That Style, Again? How Shopping Got So Boring | Kanebridge News
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    HOUSE MEDIAN ASKING PRICES AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $1,495,064 (-0.25%)       Melbourne $937,672 (-0.06%)       Brisbane $829,077 (+1.01%)       Adelaide $784,986 (+0.98%)       Perth $687,232 (+0.62%)       Hobart $742,247 (+0.62%)       Darwin $658,823 (-0.42%)       Canberra $913,571 (-1.30%)       National $951,937 (-0.08%)                UNIT MEDIAN ASKING PRICES AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $713,690 (+0.15%)       Melbourne $474,891 (-0.09%)       Brisbane $455,596 (-0.07%)       Adelaide $373,446 (-0.09%)       Perth $378,534 (-0.83%)       Hobart $528,024 (-1.62%)       Darwin $340,851 (-0.88%)       Canberra $481,048 (+0.72%)       National $494,274 (-0.23%)   National $494,274                HOUSES FOR SALE AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 7,982 (-85)       Melbourne 11,651 (-298)       Brisbane 8,504 (-39)       Adelaide 2,544 (-39)       Perth 7,486 (-186)       Hobart 1,075 (-37)       Darwin 266 (+11)       Canberra 840 (-4)       National 40,348 (-677)                UNITS FOR SALE AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 7,376 (-100)       Melbourne 6,556 (-154)       Brisbane 1,783 (+12)       Adelaide 447 (+11)       Perth 2,139 (+3)       Hobart 173 (-1)       Darwin 393 (+1)       Canberra 540 (-29)       National 19,407 (-257)                HOUSE MEDIAN ASKING RENTS AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $750 ($0)       Melbourne $550 ($0)       Brisbane $650 ($0)       Adelaide $550 ($0)       Perth $595 ($0)       Hobart $550 ($0)       Darwin $720 (+$40)       Canberra $675 ($0)       National $639 (+$6)                    UNIT MEDIAN ASKING RENTS AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $750 ($0)       Melbourne $550 ($0)       Brisbane $550 ($0)       Adelaide $430 ($0)       Perth $550 ($0)       Hobart $450 ($0)       Darwin $483 (-$38)       Canberra $550 ($0)       National $555 (-$4)                HOUSES FOR RENT AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 5,759 (+74)       Melbourne 5,228 (-159)       Brisbane 2,940 (-7)       Adelaide 1,162 (-13)       Perth 1,879 (-7)       Hobart 468 (-15)       Darwin 81 (+6)       Canberra 707 (+10)       National 18,224 (-111)                UNITS FOR RENT AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 8,359 (+95)       Melbourne 5,185 (+60)       Brisbane 1,588 (-3)       Adelaide 335 (-30)       Perth 752 (+11)       Hobart 161 (-1)       Darwin 107 (-16)       Canberra 627 (-36)       National 17,114 (+80)   National 17,114                HOUSE ANNUAL GROSS YIELDS AND TREND       Sydney 2.61% (↑)      Melbourne 3.05% (↑)      Brisbane 4.08% (↑)        Adelaide 3.64% (↓)       Perth 4.50% (↓)     Hobart 3.85% (↑)        Darwin 5.68% (↓)     Canberra 3.84% (↑)      National 3.49% (↑)             UNIT ANNUAL GROSS YIELDS AND TREND       Sydney 5.46% (↑)      Melbourne 6.02% (↑)      Brisbane 6.28% (↑)        Adelaide 5.99% (↓)     Perth 7.56% (↑)        Hobart 4.43% (↓)       Darwin 7.36% (↓)     Canberra 5.95% (↑)        National 5.84% (↓)            HOUSE RENTAL VACANCY RATES AND TREND       Sydney 1.6% (↑)      Melbourne 1.8% (↑)      Brisbane 0.5% (↑)      Adelaide 0.5% (↑)      Perth 1.0% (↑)      Hobart 0.9% (↑)      Darwin 1.1% (↑)      Canberra 0.5% (↑)      National 1.2% (↑)             UNIT RENTAL VACANCY RATES AND TREND       Sydney 2.3% (↑)      Melbourne 2.8% (↑)      Brisbane 1.2% (↑)      Adelaide 0.7% (↑)      Perth 1.3% (↑)      Hobart 1.4% (↑)      Darwin 1.3% (↑)      Canberra 1.3% (↑)      National 2.1% (↑)             AVERAGE DAYS TO SELL HOUSES AND TREND       Sydney 30.9 (↑)      Melbourne 32.6 (↑)      Brisbane 37.7 (↑)      Adelaide 28.7 (↑)      Perth 40.1 (↑)      Hobart 37.6 (↑)        Darwin 36.1 (↓)     Canberra 33.0 (↑)      National 34.6 (↑)             AVERAGE DAYS TO SELL UNITS AND TREND       Sydney 32.5 (↑)      Melbourne 31.7 (↑)      Brisbane 35.2 (↑)      Adelaide 30.2 (↑)        Perth 42.8 (↓)     Hobart 36.9 (↑)        Darwin 39.6 (↓)     Canberra 36.7 (↑)      National 35.7 (↑)            
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That Style, Again? How Shopping Got So Boring

