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Deserted stores, less choice … has shopping changed for ever? | Retail industry

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After nearly two years of disruption, Covid-19 has changed how we shop for ever. It has altered not only what we buy, but how we buy it. Big purchases involve clicks, not shopping trips, and remote working has turned the home interiors market into the new fast fashion.

It has also signalled the end of overwhelming choice for consumers, analysts say, as gaps on shelves and long delivery times for items such as cars and sofas become a frustrating fact of life.

Lifestyle changes due to health or environmental concerns are also helping new services get off the ground. Investors are pouring billions into rapid grocery delivery, while buying secondhand clothes and renting furniture is entering the mainstream. On high streets, cheaper rents are starting to attract independent stores.

Here is a look at some of the big changes taking place.

Grocery shopping

The pandemic has caused major upheaval in the UK’s £212bn grocery industry. The return of the weekly shop during the strictest periods of lockdown looked as though it had saved the big supermarkets from a midlife crisis, only for an army of rapid grocery delivery firms, such as Getir, Gorillas and Jiffy, to emerge with the promise of delivering your groceries in less than half an hour.

The IGD, the trade body for the food and consumer goods industry, says this so-called quick commerce has “exploded” on to the scene and is now a “channel in its own right”. It estimates 13% of UK shoppers now use these services, with sales hitting £1.4bn this year and on track to double within five.

Bryan Roberts, an analyst at Shopfloor Insights, says the health crisis has created the kind of market conditions where people are “willing to pay a delivery fee for a 20-quid, 15-minute, delivery experience”, although he adds: “Time will tell if these models are going to be sustainable.”

The expanded online services offered by the big chains have also won millions of new customers during the pandemic, but with inflation running at a 10-year high, the sands are shifting again, with discounters such as Aldi and Lidl the likely winners in the coming months as Britons seek out cheaper stores.

There may be more ways to shop these days, but the supply chain problems in the background have prompted the major grocery brands to take a leaf out the discounters’ book and reduce their ranges to become more efficient.

Richard Wilding, professor of supply chain strategy at Cranfield School of Management, says that the “abundance of choice we’ve had is going to change”.

“You used to be able to buy 60 different types of pasta in the supermarket: then, during the pandemic, manufacturers started rationalising their ranges so all of a sudden you could only get 20 types,” he says. “Having new and interesting products has traditionally been a way of creating consumer demand, but companies are basically saying ‘we’ve got to focus on the higher-margin things’.”

A Jiffy courier in his blue uniform hands a bag of items to a young man at the door of his flat
Rapid grocery deliveries by couriers such as Jiffy are an emerging threat to supermarkets. Photograph: Mark Chilvers

Working from home

The shift to home working has had such a profound impact on how we live that it has become a retail super-trend in its own right. It has altered spending priorities, as money usually spent on foreign holidays or commuting is ploughed into home furnishings and revamps.

Being home 24/7 has also resulted in an acceleration of the shift to online shopping. It took eight years for online sales to double their share of spending to 20%, but within just nine months during the pandemic, that figure touched 36% last year. This year’s easing of restrictions saw it fall back to a still substantial 26%.

“Working from home has changed both the pattern of shopping and the pattern of demand,” says Richard Hyman, an independent retail analyst. “The shape of markets like fashion, food, beauty and homewares have changed, but the question is: have they alighted on a new, permanent position? It’s still very fluid because no one knows what proportion of people are going to continue working from home.”

The profile of consumer spending has changed dramatically: for example, shoppers have spent an extra £503m in DIY stores this year, according to figures from retail data firm Kantar. Britons also took up new pastimes: 1.2 million new gardeners spent an extra £51m on plants and related paraphernalia.

“Not everybody’s job is home-based but generally the way we are socialising and shopping is much more centred around the home,” says Joanna Parman at Kantar.

“We are travelling less far at the weekend for shopping trips or to eat out. So we’re much more likely to be visiting local or independent stores than before.”

