Evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar tells Aleks Krotoski why even Facebook cannot expand our true social circle and why 150 (give or take) is the maximum number of people any individual can have a relationship of 'trust and obligation' with.
Dunbar's 150 may even give us a clue why local retail may not be as dead as it seems in the face of the digital revolution ....and interestingly, why 'pure play' retailers are looking for physical presence.
As the son of a local shop keeper what Dunbar says resonates powerfully and all adds up - although I didn't realise the figure was 150.
For a long time now I've believed people will use digital shopping to do the research, boring and convenience things on line (replenishment etc) and then enjoy the social, more experiential shopping by buying, trying or 'collecting' interesting or bespoke items in person from a person they kinda like - someone who smiles and helps (and all that stuff the bean-counters have diligently stripped away)! I defy anyone not to enjoy shopping in a genuinely local 'farm shop' especially if the owners recognise you or your kids - even the oddly shaped apples look good, as does the dirt on the potatoes - it's wholesome and feels somehow right!
A couple of years ago, Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, confessed the future of retail is local. And as is if on cue, 150 year old Sainsbury's, the UK's second largest and reinvigorated supermarket giant, said 2013 will see it operating more small-format 'local' stores than supermarkets after just 15 years of their introduction.
The Guardian newspaper can always be relied on to produce the goods and I have to say Aleks Krotoski was great. She prodded the impressive Dunbar in the right direction and they both broke the convention of academia by being easily understood! The interview culminates with him agreeing with one of Retail's great lores: 'touch is worth a thousand words' .....and until they can reproduce that digitally, I believe this will give local retail a renewed raison d'etre and consequent renaissance. Rather than always having to travel to city centres, local and neighborhood retail will again provide easy and convenient access to 'touch', 'humanity' and after time, 'trust'.....and contrary to many students of retail, this will be because of its limited catchment and because of on-line....yes on-line!
If executed well and with innovation, success will increasingly come back to local and neighborhood stores because of the time freed-up by on-line not despite it - please try that thought on for size!