will all stores be like this in the future ? Most likely. Will that be the end of the friendly banter with a miserable(bit unkind) cashier ? Most likely. Do we still push kids up chimneys ? No. Does a bloke walk in front of your car with a flag ? No. Does a geezer at the end of the shop with a large quill calculate how much you owe? No. Things change.

Will, however, it accelerate the end of cash. Yes. You can see the advantages.

Retailer..

  • no tills
  • few mistakes
  • fewer staff
  • no cashing up
  • no cash to go to bank
  • no change given
  • far quicker through put
  • no banking up cash, and increasing problem with disappearing High Street bank branches
  • more in store consumer behaviour data

Consumer

  • no tills
  • fewer mistakes
  • in the case of Amazon, you wont even need a debit/credit card
  • quicker shop
  • no queues
  • no standing standing behind the daft sod who is trying to find the exact £27.71 in cash

Of course there are loads of disadvantages but they are not going to stop the cashless trend. Yet, I believe the end of cash is a long way off . There are too many reasons to keep cash, apart from the fact that there is still a minority of the UK population that do not have a bank account (approximately one million) and the same applies to those without internet access . However, the issue of internet access is very relevant as it is needed for face to face cashless transactions. Even in areas where there are good signals, any interruptions would disable any cashless transaction.

Will you miss….

can you lend us a fiver, mate ?

spare us any change, chief ?

wot can you knock orf for cash ?

penny for your thoughts ? (probably stretching it a bit anyway ,a penny not even going to buy the thoughts of the biggest moron )

any discount for cash ?

sorry cash only …

empty yer till or i’ll do ye !

cash is king!

money for old rope

Probably not .

But we what would miss is an alternative . If there is no cash and alternative methods fail how do you transact? Cash provides a means of social interaction. For some it maybe their only social interaction .

Bank of England

The arguments put forward to support DeLaRue’s (UK bank note printers)case are compelling however, I disagree. You can sum up the reasons why I disagree with one word, convergence. I’ll explain more in a moment, but first let’s revisit the arguments to support the continued hegemony of cash:

  • First off, it’s about practicality — over a third of the world’s population don’t have a bank account — in the UK, seven per cent of the adult population don’t have a bank account.
  • Secondly, it provides anonymity, so cash supports privacy.
  • Thirdly, cash makes it easier to keep tabs on how much you are spending.
  • It’s psychological — people trust cash.
  • Cash doesn’t require technology — if there is no internet connection you can still use cash.
  • Cash protects against fraud.
  • It’s the cheapest, quickest and most convenient form of payment.
  • Its popularity shows no sign of waning — 85 per cent of consumer transactions worldwide are conducted using cash.

share.com from whence the above comes from, disagree.

Given that list, it feels like an open and shut case — cash is king, queen, prime minister and president.

I am not so sure though. Re-consider the above list. The real reason why people prefer cash is because it’s what we are used to. Technology has a response to just about all the above arguments.

  • In Africa mobile phone credits or airtime have become accepted as a form of payment — there are alternatives to cash even among people who don’t have a bank account.
  • There are technological solutions to the anonymity argument — bitcoin is just one example.
  • Banks such as Monzo provide a service where it is much easier to keep a tab on spending — every time you use your card you get a notification. I am not sure whether you can set yourself a daily budget — like withdrawing £100 from the ATM and saying this is my budget for today — but I see no reason why this can’t be done.
  • Cash can be stolen; I think there are safeguards that can be employed to afford greater protections to digital money from fraud.

That leaves the psychological argument, the convenience argument and the fact cash is still popular.

I will respond to those arguments in reverse order.

Sure, globally cash is still popular but look towards countries that often lead the way in term of new ideas. Take Sweden, the country that made it compulsory to wear seat belts in cars, or which banned smoking in public places, when such regulation felt inconceivable in the UK. In Sweden, only one percent of all payments in 2016 were conducted using cash. 

Or consider convenience — plastic is only a short-term alternative to cash. More people are using their smartphones but that is also a short-term alternative to cash. Soon we will carry electronic wallets which are either a part of our smartwatch or perhaps like a kind of tattoo — our skin becomes our wallet. What can be more convenient than that?

