What industry visionaries can teach us about the future of retail

Dan Mortimer, 22nd August 2018

When everyone seems to be looking to the future, it’s worth taking the time to revisit the wisdom of the past.


This article appeared first on LinkedIn.

When everyone seems to be looking to the future and attempting to make predictions about what will happen in a uniquely challenging economic climate, it’s worth taking the time to revisit the wisdom of the past. There’s no shortage of business visionaries who have valuable lessons to teach the retail industry about transformation and change:

‘Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck where you do not belong’

N R Narayana Murthy, IT industrialist and Infosys co-founder

It’s counter-intuitive and goes against all the evidence that building a digital store is the only way to survive in retail, yet a significant number of retailers still refuse to consider change – however painful they think it may be in the short term – as a positive force for the business. According to research by Cognizant, 50% of retailers with negative to flat revenue growth made no changes or reduced their investments in digital technologies – and 72% of those were concerned that they were ‘wasting money’ investing in this area. It’s clear that the opposite is true – digital transformation means business transformation in the best way for the Board, staff and customers. It’s time to rip off the Band-aid of legacy systems, paper-bound processes, underequipped staff and channel-bound retailing, or the pain will likely get worse as competitors and shoppers leave you behind.

‘The key to success is to get out into the store and listen to what the associates have to say

Sam Walton, Walmart founder

As I mentioned in my last article, working on the shop floor is not easy these days – retail’s most valuable assets are too often overlooked when developing digital store strategies. But who knows better how customers are feeling, what they want from their shopping experience and what tools are needed to deliver it than the people who are dealing with them every day? As management consultants McKinsey point out, ‘…customer experience begins with employees who know about it, care about it, and are well positioned to deliver it. The highly diverse, frontline nature of superior customer experience programs requires a shared aspiration, which can serve as a guiding light for strategic decisions and execution.’ The bottom line? Talk to the people you expect to deliver a profitable customer experience and use what they say to help build a better strategy.

‘If you do things well, do them better. Be daring, be first, be different’

Anita Roddick, Body Shop founder

Retailers ahead of the game when it comes to digital store strategy will understandably want to start looking at what ‘enough’ means in terms of business transformation. The truth is that it will always be a moveable feast – today’s tech innovations will inevitably become tomorrow’s baseline expectations. Click and collect is an excellent example of cross-channel retail which used to be a value-added service and is now a fundamental part of most retailers’ customer experience offering. Looking for a better/faster/more efficient way to deliver an experience which meets customer needs and wants has to be a fundamental part of the way your business works, or even the most tech-advanced retailers will find themselves falling behind.

‘Retail is very simple. We buy in bulk and we sell in singles. But, God, we make it complicated’

Bob Willett, Best Buy CIO

This gets to the heart of what it means to be a successful retailer – making it easy for customers to buy what they want, when and how they want to. Taking advantage of technology to harmonise and streamline the process of moving from buying in bulk to selling in singles, no matter which outlet customers use, can clear all the paths to purchase and deliver an uncomplicated experience for everyone involved from logistics to operations, sales and, ultimately, shoppers.

They’re simple words, based on years of experience, trial, error and success – and they give solid advice for retailers searching for guidance at a time when strategies for survival can seem anything but straightforward.