She adds: “Lots of people are divested in how they look and invested in how their home looks so it is Instagrammable and is looking nice in the background when you’re on your phone or video call. They are investing a lot more in their homes and you could argue we are seeing some ‘fast homewares’ trends coming through.”

Fashion

Britons have swapped style for comfort during the pandemic: witness the 88% increase in loungewear sales last year. The closure of high street stores for long periods forced shoppers to buy the clothes they needed online and there may be no going back.

The data firm Retail Economics estimates that half of the £51bn spent on clothing this year will have been bought on websites. Come 2025 it thinks that figure will be two-thirds of the total. This is already the case for electricals, which has been one of the fastest markets to move online.

“What’s clear from the pandemic is that we as a nation have been able to adapt and shift our behaviours, sometimes overnight,” says Parman. “There’s not a lot of policy saying we shouldn’t socialise but people have already stepped back from eating out. We drive a lot of the change in our habits and the longer they are in place, the more likely they are to stick.”

There are other big forces at work in this market too. The fashion industry is a big polluter and under growing pressure to get itself on a more sustainable footing, so more companies are experimenting with selling secondhand clothes or even renting them out, a model that has previously focused on outfits for special occasions.

The UK’s biggest clothing retailer, Marks & Spencer, is running a small trial to test demand for renting its dresses and coats – a trend that is more advanced in furniture, where the likes of John Lewis are renting out sofas, sideboards and desks.

As always, fashion-conscious teens got there first and are already spending their cash on secondhand clothes sites such as Depop and Vinted, which are reporting big sales increases. Parman thinks the clothing rental market is a “trickier” model but predicts the pre-loved fashion market will take off even more in 2022.

A teenager uses her phone to photograph a piece of clothing being held up by her friend for a secondhand clothes app
Sales have soared on secondhand clothes apps
such as Vinted and Depop.
Photograph: Photononstop/Alamy

Cars

The secondhand boom has already arrived in the car market, where soaring used car prices, up 31% since April, are stoking inflation. Usually about 2.5 million new cars a year are registered in the UK but that number sank to 1.6 million in 2020 with a similar figure expected this year as a shortage of computer chips hits production. This shortfall is one of the factors pushing up secondhand prices.

Ian Plummer, commercial director of the Auto Trader marketplace, says Covid has forced a reluctant industry to embrace the web. Buyers want to be able to do more of the legwork online, from getting a valuation for their current car to applying for finance. However, given the cost involved – in expenditure terms, a car is second only to a home for the average household – “seeing, touching, smelling” your chosen vehicle remains an important final step.

There has been some upside to the tumult, with the most recent figures showing a doubling of sales of electric vehicles. Almost 22,000 pure electric vehicles were registered in November, more than double the figure in the same month of 2020.

“A new electric vehicle launched every 10 days in the course of 2021 and there are even more cars coming next year,” says Plummer. “It’s a big shift in the market: more supply, more marketing, creating more excitement, which has been spurred on by the fuel crisis.

Stores

The rapid spread of the Omicron variant has been devastating news for store-based retailers as shopper numbers tail off on what are among the most important trading days of the year in the run-up to Christmas. With the Covid crisis seemingly far from over, the jury remains out on what the long-term consequences will be for the high street.

The stream of household names that failed pre-Covid was accelerated by the lockdowns. Recent British Retail Consortium data shows the number of empty stores sitting at a record high of 14.5%.

The crisis has pulled down rents but eye-watering business rates remain a big problem that the government seems reluctant to deal with. There are glimmers of hope, though, with the same data pointing to a declining vacancy rate in some regions, as independents move in to fill the spaces left by defunct chain stores.

But there is, without question, more painful change to come. Hyman points to the £90bn of non-food sales that have moved online over the past 20 years, a period when there has been no “meaningful” reduction in store space.

“The cost of selling something in a shop is now much more expensive because you’ve got a high fixed cost base and lower sales,” he says. “When all this is over, we are still going to have too many shops and too many websites.”