Convergence, where different technologies come together, will change the psychology of digital money. Electronic wallets we wear on our wrist or embedded into our skin, 5G providing ubiquitous internet connectivity, improved reliability of internet connectivity, and Monzo style presentation enabling us to easily keep an accurate record of our spending, will combine, creating a powerful user experience.

Companies that provide these technologies— Apple for example with smart payment hardware, banks that adopt a Monzo style interface, companies that provide digital alternatives to cash; they will be the winners.

And as these technologies develop and converge, the psychological rationale for cash will disappear like money down a drain.

Michael Baxter

Economics Commentator

Michael is an economics, investment and technology writer, known for his entertaining style. He has previously been a full-time investor, founder of a technology company which was floated on the NASDAQ, and a director of a PR company specialising in IT.

I disagree. Society is somewhat more complex than that. Yes digital alternatives will be the future but that does not equate to the end of cash. There are obvious doomsday scenarios, such as extended power outages either local or national which would deem all cashless transactions redundant for an underdetermined time, data leaks, IT failures and the list goes on. I suggest that society as a whole will have more to say about the timing of the cash funeral . Cashless society favours those that have rather than the have nots . The have nots often have a way of sticking up 2 fingers when they have their backs to the wall.

Cash is no longer King (or Queen). I would wager a cash bet it will as longer than any King or Queen.

What’s your next Gig ?

Glastonbury, Reading, Festival, Bruce Springsteen or are you working an Uber shift tonight?

Gig is slang for a live musical performance. It derives from the word Engagement by Jazz musicians in the 1920’s. It has now become common usage for individual self employed ie the Gig Economy. Perhaps not immediately obvious but every job is an engagement.

What I do find odd is why this has become such a contentious part of our economy . Self employment as been around as long as wandering warriors selling their services to highest bidder. Today’s warrior is more likely to carry a mop and ladder, drive a cab, shine your shoes (still exist), sell ice cream , paint your house , mow your lawn, offer advice, black cab drivers, consultants of all kinds, musicians, actors and a myriad of other tasks including the skills of a warrior and performing a hit for a local gang. It is estimated there is best part of a million involved in the Gig Economy in the UK. The simple definition is if you are sick, on holiday or just cant work for any other reason you don’t get paid . Well nothing new there !

Any of these could be self employed

For many it works and has going on for centuries if not longer . It enables those who want to work, to work when they want and for many to do a variety of jobs. I have spoken to Uber drivers (there are apparently over 40,000 in London alone, so surely it cant be all bad) who are studying medicine, doing a MBA , semi retired looking for some pocket money , just fancy doing a bit now and again, but fundamentally it allows them to do what they want to do when they want to.

For many it allows them to earn when they would struggle to get a full time job. And yes, there are many organisations that abuse their self employed colleagues but for a huge number it is a choice. 40,000 Uber drivers in London are not all there because they have to . It is estimated that there are between 100,000 and 150,000 window cleaners in the UK. 57% of Hairdressing in the UK is accounted for by freelancers. The vast majority of plumbers, electricians, and brickies are all freelancers.

Freelance work has significantly increased in specific industries: from 2018 to 2019, there was a whopping 31% increase in people looking to get into freelance work. That said, the top freelance positions included dog walkers (60% increase), beauticians (159%), hairdressers (51%), photographers (91%), and bakers (68%).

startupbonsai.com
Lindsay Liedke

This was pre-covid. Post Covid I suspect these figures could be a lot higher. The UK is the 2nd highest facilitator of freelancers. The US is the first. Whilst the EU does not figure in the top 10 ………

With more freelancers than ever making up the European workforce, the European Commission has made clear the European SME Definition should “acknowledge freelancers as a stand-alone category within the definition and legitimise the smallest of small businesses, those who – with a 45% increase since 2000 are the fastest growing segment of the EU labour market.”

startupbonsai.com

You don’t get sick pay. You don’t get holiday entitlement . You don’t get Employers pension contributions. You don’t ‘paid for ‘ training . You don’t get redundancy payments You have to budget. When you get the chance you do ‘have to put away for rainy days’ literally and metaphorically.

