Downsizing the Box & the Smaller Future of Retail
Retailers and their suppliers are about to see real and lasting change to the size of their businesses. Not necessarily in sales but in physical size.
The future is small and gray. The mothers of today’s baby boomers had an average of 3.8 children per mom…in contrast baby boomer women had only 2.1 children per mom. And, the more affluent the mother, the fewer children she is likely to have.
While there are fewer children in many families today, there are far more older households than ever before. The plentiful and seemingly endless supply of young boomers that propelled retail sales for the last six-plus decades are now graying. The living arrangements of graying baby boomers are different from their parents. Aging has become a home alone experience for many. According to the 2010 US Census approximately 30% of people over age 60 live alone and by age 65 that number jumps – revealing that more than 40% of women over age 65 live alone. This is not just an American trend; an aging Europe shows an even greater likelihood of living solo – particularly in northern Europe. For example, more than 35% of Germans over age 60 live alone as well as nearly 40% of Swedes.
So what might small and gray mean for retailers and their suppliers? Here are a few observations and recommendations for retailers and their partners:
Rethink Quantity: You may enjoy your morning cereal or even an occasional tuna fish sandwich…but do you enjoy it enough to buy in packages made to feed a family of five – for two months? Suddenly quantity regardless of price becomes a hassle, not a value.
Rethink Packaging: An older consumer, particularly one that lives alone, must manage the logistics of carrying, transporting and putting away all those big boxes and bags. Moreover, the readability, ease of lifting, opening and closing as well as disposing of product packaging is likely to become a greater differentiator in value.
Rethink Format: Big box retail formats provide space to provide big boxes and the convenience of everything under one roof. But age matters. While not the same for everyone, natural declines in physical energy and capacity to trek through acres of store to buy a few things transforms 'everything under one big roof' into a steeplechase not a treasure hunt.
Retail has always been a reflection and reinforcement of lifestyle. A smaller and older household has big implications for the future of the store. The big box store and everything in it is about to shrink. Walmart and others are experimenting with smaller formats that fit neatly into tight urban markets. Smaller stores may be equally successful in rapidly aging suburban and small town markets as well. Retail partners will have to be equally as innovative in providing value in smaller – but easy to read, easy to carry and easy to open packages.
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Here's the first evidence to challenge the "fastest sperm" narrative.
Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.
- The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
- Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
- These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.
Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.
A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.
Rethinking humanity's origin story
The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.
David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.
The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.
Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"
He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.
It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.
"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."
Migrating out of Africa
In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.
Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.
The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.
The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.
Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.
Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.
Did we head east or south of Eden?
Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.
Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.
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