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Are single-purpose objects dead?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 13-07-2017 Sapna Agarwal

Today multi-tasking is a given. Most people are comfortable on two-three devices at the same time. Most of us are usually always on our smartphones irrespective of whatever else we are doing—reading, watching television or working on the laptop. On an average, a user checks his phone 40 times a day, according to a June 2016 report by Deloitte.

As we become a technology-addicted generation, a lot of single-purpose objects have lost their popularity. Take the cassette tape Walkman, a symbol of cool in the 1980s, or even the iPod Classic, which debuted in 2001—these products have been replaced by newer multi-purpose technologies. Apple Inc. no longer reports sales of iPods.

For most of us, the smartphone is the go-to device for getting everything from entertainment to social media and services. Smartphones with high-speed broadband connectivity also makes owning a music collection redundant as you can instead stream music from cloud-based audio platforms like SoundCloud, Wynk and Saavn.

The list of dying objects is long, it includes traditional media like newspapers, India is an exception. Book stores are shutting down and even retail as we know it is no longer just about a point of sale. It’s evolving. More on that later.

What do these casualties have in common? They catered to just a single need, whereas, the customer is demanding choices that fulfil multiple needs. So, sportswear is morphing into athleisure, comfortable clothes suitable both for everyday wear and exercise. Bars and pubs are turning into gastropubs, places to go to not only for drinks but also to have good food. Retail or visiting a mall is not just about shopping but about an experience. It is well curated and includes food and entertainment as well. Most large retailers no longer sell only through brick and mortar stores but also through web and smartphones.

These lifestyle changes are also reflected in our bedrooms. My nephew, 24, never used a table to study during his college days. He was always sprawled across his bed with his phone and books alongside. It’s the same with my 18 year-old niece. She does not change her place to study. She uses her bed for everything—sleeping, studying, texting, watching YouTube, browsing Facebook and listening to music. The chair is mostly used as a clothes stand and the table lies forlorn in a corner.

Even lighting needs have changed as we sleep with our phones by the bedside. Close to two-third of the people check their phones the first thing in the morning on waking up and as the last thing before going to sleep, according to the Deloitte report mentioned earlier. A decade ago there were anywhere between 2-5 lamps in a teenage girls rooms. Now lamps have become redundant as lighting from the phone lights up the room, says Martin Lindstorm, author of Small Data who captures these changes in his book.

According to Lindstorm, the changing rooms also reflect the transformation of their owners. Today’s boys are different from the earlier generation. “Boys are needier.” They are fashion conscious as well. Male grooming is one of the fastest growing categories in urban India. Likewise, girls are more like boys, “nerdier”. Today, women are taking control of their lives and women empowerment is a key issue across all sectors and society.

Globally a lot of work is taking place to break stereotypes. This can be seen in fashion. Labels like Chanel and Gucci are showing their clothes on guys as well as girls. Recently, during a heatwave in Europe, schoolboys and bus drivers protested their uniforms’ no-shorts policy by wearing skirts. Skirts have become the new protest tees.

Elsewhere, brands are breaking social taboos with their advertisements. Vicks from Procter and Gamble, for instance, has an ad with the message “motherhood has no gender”, championing the cause of India’s transgender community. The advertisement, in a short span of two months, has already received over 9.5 million views.

Perhaps it is time to adapt to bid adieu to single-purpose objects and embrace our multi-dimensional realities.

Shop Talk will take a weekly look at consumer trends, behaviour and insights.

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