Manufacturers and retailers leaned on popular goods in the pandemic and often hit pause on innovating

Mon, Apr 3, 2023 8:35amGrey Clock 4 min

The maker of Tonka trucks and Lite-Brite normally introduces four new toys a year. Last year, Basic Fun Inc. introduced one.

Manufacturers and retailers of everything from computers to dresses hit pause in the past few years when it came to innovation, the result of pandemic-related upheavals in the design, manufacture and distribution of goods, industry executives said. Shifting consumer demand and the expectation of an economic slowdown also played a role, the executives said.

New merchandise gives shoppers a reason to buy. Without it, sales tend to suffer. Retailers including Best Buy Co. and Gap Inc. said a dearth of new products, styles and colours contributed to lacklustre sales during the recent holiday season.

Now, the race is on to ramp up newness, the executives said. But the work that goes into creating new products often takes months, if not years. And some companies are reluctant to invest in the necessary research and development while economic uncertainty looms.

“The last thing you want to do is spend the money to create and market a new product and have it get stuck in the socio-economic crossfire of Covid, supply-chain disruptions and inflation,” said Basic Fun Chief Executive Jay Foreman. “All these things coming together at the same time means that you have to play it safe.”

Mr. Foreman said Basic Fun is delaying plans to relaunch its Littlest Pet Shop collectible figures until spring 2024 from fall of this year. “We anticipate the supply chain getting back to normal by the middle of this year,” he said. “But we’re still concerned about inflation and a slowdown in consumer spending.”

Gap Chairman and interim CEO Bob Martin said in an interview that a pile-up of excess inventory hindered the company’s ability to innovate.

“You stop leveraging creative strengths, you play it safe, and miss the bigger bets to get back on trend,” he said. Now that the company has worked through its excess inventory, he added, it has more room to devote to spring trends like eyelet and crochet tops at Gap, new suiting styles at Banana Republic, and Old Navy dresses with pockets.

There were 13% fewer new general merchandise items in 2022 compared with 2020, according to market-research firm Circana. The biggest declines were in beauty, footwear, technology, small appliances and toy categories.

Marshal Cohen, Circana’s chief industry adviser, said the decline is unprecedented and the result of several converging factors.

The Covid-19 pandemic radically altered consumption patterns, which forced manufacturers and retailers to pivot quickly to keep up with shifting demand. Supply-chain disruptions created first a scarcity of goods, and then a glut. With excess merchandise clogging shelves, retailers were unable to bring in fresh goods. Remote work made collaboration to dream up new ideas more difficult.

“Something as simple as a new flavour, colour or style can create demand,” Mr. Cohen said. “With a decline in newness, we are boring consumers to death.”

