business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Imitation, it is said, is the sincerest form of flattery, but I wonder if it’s also the quickest path to growth.

After all, as George Bernard Shaw once wrote, "“Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery - it's the sincerest form of learning.” 

Sure, breakthrough innovations are stunning and are rightfully hailed as amazing achievements. What’s far more common, I’d argue, are small improvements on existing ideas that build business advantages.

Forbes dove into that topic recently fueled by, of all things, Walmart’s very creative Super Bowl ad, which featured all manner of characters from recent movies using the company’s click-and-collect curbside pick up.  Forbes liked the ad, but noted a small problem with the entire concept - basically that Walmart (and so many other retailers who weren’t seen during the Super Bowl) are essentially just catching up to a trend that’s been around for a long time.

As Forbes pointed out, curbside collection of orders would seem incredibly innovative had not McDonalds, Burger King and other fast feeders been centered around the exact same concept for decades now. In fact, many of those chains have long reported that drive-up sales dwarf what they do in-store and have for quite a while.

Granted, the parallel isn’t perfect. There is simplicity to McDonalds’ menu that no typical retailer could possibly copy. Even a limited assortment store like Aldi would have trouble making it’s entire in-store inventory available to drive up customers. However, that might miss the point of the article, which is that retailers need stay mindful of trends that delight shoppers everywhere and anywhere. Then we somehow need figure how to provide something similar.

As the Forbes columnist points out, curbside convenience is far from the end of these types of innovations and he makes a less than subtle point about the attraction of checkout-free stores such as Amazon Go.

That’s a point we cannot possibly repeat often enough. We must stay hyper-focused on the changes our shoppers see elsewhere in their lives that, fair or not, raise their expectations of what can be done everywhere. It could be the popularity of new food and beverages items in restaurants, or changed experiences in movie theaters, banking, amusement parks and elsewhere.

If something new turns shoppers on, we at least need to consider if there’s a parallel product or service we too can offer especially when the answer isn’t obvious. It’s one more reason why we also need to harvest the diversity of our teams to find out what appeals to varied groups of people so that we can understand things well beyond our own experiences. 

Or put another way: is there any application of Fortnite that might actually make the supermarket shopping trip more interesting? How about StitchFix? I have no idea, but I bet someone does and if they do it, watch out!

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at <A HREF="mailto: "> </A>.  His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.