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The trends you need to know about

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Accenture’s Barry Heavey discusses how the life sciences industry has changed and the most in-demand roles and skills right now.

At the end of last year, data from pharma recruiter Cpl Life Sciences and data analytics company Vacancysoft revealed that there was record recruitment in Ireland’s life sciences sector in 2021.

This year has already seen expansion across a number of pharma, biotech and medtech companies in Ireland, including Boston Scientific, Medtronic, Janssen and Merck.

So for those looking to work in the sector, what are the most in-demand roles right now and what skills do they need to be successful in the industry?

Barry Heavey is the managing director of life sciences at Accenture in Ireland. He told SiliconRepublic.com that he is seeing a lot of demand for skills in digital technology right now.

“What we look for is people who can combine skills in digital technologies with an understanding of the actual problems and complexities that companies face in developing and supplying ever more complex products to ever-more focused patient populations,” he said.

“Across the wider industry in Ireland, I see a very large demand for people who are interested in working in manufacturing, quality, supply chain management, regulatory affairs, data analytics and process development.”

While some graduates with a science degree might not see a role in manufacturing or quality as an exciting long-term option compared to R&D, Heavey said it’s important not to discount these career paths.

“Most biopharma companies need their manufacturing and quality teams to orient themselves more towards development and research, so these roles will hold exciting development opportunities while giving new graduates a great first step on the career ladder where they can learn all about the challenges of producing highly complex products to save lives.”

While there are a wide range of technical skills that will be needed in life sciences such as mRNA synthesis and formulation, conjugation chemistry, multivariate analysis, and artificial intelligence, Heavey said “multi-disciplinarity is key”.

“We need manufacturing and quality people who can collaborate with R&D and regulatory affairs people and vice versa. We need people who combine scientific, engineering, IT and business skills as well as the wider skills of communication, storytelling, project management, etc.”

Heavey also said that the industry is moving so fast now that the old siloed ways of working are no longer viable. Even though deep expertise in specific areas is required, collaboration is vital.

“Digital tools can be a key enabler of better collaboration, and innovation like advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence can also help in surfacing insights and enabling better decision-making using technology and curating and sharing knowledge over time and between teams.”

Biggest trends in the industry

For those working in the sector, one of the biggest trends is around new ‘modalities’ – new modes of treatment such as conjugated proteins, mRNA and cell therapy.

“We had the explosion of the new modality of recombinant proteins over the past 20 years, but this modality is represented by some of the best-selling drugs in the world like Keytruda, Humira, etc. and Ireland is central to the supply of these products due to proactive targeting of investment by the IDA and training capabilities from organisations such as NIBRT,” said Heavey.

He added that while Ireland was able to capitalise on the growth of the recombinant protein modality the country needs to ensure “we catch the next waves of the next generation of modalities”.

“We are seeing progress in this with Pfizer making their mRNA vaccine for Covid in their Dublin facility, but we need to continue to watch for new opportunities and invest in training our workforce to be ready for these.”

Another big trend is the increased pace of innovation. The timeframe of 10-15 years to approve a newly discovered drug has been drastically compressed in recent years. Most recently, the world saw several Covid-19 vaccines approved in under one year.

Heavey said this increased pace is partly due to the new modalities but also due to the better collection and use of data.

“With the pace of innovation in digital and medical technology, we now have the data collection and analysis tools needed to understand disease in more depth, to develop and even design new drugs faster, to decide what patients might be most likely to benefit from a treatment and to determine whether the drug is effective and safe in patients with much higher fidelity,” he said.

For those entering the industry, Heavey advised them to “think about the white space between disciplines”.

“If you are strong in digital technologies, think about upskilling in areas like biotechnology or medical device technology, so you can speak the language of people who need your IT skills.  If you are strong in R&D, think about how you can collaborate more effectively with people in manufacturing who will be trying to put new modalities on the shelves.

“If you are strong in quality control, think about what is coming next from R&D (new modalities or new analytical methods) and how you can prepare for these and expedite their introduction through enhanced collaboration,” he said.

