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Consumer Trends

Retail in 2015: The Paradox of 'Self-'

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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. J.C. Penney (a client of the agency I lead, Havas PR North America) ran a back-to-school campaign this year called “Express Your Selfie,” which included an online gallery where customers could post selfies with personalized emojis they created.

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.

Fashioning a positive self-image is now recognized as a vital task for everyone.

All this self-focus is not new. Tom Wolfe flagged it 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 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.

Marian Salzman, CEO & Chairman Havas PR North America

Marian Salzman is CEO of Havas PR North America, an entrepreneurial agency that is one of the most awarded of its size in the U.S. She also oversees the Havas PR Global Collective. Named one of the world’s top five trendspotters, Salzman is the most-awarded female public relations executive in North America and a member of PRWeek’s Power List 2014. Follow her on Twitter: @mariansalzman.


Frank D.
This IS happening, Marian! To a degree, wrapping your head around its mysteries it is like nailing Jello, but discerning the relevant aspects will definitely lead to more sales and a better relationship with the custom or client. The self as a compound word and concept(s) is profoundly connected to everything, including shopping. Self-image, self-confidence, self-actualization (in your field) partially though shopping are influential, real things, if abstract. And selflessness is a large part of the way we act in relation to our "Self" (selves) especially when people see what they have and others don't. There is contradiction, striving, emulation, wish-fulfillment and necessity at play that makes it difficult for shoppers sometimes and even more difficult for retailers. How do you know what is in people heads and hearts? What do they want? I teach people about that and how to know themselves at Self-Knowledge College and may be of service, not so much with retail itself but with how people think and feel-regarding retail and marketing. It can't hurt and some insights are available in no other way. Maybe some of us should talk! Frank Daley