  • The most popular freelance careers in all of the UK include: business support (22%), design (20%), and writing and translation (17%)
  • The number one location to freelance is Manchester thanks to low property costs and plenty of WiFi hotspots (Brighton & Hove, Edinburgh, and Belfast are right behind in popularity)
  • Freelancers average 27 hours of work per week, which is far less than the whole of Europe
  • 61% of freelancers are happy with their career choice
  • Those in freelance hated commuting, the stress, and not being the boss at their traditional corporate jobs

Money Supermarket

You can get job satisfaction. You can reap good financial rewards . You can have a good work/life balance. You are your own Boss . You don’t get fired. You have flexibility. You have the ability to reap what you sow.

It is not for all and for some it is a necessity and not choice, but for many it is the ‘perfect job or jobs‘.

There those that slag off the Gig Economy. Its to easy to do and invariably those that do are often the biggest users i.e. journalists and broadcasters .

My beef is tarring all with the same brush ‘Gig’. Lets retake Gig so we can look forward to going to Gigs again. Lets call those that want to be freelancers, Freelancers. Lets call those those that are manipulated and poorly paid Sweeps, or the Sweep Economy after the child chimney sweeps of Victorian Britain, who worked in disgusting conditions and rarely got paid anything.

And when you next need the services of your local freelance plumber/electrician/window cleaner/courier/mini cab driver/ hairdresser and you don’t feel they are fairly rewarded for their efforts. Give ’em a big tip.

Desperately seeking….An Alliance !

Marriage is an alliance entered into by a man who can’t sleep with the window shut, and a woman who can’t sleep with the window open.

George Bernard Shaw

And yet……On its own means little, until the middle of the post where it is central to my thoughts , but somehow it looks better at the beginning. Humankind seems a bit indulgent, but begin with it I must …..

Humankind relies upon alliances. Whilst it may not exactly seem like it at the moment, every thread of human of human society relies upon some of alliance. Right back through human history, alliances have been sought to create a benefit, not always, to both parties. Many are sought only to collapse because the weaker of the alliance suddenly discovers that the alliance is not giving them any benefit whatsoever, so they seek other alternatives.

United Nations, European Union , European Free Trade Association , World Trade Organisation, World Health Organisation, FIFA -International Federation of Association Football, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, G7,G20, To name but a few of the more obvious. All created with the common intent of pooling resources and similar ideals to maximise their relevant aims . Well that’s generally the intention, there will be those who would question the effectiveness of some or all. Yet without any alliances there would be little or no impact within the relevant areas .

The commercial world is stuffed full of alliances, some formal, some informal. Many of them are formal for example Road Hauliers Association, our very own European Balloon and Party Council, Association of Plumbing and Heating engineers , and the list goes on to over 8000 in the U.K., are fundamentally groups of competitors. Yet they group together to discuss and resolve issues and problems that they all face on a day to basis .

Business or strategic alliances , mainly two organisations but not uniquely, are more straightforward in their aims but often not long term . A current example of a strategic alliance is Red Bull and GoPro (miniature action cameras). They are both completely different products but their target market is very similar. By working together they are constantly reinforcing the brands while not conflicting sales revenues

Commerce to one side, If you include the likes of sports and social clubs there estimated to be over 50,000 such groupings in the U.K. alone.

Historically, it could be argued that pre Roman Times , true alliances were never formed in that they were generally enforced . The Romans and the likes of Genghis Khan did not seek alliances . But they realised that they would be more successful if they worked with the conquered . The Saxon kings, whilst often in conflict with each other , forged ever changing alliances to stave off the onslaught of the Vikings . European kings and queens spent centuries forging and breaking alliances (usually via marriage) to improve their lot .

Genghis-The Alliance maker ?

And yet….here it comes, we appear to be in the midst of an era when societies are abandoning Alliances . In a time when you would think that you need them all the more , they are being shed like dead skin. First Brexit, then Trump (pushing Nato to arms length, threatening WTO, leaving the Paris Climate agreement, that all now being reversed ). Isolation appears to be the order of the day .