“Bottom line is never stop learning! It is such an exciting industry to be in and I, for one, feel privileged to be involved in it.”

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

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Best podcasts of the week: The hunt for an art dealer’s riches hidden in the mountains | Podcasts

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Picks of the week

Listening
Widely available, episodes weekly
This podcast is equivalent to stepping into the studio with a musician. A specially recorded track by artists such as Björk, Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee and Neko Case is followed by an interview in which they explain how they made it. From Björk elucidating how she used the noise of frozen lakes to create soaring, glockenspiel-strafed choral pop, to Crutchfield enthusing about her love of white noise, it is hugely illuminating. Alexi Duggins

The Dangerous Art of the Documentary
Widely available, episodes weekly

What is it like to get involved in a twisty murder case and personally meet the participants? This new series hears director Tiller Russell interview the creators of shows such as Wild Wild Country and Don’t F**k With Cats. It might be heavy on industry detail, but it’s a comprehensive look at the film-making process. AD

Vibe Check
Widely available, episodes weekly
Fabulous trio Sam Sanders, Saeed Jones and Zach Stafford offer a weekly kiki “from a decidedly Black and queer perspective” in their new podcast. Just like in their group chat, the idea is to check in on each other. Plus the latest news and culture, with spot-on chemistry and disses delivered with love. Hannah Verdier

Missed Fortune
Apple Podcasts, episodes weekly
“I’m in a car with some guys I don’t know on our way to somewhere we’re not supposed to be … ” The stakes are high in this nine-part series, in which host Peter Frick-Wright joins the perilous treasure hunt for $1m that retired art dealer Forrest Fenn hid in the Rocky Mountains. Hollie Richardson

Night Fever
WOW Podcast Network and Spotify, episodes weekly

The most gossipy music podcast returns, with James St James, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato spilling all the tea from 1970s clubland to today. Nightlife favourites including Moby and Michelle Visage bring hilarious stories to help the hosts celebrate the glorious era before social media when New York clubbers could bump into RuPaul, Andy Warhol and Madonna. HV

There’s a podcast for that

Black Fashion History charts the course of Black designers, labels and models such as Naomi Campbell.
Black Fashion History charts the course of Black designers, labels and models such as Naomi Campbell. Photograph: Ken Towner/Associated Newspa/REX

This week, Fleur Britten chooses five of the best podcasts for fashion fans, from an intimate interview show with fashion journalism’s grand dame to a (cat)walk through the history of Black style

Creative Conversations with Suzy Menkes
For years, the veteran fashion critic Suzy Menkes and her unfeasibly large quiff were always first out of the blocks at the end of a fashion show, in order to secure those backstage interviews. As the former fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune, and then editor of Vogue International, Menkes is widely regarded as the grande dame of fashion journalism, with enviable access to the industry’s biggest names. Her independent podcast, launched during the first lockdown of 2020, capitalises on those connections, taking listeners behind the scenes on in-depth conversations with the likes of Demna Gvasalia, Dries van Noten and Manolo Blahnik.

The Business of Fashion Podcast
If you like being in the know on fashion industry developments, the Business of Fashion’s weekly podcast is required listening. The globally respected fashion news website launched its audio arm in 2017, and has since brought its journalistic rigour to the podcast via topical features and insightful interviews with, for example, Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet, Anna Wintour’s biographer Amy Odell, and Skims CEO Jens Grede. The features – on topics including the rise of vacation clothing, and Shein’s $100bn valuation – are always ahead of the curve.

Dressed: The History of Fashion
Many of us view clothes simply as packages of colour, shape and texture. Fashion historians, however, see layers and layers of meaning and nuance within those elements. They see the implicit cultural significance of clothing choices, and understand what our clothes are really communicating. British fashion historians Rebecca Arnold from the Courtauld Institute and Beatrice Behlen of the Museum of London have been enlightening listeners on all matters fashion history since 2018 with their highbrow yet approachable weekly podcast, Bande A Part – all with a remarkably modern outlook.

