Analogue Still Rocks Human Beings.

According to Nielsen data released in the United States at the end of 2017, vinyl record stores have achieved more than 1000% growth in the last decade. Furthermore, where digital music downloads peaked in 2012, sales of the physical versions of music are continuing to grow. The same thing has occurred with sales of books where downloads peaked in 2014 and sales from bookshops are growing. In the USA physical media is now outselling digital downloads.

While articles such as the one published recently in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) point to a new ‘trend’ that they say is an antidote to digital overload and romanticises nostalgia, the truth is the return of these media may be far simpler and have much more to do with human psychology and physiology. As in all things to do with retail there are two sides to the coin. The consumer side is that – while new technology has many benefits that consumers desire – wholesale change is not what shoppers ever want to the exclusion of all else. While we adopt the convenience of being able to carry whole record collections around with us in our pockets, we also like collecting the artwork that comes with our favourite artists album covers and the tactile and audio richness that analogue provides. Our physical senses evolve over millennia – not overnight. For consumers there is clearly a time and place for everything.

On the retailer side, we lurch far too easily and too far. When something like digital emerges, practitioners are often their own worst enemies, hastening the demise of traditional products and services through the actions they take to ‘adapt’ to the trend radically altering what and how they do things. Moving wholesale to digital and scaling back analogue entirely effectively robs shoppers of the alternative ensuring that the ‘trend’ becomes the only reality. Until that is, shoppers and entrepreneurs lead a renaissance.

Mark Mebalds from record retailer Vinyl Destinations was quoted in the AFR as saying “Our sales trebled in 2017”. In a retail market that is growing annually at close to 3.0% year on year high growth does not come from following the crowd. A crowd that is hell bent on cost strategies rather than customer experience strategies.

The unavoidable fact is this. Retail opportunity has and always will be about the differences between shoppers not the sameness. Sameness is a mass merchant strategy that works for the 20 tonne gorilla that dominates a category. Even then, the smart ones provide differentiation around the edges so that they don’t become just about cheap price and convenience – attributes that dictate commoditisation, little loyalty and negligible margin elasticity.

The human condition has always sought balance. When work is high stress, we seek revitalisation to balance it off. When life seems a bit boring we seek stimulation to balance it off. And when shopping convenience and cheap price is over-saturated, we seek value added experiences and products which give us more. The money we save on the cheap everyday, we willingly splurge on the things that make us feel special. The great record stores and bookshops that are prospering in times where other categories are complaining are evidence of where to look for future retail prosperity. Find the opportunities to connect customers that are willing to pay more for what gives them more and give it to them. Simples!

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