And yet… is it really ? Going back to history (of course you can only go back to history ) alliances have broken up and reinvented time and time again. I think Joseph S and his erstwhile mate Adolf H , must have had few words about their supposed alliance. There is nothing new here. The world, during the last twelve months, has been creating alliances, via research organisations, drug companies, scientists, medical teams to try and combat our current crisis. Well, at least most of the world, and I include the EU & China within most of the world.

Do we need them ? Yes we do. Just imagine a world without alliances . No alliances, no weddings, no divorce lawyers, so sad.

No man(or woman) is an island,

Entire of itself;

Every man is a piece of the continent, 

A part of the main.

John Donne

The parenthesis are, of course, added by me. Whilst Mr Donne would surely have added them if written today . In the 17th Century, were probably more use on an island and brought home for the 3 C’s : Culinary, Cleaning & Conjugals.

Daunt by name…Daunting by nature or just plain Mr Bookseller….

The tall, handsome man strode in to the room, there was a sudden hush…

“Who may you be ?”

“Daunt, James Daunt…”

What James Bond is to spies, James Daunt is to books. Or rather Bond eliminates nasty spies, but Daunt creates an atmosphere for Good Books to survive.

James Daunt, has been a subject of a previous post (https://thepartyblog.org/2019/01/20/undaunted-by-the-big-beast/). Therefore, in short, previously working as a banker for JP Morgan , he opened his first book shop in London in 2012. It grew to a chain of six, which he sold and then was head hunted by the struggling Waterstones,succeeding in turning it around against all odds. Then in 2019 he was asked to go to New York to be CEO of Barnes & Noble, the giant but failing US book retailer Barnes & Noble (now owned by Waterstones).

Now, of course what Agent Daunt does, like all good secret agents, is slaughter a shed load of jobs at Barnes & Noble’s head office. But it is the area in which he does the majority of his nasty work , that is of interest , and that is ‘buying’. Within Waterstones he acted in a similar way. He understands that central buying just does not sit well with the book buying public. Not that they (the book buying public) know anything about central buying. What they do know and like is what is on the shelves. That is the result of the buying returning to the local branches .

What Agent Daunt understands that those with their noses closest to the ground have a lot more idea as to what their customers want. The good people of Southampton have very different reading wants and needs to those in Leeds . That is not to say that the residents of one city are anymore well read than the other. It is just a reflection of regional tastes and interests . Or rather in the case of Barnes & Noble it is the difference between Chicago and Atlanta . The ‘buying’ noses of head office are a long way from the ground.

Once again we return to understanding and responding to your customer base and the wide variations that can exist even within small geographical areas. I keep returning to the ‘future of retailing’ it has to adapt to survive. Simply speaking it is about knowing what your customer wants and making sure you have it. The days are long gone, if they really existed, that one size, or even just the popular sizes fits all.

All major retailers have trend analysts, futurologists, sophisticated data forecasting, AI systems and in some cases experienced and seasoned buyers but that is not enough . They may not be able to have a James Daunt approach. That said if it is about survival and perhaps increased profitability then maybe they would . A best seller novel may bring the punters through the door, but I suspect the margins are very thin , especially with the Amazon behemoth breathing down your neck , and you can’t rely on them as a business model.

M did not rely upon just one agent . M has agents all over the place to generate as much information as possible. What is happening in Moscow is not what is happening in Milan. Bit like Southampton and Leeds. M, with that on the ground intelligence can act in a more targeted manner. So should retailers.

Now to a far more important matter. The image below is seemingly completely irrelevant. Not at all. This little guy is a very important new addition to our household. He will be adding his impartial and apolitical wisdom (hence Aristotle). Patronising comments about doggie talk,or it’s a dogs life… are dogist. They will not be tolerated! His contribution will not always be obvious but it will be incisive, intuitive and above all invaluable.

Aristotle (Ari)

Atque efficaciorem adeo intuitive

The Great British Traditionalist… just voted Turkey for Christmas…Again !

Well stuff ‘em . The turkeys that is. Like many traditions, or what many consider are British traditions, are not that traditional .

