When in London, it’s always a pleasure to wander around the hundreds of boutiques that dot the back streets between West Soho and Endell Street – you find such creative energy and individual style, they ache with signs of what could be next in retail, design, branding, marketing.

The trend, that’s been suggested is called, ‘Curated Consumption’: “time-starved consumers [driven] into the arms of a new breed of ‘curators’ and editors, who pre-select for them what to buy, what to experience, what to what to wear, what to read, what to drink and so on.” The trend extends beyond retailers into publishing (style magazines) into TV (MTV Cribb).

It’s a term coined by TrendWatching, who we deeply respect, but as we walked around London Town the other day (dodging the well groomed fellows with their spikey and mud-flapped hair) we wondered if the theory was wrong.

Firstly, I don’t believe these stores aren’t creating any curated lifestyle at all – quite simply, they’re hedging their bets. They do understand their customers on an empathetic level – therefore have a better understanding of the range of products consumers would be willing to buy from them – but often the product is out on the shopfloor because if you don’t buy that frilly dress, maybe you’ll buy that cute Japanese toy instead. One reason stores offer ‘lifestyle’ items is to increase the chance of sale, they’re mini-department stores.

Secondly, the diverse products found in these stores are actually in-built marketing. They’re an experience. If you walk up the emerging channel of boutiques from the top of Bleeker Street along the north part of Hudson in New York, you see all these glamorous fashion boutiques stuffed full of books. They’re trying to make an impression that they’re connected with you – “we get you, you clever, book reading frivolous fashion so and so.”  etc, etc.

Curated Consumption also assumes multi purchase from single retailers, but shoppers don’t work that way. Shoppers move from one ‘lifestyle store’ to another buying items from different ‘departments’ in order to buy products that create their own lifestyle image. Consumers seek a tribal individuality developed from a choreographed mix and match of brands. If we dared to buy our products from just a few lifestyle stores (or even lifestyle magazines and sites), we’d all end up looking the same, living in the same styled apartments.

Finally, the most important reason I don’t believe in Curated Consumption is the fact that it goes against the major marketing thinking of today: The Consumers Are In Control. If the consumers are in control, then we can’t agree with statements like this: “millions of consumers following and obeying the new curators of style, of taste, of eruditeness, in an ever growing number of B2C industries.”

Brands, retailers and designers are not powerful enough to create lifestyle. In this info-freaky world our influences have multiplied, and our choices are even greater.  We build our own personal stories to create our personal tribal individualtiy, taking from one brands, experiences, places, friends (oh and spikey haired soccer stars) – but it’s naive to assume that brands can rule our story.

Just a thought on Friday – but hopefully one that starts up some discussion.

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