When demand for computers, TVs and other electronic gadgets surged, manufacturers focused on producing as much as they could of existing products to address shortages, Jason Bonfig, Best Buy’s chief merchandising officer, said in an interview.

Mr. Bonfig said he is starting to see an improvement in the flow of new products hitting stores, including TVs with larger screens and computers with longer battery life. “Vendors want to get back to growth,” he said. “They know new models are what brings people to our stores.”

Some retailers have acknowledged that the problem rests as much with them as with their suppliers.

“We didn’t have as many choices in women’s tops as we did in the past,” Ed Thomas, CEO of teen-clothing retailer Tilly’s Inc., said in an interview. “Part of that was our problem. We may have been offered styles that we said no to, because we were too gun-shy to take a chance. We had no idea where the economy was going, so we were more conservative in our buying.”

Nordstrom Inc. has set a goal this year of selling through its inventory at a rate 10% faster than last year, to allow it to bring in fresh merchandise more frequently, according to Pete Nordstrom, the department-store chain’s president. “We want our customers to say, ‘Every time I come to Nordstrom there is something new,’” he said.

Retailers said there are more new products hitting stores now that the supply chain is normalising and the excess inventory of past seasons has been cleared out.

But shoppers might not see a big change just yet.

“There is a disconnect between what’s in stores and what’s being shown on the runways and in fashion magazines,” said Lucia Gulbransen, a personal stylist. “You just can’t find the newness and the fashion-forward looks you see on Instagram.”

Some manufacturers said retailers are still too hesitant to pull the trigger on big, unproven bets.

“It’s an all-around risk-averse season,” said David Katz, chief marketing officer of Randa Apparel & Accessories, which makes clothing and accessories for brands ranging from Calvin Klein to Levi Strauss & Co. “There is more pushback than usual on new styles.”

Jackie Ferrari, CEO of clothing manufacturer American Fashion Network LLC, said basics such as T-shirts, tank tops and hoodies now account for about 60% of the assortment at large, mid tier chains, up from the low-50% range in 2019. Rather than adding new silhouettes, retailers are reordering best sellers with new colours and fabrics, she said.

The issue isn’t limited to companies selling consumer goods. Walt Disney Co. CEO Robert Iger recently told investors that the company needed to be careful about which comic-book characters and stories it develops into TV shows and movies from its Marvel Entertainment franchise to ensure “newness.” “Sequels typically work well for us,” Mr. Iger said. “Do you need a third or a fourth, for instance, or is it time to turn to other characters?”

Of course, there are always exceptions. Wide-leg jeans ushered in new clothing styles, including shorter tops and chunkier shoes, and luggage with built-in phone chargers spurred demand for new travel bags. But overall, retailers are still grappling with how to get more newness in front of shoppers, some of the executives said.

Customers are impatient. Robert Smith, a 49-year-old investment manager, said he started searching out smaller, more-unusual clothing brands online after showing up at a networking event wearing the same outfit as another attendee—a black linen shirt and matching shorts that he bought at a big-box chain.

“There isn’t much variety,” said Mr. Smith, who lives in Loves Park, Ill. “If you go to one store, you see the same thing at another store.”


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China’s EV Juggernaut Is a Warning for the West

Competitive pressure and creativity have made Chinese-designed and -built electric cars formidable competitors

Thu, Jun 8, 2023 4 min

China rocked the auto world twice this year. First, its electric vehicles stunned Western rivals at the Shanghai auto show with their quality, features and price. Then came reports that in the first quarter of 2023 it dethroned Japan as the world’s largest auto exporter.

How is China in contention to lead the world’s most lucrative and prestigious consumer goods market, one long dominated by American, European, Japanese and South Korean nameplates? The answer is a unique combination of industrial policy, protectionism and homegrown competitive dynamism. Western policy makers and business leaders are better prepared for the first two than the third.

