Australian retail analyst Robert Buckingham is in New Zealand to share his insights on global fashion trends.

Robert Buckingham is a shopping expert, a man who truly understands how and why we shop the way we do. He also knows how we'll be shopping in the future.

As an Australian associate of British trend forecaster and consumer insights company The Future Laboratory, Buckingham analyses retail and consumer habits, and helps to discover industry leaders who shape the way we'll shop in the future; working with clients as broad as American Express, Lamborghini and Louis Vuitton. The fashion expert, who also helped establish the Melbourne Fashion Festival and the Australian Fashion Council and runs his own creative strategy firm, Mr Buckingham, will speak at the Fashion Industry New Zealand (FINZ) "Fashion Without Borders" conference tomorrow, presenting a global retail report produced by The Future Laboratory on the issues, trends, consumers, products and brands set to influence retail over the next two years. He gives Viva an insight into what to expect, and where the industry is going next.

What's behind your interest in fashion - where did you find your passion for the industry?
My interest in fashion came from an interest in design generally. I studied arts and law, and got involved in film-making. I knew a lot of people in the design industry: fashion designers, jewellers, architects, interior designers, and I suppose I saw fashion as one of the most immediate and responsive areas of the design industry. What I liked about fashion was the way in which it engaged with people so quickly, and had such a broad appeal in the way it interacted with so many other parts of the design world. I liked that combination of creativity, theatre and commerce.

The Future Laboratory is described as a global trend forecasting studio - so what exactly is a trend forecaster?
From The Future Laboratory perspective, their attitude is based on the idea that the future has already happened - it just isn't very well distributed. It's a quote from US writer William Gibson. Our role is to track and identify leaders who are doing the things that other people will follow. They would argue there are people and companies who are always [in] the lead, and they're the ones that we should be watching to see what trends are going to emerge in the future.

When you're working, where do you get your ideas and information from?
The work that I do is in tandem with The Future Laboratory, and they have 40 to 50 researchers working on particular projects - so I'll work with them on a local one. When we worked on the retail strategy for the city of Melbourne, we identified stores or companies around the world we felt were relevant, who were working in a retail promotional field, who we felt were leaders, and then really spent time analysing what they were doing. Then we tried to translate that into how that could benefit another brand or another development.

What have been some of the highlights of your career - something that you've predicted?
Some of the stuff that The Future Laboratory has been talking about for some time has become the norm: the change in behaviour from a transactional economy to an immersive retail economy. Understanding that consumers don't just go in, make a transaction, buy a good - they're interested in becoming part of the brand, immersing themselves in that brand, becoming a friend and supporter rather than just a client. We also identified the emergence of the pop-up store, which has become prevalent - companies like Comme des Garcons started that. Now you're seeing the new thing that's emerging is "swap shops" - cities and different companies swapping around the world. You'll get a store in Britain swapping with French stores, or they'll take themselves and move to different locations.

I think what we also understood or identified early on was the idea of localisation - moving from globalisation to having to understand the local environment and getting that mix right. That is something that really has become very strong; now even a brand like Louis Vuitton, which was all about being a global brand and having the same store in every location, has started to adopt this idea that you need to have a different approach in each location.

In terms of fashion and retail, being green is the big thing at the moment - but what's next?
I think what you are going to see is that it's all about experience. Experience is very much where the world is going; that's the new commodity - we're all seeking out experiences, especially shared ones, and they're the ones that connect us with other people and communities. In terms of goods and services, we have everything we need to some extent. A store like Merci in Paris is a very good example of a retailer understanding a lot of the trends that are going on: less is more, an understanding of editing. In fashion we're going to see a much greater edit: designers and stores aren't just going to give choice for the sake of choice. We identified that five or 10 years ago, with the whole curated retail concept. Boutiques became so much more important than traditional department stores because they were curating, and that's becoming even more refined. You'll find in fashion and retail, there will be a refinement, people will go deeper into their core values - what their design values are, trying to make that a stronger statement rather than just offering more. A store like Merci also has that interest in community - it's almost like a democratisation of the retail experience. It doesn't feel right any more for stores to have that intimidating feel; it's much more about engaging with your friends/customers. Fashion labels that succeed are going to be those that connect much better with their customer; that's the way in which they engage or communicate with them.

Do you see any brands who are doing that well now?
Diesel is doing a good job at that sort of stuff, and Louis Vuitton is making a concerted effort to localise their offer. Burberry has done a fantastic job on the internet in terms of doing its shows online so it is talking to its customers - the clothes that it presents online for its next season are available in six weeks. They're creating a closer relationship with their customers, and in a way sidestepping the barrier which was between the brand and the customer; the trade shows, the buyers, the media, the retailer. There is a lot of that sidestepping; talking directly to their customer, their friends. Burberry did the website "The Art of the Trench", and understood that it's not just the way that they present their trenchcoats in their advertising; it's a two-way street. They would like to see how their customer wears their trench, and what they do with them. That goes back to the brands that understand the importance of values, and what they stand for. In Australia for instance, Lisa Gorman has been doing a lot of work with sustainability, working with manufacturers to [make] clothing that's more environmentally friendly.

Are there any other key issues you see influencing fashion and the global retail sector in the future?
Obviously technology is enormously important. An integrated web presence is no longer just an added extra but it's part of a consumer expectation that makes or breaks a brand, that can help drive customer's purchases into the brick and mortar stores, but also make that relationship.

Edu-tailing, which someone like Jamie Oliver has done well - it's about education, entertainment and events; retailers and designers who understand how they relate to their customers, so they're talking to them through the internet, through Facebook - they're using technology to engage.

I think you'll see a lot of more "untethered" retail - the idea that fixed retail may be on the verge of redundancy. You're going to see that by 2020, 50 per cent of retail sales will be on the internet, so what consumers are going to be looking for is retail that's flexible, something that responds to people's lives. Stores of tomorrow no longer just need to be in a mall, they might move about - they might decide that because there's an event on, they might create something different.

Also, that connection between retail and food is really important. I've just come back from overseas and during fashion week in London, a lot of designers had created new pop-up stores, but they would often collaborate with a really interesting restaurant, or someone that is interested in music. That is very much about the future, that collaboration; it's not just a single vision.

As a designer, a brand, a retailer, it's understanding that importance of how to communicate with your customer, but also how you collaborate with your community.

* See Robert Buckingham speak at the 2010 FINZ "Fashion Without Borders" conference tomorrow. Tickets are $195 for non-FINZ members. To register go to regonline.co.nz/finzconference2010