by Michael Sansolo
“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” - Mark Twain
"I'm not yet dead." - Monty Python
Retailers need to think about these two lines, from two highly quotable sources.
Sure, there have been predictions from a wide variety of sources in recent years about the death of retail. Of course, for every report of retail's imminent demise comes one of a new store or format being opened. (Even by Amazon, which, while it closed its physical bookstores and 4-Star stores, continues to open grocery stores and last week opened its first physical clothing store.)
Perhaps the best way I’ve heard of looking at this comes from Chang So, a three-store independent retailer from San Juan Bautista, California. I met Chang at a recent conference where he spoke one of the best lines I have heard in a long time.
“Retail isn’t dead,” Chang said. “But bad retail is.”
He’s got that absolutely right.
The world of retail has taken quite a body blow in the past two years thanks to the pandemic. The consumer acceptance and adoption of on-line shopping was clearly turbo-charged by shopper fears of visiting stores and possibly contracting covid and clearly enabled by improved Internet service that made the entire process more effective than ever.
In short, the future got here really fast and that future brought an entirely new and powerful challenge to traditional retail. But as is often said, the future hasn’t been distributed equally. Some retailers have suffered significantly while others have found a way to quickly evolve and even thrive. As we've pointed out here on MNB, retail innovation in part accelerated because business leaders did not think of it as innovation. For them, in the moment, it was survival - no committees, no surveys, no focus groups, no time to dither.
The difference, back to Chang’s point, is only the good made strides.
For many retailers their three most important attributes of success have remained: location, location and location. After all, wasn’t it always that way?
Well, "always" ain't what it used to be.
Location matters, but the explosion of e-commerce completely changes the meaning of location and convenience. Yes, your store might be in a great location, with all the right traffic lights and turns to enter your shopping center. But that’s not more conveniently located than my laptop and my sofa and that’s the new reality.
To go back to Chang’s point, the challenge is to ensure your store wouldn’t be considered “bad” retail. Make sure your store (your products, your services and your people) brings points of differentiation and distinction that would convince shoppers to go past competing choices and come to you. Those same points of differentiation need to convince them to take the time and trouble to get off the sofa and go to your store.
Finding points of distinction is nothing new in retail. Offering the best butcher shop, the finest produce, the simplicity of one-stop-shopping or just creative merchandising have all been part of this very same journey. For decades on end, retailers have found a way to stand out from the crowd in order to survive and thrive. The only difference today is simply the degree to which it is so important today.
Bad and even mediocre retailers - the ones that are inflexible, unimaginative, boring and indistinct - are at risk. The reports of their imminent demise may in fact not be exaggerated at all.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.