Start with industrial policy—the use of government resources to help favoured sectors. China has practiced industrial policy for decades. While it’s finding increased favour even in the U.S., the concept remains controversial. Governments have a poor record of identifying winning technologies and often end up subsidising inferior and wasteful capacity, including in China.

But in the case of EVs, Chinese industrial policy had a couple of things going for it. First, governments around the world saw climate change as an enduring threat that would require decade-long interventions to transition away from fossil fuels. China bet correctly that in transportation, the transition would favour electric vehicles.

In 2009, China started handing out generous subsidies to buyers of EVs. Public procurement of taxis and buses was targeted to electric vehicles, rechargers were subsidised, and provincial governments stumped up capital for lithium mining and refining for EV batteries. In 2020 NIO, at the time an aspiring challenger to Tesla, avoided bankruptcy thanks to a government-led bailout.

While industrial policy guaranteed a demand for EVs, protectionism ensured those EVs would be made in China, by Chinese companies. To qualify for subsidies, cars had to be domestically made, although foreign brands did qualify. They also had to have batteries made by Chinese companies, giving Chinese national champions like Contemporary Amperex Technology and BYD an advantage over then-market leaders from Japan and South Korea.

To sell in China, foreign automakers had to abide by conditions intended to upgrade the local industry’s skills. State-owned Guangzhou Automobile Group developed the manufacturing know-how necessary to become a player in EVs thanks to joint ventures with Toyota and Honda, said Gregor Sebastian, an analyst at Germany’s Mercator Institute for China Studies.

Despite all that government support, sales of EVs remained weak until 2019, when China let Tesla open a wholly owned factory in Shanghai. “It took this catalyst…to boost interest and increase the level of competitiveness of the local Chinese makers,” said Tu Le, managing director of Sino Auto Insights, a research service specialising in the Chinese auto industry.

Back in 2011 Pony Ma, the founder of Tencent, explained what set Chinese capitalism apart from its American counterpart. “In America, when you bring an idea to market you usually have several months before competition pops up, allowing you to capture significant market share,” he said, according to Fast Company, a technology magazine. “In China, you can have hundreds of competitors within the first hours of going live. Ideas are not important in China—execution is.”

Thanks to that competition and focus on execution, the EV industry went from a niche industrial-policy project to a sprawling ecosystem of predominantly private companies. Much of this happened below the Western radar while China was cut off from the world because of Covid-19 restrictions.

When Western auto executives flew in for April’s Shanghai auto show, “they saw a sea of green plates, a sea of Chinese brands,” said Le, referring to the green license plates assigned to clean-energy vehicles in China. “They hear the sounds of the door closing, sit inside and look at the quality of the materials, the fabric or the plastic on the console, that’s the other holy s— moment—they’ve caught up to us.”

Manufacturers of gasoline cars are product-oriented, whereas EV manufacturers, like tech companies, are user-oriented, Le said. Chinese EVs feature at least two, often three, display screens, one suitable for watching movies from the back seat, multiple lidars (laser-based sensors) for driver assistance, and even a microphone for karaoke (quickly copied by Tesla). Meanwhile, Chinese suppliers such as CATL have gone from laggard to leader.

Chinese dominance of EVs isn’t preordained. The low barriers to entry exploited by Chinese brands also open the door to future non-Chinese competitors. Nor does China’s success in EVs necessarily translate to other sectors where industrial policy matters less and creativity, privacy and deeply woven technological capability—such as software, cloud computing and semiconductors—matter more.

Still, the threat to Western auto market share posed by Chinese EVs is one for which Western policy makers have no obvious answer. “You can shut off your own market and to a certain extent that will shield production for your domestic needs,” said Sebastian. “The question really is, what are you going to do for the global south, countries that are still very happily trading with China?”

Western companies themselves are likely to respond by deepening their presence in China—not to sell cars, but for proximity to the most sophisticated customers and suppliers. Jörg Wuttke, the past president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, calls China a “fitness centre.” Even as conditions there become steadily more difficult, Western multinationals “have to be there. It keeps you fit.”


Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

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