Turkeys were brought to England (from Mexico) in the sixteenth century but were not readily eaten at Christmas until the mid 19th Century. It was not until the mid 1950’s did they become common place at the British Christmas dining table. What was more traditional was Boars Head, Goose, Pheasant, Peacock and probably the odd lazy servant.

I think there are 4 types of traditionalists:

  1. Those that think: anything that happened in the past, and doesn’t happen anymore for good reason, was a good thing . Such as bear baiting, sticking kids up chimneys, flogging idle servants, and thinking women having an education was bad for them.
  2. Those that think: that stuff we do now, has been going on for hundreds of years. Turkeys (see above), Red Santa Suits (Coke Cola first dressed him in red to match their bottle labels), Fish and chips (sort of true but fried fish came from Sephardic Jews, in this case from Holland). It may come as a surprise to some that it was not until 1958 that the Presbyterian church in Scotland accepted December the 25th as a public holiday.
  3. Those that think: anything before the mid 1950’s was glorious and wonderful, despite big chunks of the population living in squalor, outside toilets, poor health , comparatively low wages, severe inequality, homosexuality a criminal offence,loads of wars and a stream of other really unpleasant circumstances .
  4. Those who think: of the real traditions , such Morris Dancing for the English (late 15th Century), Scottish tartans (even they have been discovered to be used pre-Roman). The bagpipe tradition goes long past those used in Scotland. Bog snorkelling, cheese rolling, Afternoon Tea and there is, of course , the English Breakfast which can be traced back to the 13th Century. Not least, of course is the Pub . Most of these have fared well overseas , especially Afternoon Tea, English Breakfasts and Pubs. All of which can be found in many towns and cities throughout the world. The one that does struggle is the Christmas Cracker. A British tradition which I know that for many years UK suppliers have struggled to export to the ungrateful world audiences .
Bear Baiting-er not a good thing
Victorian Chimney Sweep-No they weren’t happy !

“To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day.”-Great tradition, despite the look of The Lady of the House

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)

I believe that these categories stand the test in most cultures albeit with rather different examples. The first three tend to be those that trump (accidental, but am happy with such an appropriate verb) loudest and have driven much political thought in recent times. Not that driving political thought is a crime but it is when misleading.

Not only is the word tradition , a misleading political concept , it is often used in very similar ways for marketing, especially in the UK during the Christmas period. Why are Boxing Days Sales a tradition ? No they are not.

a way of behaving or belief that has been established for a long time or the practice of following behaviour and beliefs that have been so established.

Cambridge Dictionary Definition of the word Tradition

Nor is Black Friday, Summer sales, Spring Sales, or referring back to Father Christmas in his jolly red suit. They were, or rather, are marketing ploys. Nothing wrong with them , but there is, if they are vicariously foistered upon an unsuspecting public, as traditions. Father’s day , was invented ( not completely true, but as with Mothers day) was hijacked and promoted in order to sell greetings cards and men’s underwear during the great depression. Nowt wrong with that , you may say. But there is, if it continues for another one hundred years with the main purpose of selling a load of old tat.

In my book, a tradition has to be underpinned by a historical narrative that has created a positive addition to the culture from which it originates .

“The less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it”

Mark Twain

Keyword Search ….if you’re lucky…

2019

Shop online, not bloody likely….

Get something on the internet….naah don’t trust it

Got shops at the bottom of the road , don’t need web shops….

Wind forward to present day ....

What would we do without Internet ?

Bloody good job we can get our stuff online …

With 12 months of home imprisonment, retailing has changed. Having the best part of twenty five years of Amazon & E bay,web sites struggle big time with Keywords.Or rather, they don’ t but we do .Type in electric nail clippers (oh yes big item or so I am told) and the first three on Amazon are manual. Type in Seychelles History and on the first page you will get holiday villas and on the first page of Amazon you will get a book about Shoes and a book about Wildlife in Madagascar .

During the present pandemic online shopping has gone from being 18% of total retail spend to the best part of 40% . The reasons are pretty obvious and as to whether it will remain at this level is debatable. Despite the dramatic increase I suspect the consumer has not become any the more savvy as the odds are against them. Its all about who has the deepest pockets. Most of the major search engines are profit centres. They need to generate revenues. The costs to run search engines , or at very least effective search engines are astronomically high. There are open source search engines, but therein can lie some issues such as security, and who runs it and who polices it. But for the most part we are lumbered with the likes of Google, Bing and a handful of others.