Wardrobe Crisis
While many of us would like to shop more sustainably, learning the finer details of how to do that tends to get shunted down our list of priorities when there are so many more fun distractions on offer. The Sydney-based British fashion journalist and author Clare Press, who was Vogue’s first sustainability editor, makes the task an enjoyable one, with her engaging, hard-working podcast Wardrobe Crisis, launched in 2017. Press’s tone is always upbeat and solutions-focused, and guest hosts help to keep the subject matter fresh and appealing.

Black Fashion History
When the American content creator Taniqua Russ asked people to name their favourite Black designers and brands, most drew a blank. So in 2019, she started doing her own research, sharing her findings in a podcast as a resource for people to fill in the gaps in their knowledge. Chronicling the contribution of Black people around the world to the fashion industry, this no-frills podcast has introduced its audience to the work of model Carol Collins-Miles, the milliner Lisa McFadden and the designer Therez Fleetwood, among others.

Why not try …

  • A glut of intimate, sideways stories in hit podcast Love + Radio, whose whole archive is now available to binge.

  • A guided yoga practice (yes, really) with a little singer called Dua Lipa in the new series of At Your Service.

  • The true story of Putin’s “number one enemy”, shot and killed in 2015, in Another Russia.

If you want to read the complete version of the newsletter please subscribe to receive Hear Here in your inbox every Thursday

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Most IPv6 DNS queries sent to Chinese resolvers fail • The Register

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China’s DNS resolvers fail two thirds of the time when handling queries for IPv6 addresses, and botch one in eight queries for IPv4, according to a group of Chinese academics.

As explained in a paper titled “A deep dive into DNS behavior and query failures” and summarized in a blog post at APNIC (the Asia Pacific’s regional internet address registry), the authors worked with log files describing 2.8 billion anonymized DNS queries processed at Chinese ISPs.

Among the paper’s findings:

  • 86.2 percent of queries were for A records – the record for a resource with an IPv4 address;
  • 10.4 percent were for AAAA records that point to resources with an IPv6 address;
  • 93.1 percent of queries for A records succeeded;
  • 35.8 percent of requests for AAAA records succeeded.

The researchers – led by professor Zhenyu Li and Donghui Yang, both from the Institute of Computing Technology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences – suggest the reason for the low success rate of AAAA record queries is poor performance by some Chinese players.

One outfit, 114DNS, succeeded with just 14.5 percent of AAAA queries. Alibaba Group’s AliDNS succeeded 54.3 percent of the time – more than Google or Cisco’s OpenDNS, which were found to resolve 43.4 percent and 49.2 percent of AAAA queries respectively.

A fifth of DNS resolvers never succeed at handling IPv6 AAAA queries.

“Overall, A and MX queries are successfully resolved most frequently, while AAAA and PTR manifest lower success rates,” the summary reads. “Specifically, the failure rate of AAAA queries is surprisingly over 64.2 percent — two out of three AAAA queries failed.”

“We also found the success rates for new generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs) and Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) were lower than that of well-established domains, primarily because of the prevalence of malicious domains,” wrote professor Li.

However the researchers did not identity why DNS resolution rates are so low, especially for AAAA queries. Nor do they mention what the poor IPv6 resolution rates mean for China’s plans for mass adoption of IPv6 by 2030.

The blog post recommends users adopt “a larger negative caching time-to-live for AAAA records associated with domains that only map to IPv4 addresses reliably.” Checking DNS resolvers’ success rates is also suggested ahead of making a choice of DNS provider. ®

OpenDNS mess

In other DNS-related news, Cisco’s OpenDNS service today wobbled for a few hours in North America.

WeWork offices, wherein some of our vultures toil, experienced network problems, as did at least one university. We’ve also heard reports that the incident impacted email security guardian Spamhaus.

The issue was resolved without Cisco offering any explanation for the incident.



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