It's being called Creative Commerce

Never forget that shoppers are people - and people are emotional beings.

Walking around the V&A Waterfront the other night we were struck by just how boring and mundane the shopping experience has become.

Everything feels like an algorithm has put together every range and store layout from Zara to SuperDry. Even walking into Exclusive Books (usually quite a pleasant thing to do) felt sterile and unnecessarily predictable.

The best way to illustrate this feeling is to say that shopping, and shopping malls in 2024, reminds us very much of spending time in Australia. Everything seems kinda nice on the surface, but fuck it's a total bore to spend more than 5 minutes there. Living in Australia is a bit like living in the movie Groundhog Day - every day is an exact replica of the day before. It's precise, measured, predictable, devoid of variety...just like it is in jail.

The current state of stagnation in retail is real.

There is just nothing to get excited about in this flatland driven by data and a deep seated fear of failing to make sales.

In the scramble to 'hit targets' and deliver the results that the financial overlords that own and manage these big brands demand, what the customer ends up being presented is nothing new, nothing interesting, nothing out-of-the-ordinary.

What's available is predictably popular stuff (as highlighted by data) in the colours that are guaranteed to sell.

The irony is that retailers more than likely blame the slow down in sales on 'the poor economy' (a perennially easy scapegoat to pin blame on when you are reluctant to try uncover what's really going on), but perhaps people are just bored shitless with the in-store experience and the total swill that that gets racked on shelves.

In the latest Tomorrow Commerce 2024 report from VML they've put a pin in this phenomenon and boldly suggested that the solution is not more retail media or optimisation, but something they are calling (rather unsurprisingly) Creative Commerce - 'creativity that inspires conversion, regardless of channel'.

In other words - range building, merchandising and communication that doesn't put customers to sleep. Sounds simple, but according to VML this kind of thing is 'very difficult to do' probably because that would mean that retailers would need to accept and welcome some risk and uncertainty in the mix. Corporations are allergic to uncertainty (also known as creativity) so they do everything in their power to kill it.

The good news

The good news for smaller retailers is that 'hyper-optimisation' is probably how big retailers end up committing suicide over time. Data-driven decision-making ends up disconnecting these brands from the hearts of their customers. Trust erodes, disdain sets in and the party ends.

Creative Commerce is probably why we choose to do our weekly shopping at a farmer's market. There's always something new to see and interesting people to chat to. You don't feel like you're just another number contributing to the bottomline of some faceless corporation whose only mission in life to to deliver returns to shareholders.

We're not under any delusion that on reading this, retailers are going to magically develop a personality and break free from the shackles of conformity to 'evidence-based decision-making'. But the runway is running out for the optimisers. You can only cutback and fine tune so much before you lose your mojo with your audience. For many major brands that critical point of reckoning is approaching faster than they might realise.

But retailers that are able to surprise and enthral and spice up the world's of their shoppers with journeys of delightful discovery will stand out and draw a crowd.

Related (but from some time back, but same pattern of 'enshittification'):

Why has the Internet become so depressingly shit?
From Facebook to Amazon - why is it that everything on the Web is doing down?