So what’s the beef ? For those whose English is not their first language beef does not mean what we have for Sunday lunch but what are we moaning about (yet another British obsession, or so we are told ). Two things …

  1. Relates to the big players eg Amazon etc…
  2. The smaller web shops.

Lets start with point 2 , as it is a bit more straight forward . If you put a Search Bar on your site, you are suggesting that there products or services on your site that not be that obvious by the menu system. Yet in many sites if you do not search by the exact description as transcribed by the web shop you will not find it. Please think out the box a little . Do not assume the purchaser has a full knowledge of the product or service they are looking . Just take sometime and think through how the consumer may categorise products. They may not realise Lime Green trousers , may described in any other way . So when searching they get no result when you are selling a pair described as Citrus Green. Sorry its your lost sale. As a consumer if find it it very frustrating not be able to find a product I know exist but cant think of the exact description, so end up not making the purchase or buying something else.

Point 1 . Ok you need to make money just stop treating us as complete idiots . Just because you don’t sell swimming goggles don’t think we will buy night vision goggles instead . Well, some might, if they are Ultra Ironman triathletes and they have 100 km to run through a tropical jungle in the middle of the night as well as swimming for eight hours in shark infested waters. Or if you are just plain stupid . But most are neither.

So lets see if we can reach a compromise. Web retailers you supposedly have this enormous benefit of Artificial Intelligence . Please use it intelligently. Act like a good bricks and mortar retailer offer what the customer is really looking for . If they don’t know and AI is as good as it is supposed to be, guide them to products or services which are more relevant. Consumers use your natural inbuilt human intelligence. If you cant find what you are looking for , ask yourself …

Maybe you cant buy it anymore

OR

Try and be a little more descriptive in your searching. Things that hang on your legs to stop them getting cold ..are perhaps not the best words to use when you are looking for winter trousers…..

Seek and ye shall find….

The Bible and various preceding texts…so it must be true

Forecasting Consumer Demand….The Retailer’s Dilemma ….

I am not a Retailer. I could not be a Retailer. I have neither skill set nor temperament . I spend most of my working life talking with retailers and wholesalers, so I know a little of one aspect of retailing , that is the supply end and being a consumer , I know, sometimes what it is I want, the demand end. However, on many occasions , I don’t know what I want, which is the source of the problem.

The biggest retailers have access to data to tell them that their sales of Coca Cola (can’t use the word coke anymore) will peak in two weeks, using history and weather forecasts. They know the sales of baking products are going to explode when the Great British Bake off comes on telly. Sales of beer and pizza will suddenly jump when there is major sporting event on TV. Supermarkets , will know , I suspect , exactly how many loaves of sliced bread they will sell each and every week. But most retailers don’t have that data or sell the sort of product that is that demand reliable.

Twenty years ago, buyers would turn up at trade shows and apart from new product, and then they would be very wary of anything new, as they knew what sold last year would sell next year and taking on new products meant taking a chance; they would order their needs for the year. Actually it wasn’t quite that straight forward but it illustrates the general shape of buying behaviours it was not that long ago.

I sold 2000 widgets last year so I think I will sell 2100 this year (or 1900 depending upon the buyer).

Demand was not pulled it was driven from behind . The retailers (and wholesalers), in most markets, decided what they were going to sell and the consumer had little say in it. An over simplification, perhaps. Nevertheless it was pretty close to the truth. But then it started to change . With the incursion of online retailers and the gradual development of social media ,the consumer was starting to throw its weight. From the online operators offering a far bigger range of product, and sometimes very different product, to the consumer passing on this information via social media.

I believe this is why part of today’s UK Retail High Street is where it is today. There are a lot of tired brands that have received little attention over recent years , notably Arcadia, Debenhams, Edinburgh Woollen Mill……..They sat on their laurels, did not reinvest and lost sight of their customers. The latest Bonmarché supposedly the shop for the over 50’s . Well today’s fifty five year old is a very different beast to that of twenty years ago. Looking at their shop windows you would think you were back in the eighties .

