'Steampunk' Goes Mainstream in 2013

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This sub-genre of science fiction takes inspiration from the clothing, technology and social mores of Victorian society.
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Are you ready to get "steampunked"? Retailers attending the National Retail Federation Convention in New York yesterday (Jan. 14) got an ear-load, and eye-load, from researchers about the next big trend steaming toward the retail industry. Based on an analysis of more than half a billion public posts on message boards, blogs, social media sites and news sources, IBM predicted that ''steampunk" will be the next major trend to bubble up and take hold of the retail industry.

The sub-genre of science fiction takes inspiration from the clothing, technology and social mores of Victorian society. And major fashion label, accessories providers and jewelry markers are expected to integrate that aesthetic into their designs in the coming year, IBM researchers said. Steampunk has a broad and diverse aesthetic, according to Trevor Davis, consumer products expert with IBM global business services. The look includes goggles and intricate jewelry based on clockwork, along with exquisite frock coats, corsets, top hats, brass and leather.

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The tipping point for this branch of the science fiction demi-world came in 2010, when NYC ComicCon and a NYC Haunted House Halloween event both featured steampunk themes. If you're a film buff, think of Will Smith in "Wild, Wild, West," which set steam-powered machines in the Old West. Or, remember Rihanna's entrance on a steam-powered sailing ship for the 2012 Paralympics closing ceremony.

IBM based its predictions on massive amounts of big-data crunching, drawing on the kind of digital horsepower that helped Watson, Big Blue's supercomputer, win its smackdown with top contestants from the quiz show "Jeopardy" in 2011.

Using advanced analytics, IBM has tracked the spread of trends geographically, chronologically and, now, culturally. From 2009 to 2012, IBM's researchers found, the amount of steampunk chatter increased eleven-fold. Since 2010, more than two dozen U.S. department stores and specialty retailers have become steampunk savvy. During the next two years, IBM predicts that steampunk will shift from low-production, high-cost "craft" manufacturing to mass production.

Measuring public sentiment like this can help retail chief marketing officers customize incentives and services to be more in tune with what customers are asking for, using data to tailor their offerings and address fast-moving trends and real-time customer needs.

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"Smart retailers are using social analytics to better understand, predict and shape consumer demand for 'must-have' products before a particular trend gets saturated in the marketplace," Davis said. "By staying ahead of a trend as it develops, a retailer can more effectively control critical merchandizing, inventory and planning decisions.

"Technology can provide tremendous foresight to help businesses differentiate what is a fleeting fad, versus what is an enduring trend."

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