Retail in 2015: The Paradox of Self-

Posted on November 17, 2014 by Marian Salzman

Retail selfie

[Originally posted on the website of the National Retail Federation.]

In 2013, selfie was named International Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries.

Retailers quickly jumped in and have been advancing the selfie concept ever since it clicked onto our radar. Take Warby Parker, which plants custom photo booths in its store locations, and Milo’s Kitchen Treat Truck, which is equipped with one for dogs. JCPenney (a client of the agency I lead, Havas PR North America) ran a back-to-school campaign this year called “Express Your Selfie,” which operates an online gallery where customers can post selfies with personalized emojis they create.

I’m predicting that self- will be next—and not just word of the year, but possibly word of the age.

That’s not self on its own, but self- the prefix or combining form, as in self-portrait, self-parody, self-referential and maybe a little self-obsessed. It expresses the zeitgeist. It runs like a red thread through the words that are written, spoken and read everywhere, by everyone from self-made pop culture icons and self-appointed bloggers to the self-satisfied guardians of high culture.

Self-everything is making itself felt everywhere. Even so, it should now be self-evident how much of everyday speaking and writing uses ideas that start with self-. The trend becomes even more striking when we add in personal, the slightly less self-referential sibling of self-. Personal trainers, personal computers, personal development, personal pensions and personal branding are all focused on the individual self.

All this self-focus is not new. Tom Wolfe flagged it up back in the 1970s, when he wrote of the Me Decade. What has turned the self-focus of the 20th century into the self-obsession of the 21st is personal technology that puts every single individual at the center of his or her own global communications and publishing network, with growing power for self-monitoring and self-tracking.

Fashioning a positive self-image is now recognized as a vital task for everyone, boosted by good measures of self-confidence, self-esteem, self-discipline, self-respect and self-regard. In other words, self-promotion is becoming an important tool for self-preservation.

At the same time, selflessness is making big headway as part of people’s self-regard. Just witness the massive success of #GivingTuesday (another client of ours), the global charitable day of giving that follows Black Friday and Cyber Monday and that unveiled its #UNselfie concept last year.

So what does that mean for the retail industry in 2015? The biggest driver in the consumer marketplace will be the yin and yang around the dueling emotions of self-indulgence and unselfishness. The biggest implications will be mass customization and shopping that feels all about myself—and only myself. On the rise: curated cybershopping experiences, from Keaton Row onward, plus the new default, online discounters like Overstock and Wayfair rewriting the rules of home decor shopping. It all comes down to an increased emphasis on not just experiential branding but also personal experience branding, brought to you by retailers everywhere.

[photo: creativecommons.org/Ferda Hejl]

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