Typical Bonmarché Store Front

It is easy to to mock, to just stand back and say well they are were a lot of old rubbish. What is not easy is predicting what the Buying Public actually wants. A not so perfect example is this current year of 2020. When the first lockdown of the year in the UK began, all thought that’s it for three months . Nothing is going to sell, except toilet rolls and food, as there is nowhere to sell it . Even the mighty Amazon stopped selling non essentials for a few weeks. But no, small web sites found themselves inundated with demand for craft items, games, toys, puzzles, drawing books, home party items. At its peak demand far exceeded supply. Now when the second lockdown occurred, it was a very different scenario . Why ? Because the consumer behaviour was different. As to why, leave that to the social psychologists reports next year.

There is nothing easy about second guessing the consumer and their wants. It is different if you are a major brand . They have the ability and resources to push their demand . The millions that wait outside The Apple stores when a new product is launched, before knowing how the product will perform. The brand, in this case Apple, telling their audience that they want it . But that wont last forever . But they understand this and develop other income streams, which one day will replace those of their physical products. In this case it is making programmes, films, digital music , and cloud computing (Amazon get 50% of their profits from 10% of their revenue ie Cloud computing). Few organisations have had the resources to adopt alternative strategies, or rather they have no plan to do so.

I am often asked What is selling ? What Should I buy ? I can only answer what sold yesterday and really do not have any idea of what will sell tomorrow. This sounds a bit like copping out. It is . There is no easy answer. Of course, within every range of product there is a core of items that the retailer will know they have to have in their store. But going forward that is not enough.

There are retailers that get it right, or rather they get a lot closer. Zara is one of them . they apparently can turn new ranges around in three weeks . The major successful discounters (certainly in the UK ) have open door policies in respect of seeing suppliers. This does not necessarily mean they know more about what the consumer wants, but it does mean from one end of the chain they are lot closer to what trends are coming through, and can act accordingly.

The bottom line is that there has to be radical rethinking by the retail entrepreneurs on how they operate . it maybe something along the lines of literally of more of a shop window. I have seen this happen with two new retailers in my neighbourhood. One is a deli/grocer , the other is a butcher. The attitude is more

This is what we have in the shop, but don’t hesitate to ask if we don’ have what you want or don’t know what you want .

Think Star Trek. Think Dematerialization. Think Spock being transmitted from Mother Ship to Planet Surface.

Rabbit in box is 3d Printer or I can never buy a red rabbit ornament when I want one!

Well maybe not quite but I suggest, that to counter the issue of not knowing what to stock and what your customer might want, the technology is not far away. For many the Store will become more of an idea fulfilment location. A place where you will be able to discuss your needs with knowledgeable staff within that field and walk out with what you want rather than what they want to sell you.

Maybe or maybe not. What I can say without any hesitation, retail cannot and will not stay in its present form. This has nothing to do with Covid, Pandemics, Brexit, Deal or No Deal , it has to do with a rapidly changing consumer. Retail must change and it must change radically.

Brexit …..aaargh….Jan 1 …brrr…Customs… aaargh !

Over the last four years , I have tried as much as possible not to post about Brexit. However, from a purely practical point of view I have relented, in the hope I can inform in an apolitical way.

Unbiased (I keep biting my lip even when I only write those words), I am going to try and put some of facts down which will hopefully inform traders who have been buying from suppliers within the EU, on what they need to do. I would like write about exporting to the EU , but that is even less clear and to be honest my interest is in stuff coming from the EU.

So lets start with some facts. There are 11,000 containers of UK Government PPE at Felixstowe docks. Ships coming into both Felixstowe and Harwich have been subject to delays for some time now. The Customs IT systems are not fully tested yet. Every UK point of entry ie ports & airports invariably run different types of software for customs declarations . It is muted there will be all singing, all dancing single system by 2025 . No matter whether there is a deal or no deal on Jan1 2021 things will change big time. If you did not really understand the words ‘free movement of goods’ you will then .

What’s to do then ? If you import absolutely anything from the EU or intend to then the following 2 steps are essential.

  1. Apply for an EORE ( pronounced by HMRC as EOREE. Well at least someone has a sense of humour or irony) .
  2. Apply for deferred Custom Declarations and Vat payment
Eoree -Amused me !

You have to do No 1 before you No 2 (that may chime with some- schoolboy humour). You can only apply for 2 if you have not been a naughty person with HMRC. If you are having difficulty loading the HMRC site to download this form, it maybe the browser, as it only works on certain browsers. But HMRC Help Line doesn’t seem to know that. It also doesn’t explain the forms you may or may not need. The one that you probably do is called C1202 as it is a direct debit mandate for HMRC. Without this you are unlikely to get approved . Here’s a good ‘un, you have to complete the form online but then you have to print and post it. This implies that they could have anywhere between 100-200,000 postal applications between now and Christmas, which they will then have to handle manually. Having just had two weeks locally of no postal service, the signs are pretty ominous.

If your application for deferred status is confirmed it allows you to do 2 things …

  1. From the Jan 1 to June 30th you can defer making your customs declarations. But you must keep a record of all your transactions during that period. I will itemise the data you need later.
  2. Whilst in the EU there was an agreement that all VAT transactions between states did not carry VAT on the invoice. This stops on Jan 1. From then on, there will be no VAT on an invoice from an EU supplier but you will have to record the VAT that would have been due on that same invoice in your VAT returns.

The Following list are the core items you will need to record for customs declarations :

Customs Procedure Code

Supplier

Date

Consignment no/ Invoice no

Product code

Description

Tariff code

Tariff Rate

Cost Price

Quantity

Total Due

Without doubt I will have missed certain elements but these are the basics. If a deal is reached, I get the impression that declarations will still have to be made as to what they contain is another matter . One thing is for certain is that you will have to record the Vatable amount as that will certainly be due on July 1. I cannot speak for the Northern Ireland Protocol, as that is another layer of political customs speak. Nor do I have any knowledge of specialised products such as plants , food, oil, gas, aero engines, airplane parts, chemicals, drugs………All of which I assume comes into the definition of oven ready deals.

None of this helps with the importing from nations not in the EU but have free trade agreements with the EU. There are fifty plus such nations . We have made a couple of deals notably Japan, Switzerland , Norway and Iceland but there are a number of significant trading nations where we will no longer have a free trade deal such as Mexico, Vietnam and Turkey. And I am not so sure there is a lot of help available. There are grants for training on customs procedures and there are also grants if you want to set yourself up as a Customs Agent ! I think that in itself tells a story. There are also many HMRC webinars . Having recently sat through one , I would not raise your hopes of celestial enlightenment . Maybe others are better .

I lied. At the start I said I was going to be apolitical . I have been . Now I am not. The UK Government has been floundering about in very deep waters dealing with Covid. So has every other National Government. No matter what shade of political belief , no Government would have got it right. It is one of life’s undeterminables. And it will continue to be so. The Government has a duty to preserve and protect the lives of its citizens. Where there are definitive actions that could be taken they should take them.

Which brings me back to Brexit. I am a remain voter accepting of the UK decision to leave. What I cannot agree with is reckless political ideology that puts our nation in harms way or at very least increases the risk to both health and wealth. One of the underlying principles of paying off the huge debts that have been incurred (quite rightly) is the returning to some form of economic growth. Even (at least most ) political Brexiteers agreed that the first months of Brexit would be very hard on the economy, and that was pre-covid. Consequently , I get very wound up by superficial ads with actors, apparently in large warehouses, saying we are ready are you? When they, the Government are very evidently not. Moreover, how would you expect hundreds and thousands of businesses that have currently got to deal with more economic, financial and emotional hurdles to deal with than at any other time since the 2nd world war .

So please tell me UK Government why you have chosen not to doing anything about the one thing you did have control of ie Brexit Transition you chose to stick with political ideology . That is to say you kept your snouts well and truly stuck in a political bucket . Take back control , whatever that means but do so when you when can at least see the steering wheel. As a consequence we can look to at very least six months of even more supressed if not depressed growth rates. Ta very much .