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The Retail Revival: Being Average is no Longer Acceptable

We are living in arguably one of the most exciting times in the history of retail.  Witness the boundless opportunities retailers have to re-invent existing business models of how consumers shop today.  

I recently finished the book "The Retail Revival" by Doug Stephens (aka The Retail Prophet), and I was very impressed by his compelling wake-up call for retailers. My take away? Being average is no longer acceptable! Retailers must take more risks. They must think differently and create a customer experience that is beyond the ordinary. This will be the new norm.

According to Stephens, disruptive retailers will render the status quo irrelevant.  An example of a disruptive retailer, along the lines Stephens writes about, is Walgreens. They have reinvented themselves to become a drug store and more.  Their new strategy of becoming a health and wellness center not only streamlines the path to purchase for customers (see their revamped app), it changes the drugstore model entirely.  

Think about why we go to drug stores – there’s no real compelling reason why I should go to one versus the other – but Walgreens is changing that.  They aren’t just competing with CVS, Rite Aid or Duane Read – they are also competing with Walmart, and Target, and online competitors.  The company's new strategy is aimed at taking on all of those competitors and bringing a level of relevancy that matters - especially when all else is equal.

Three Essential Behaviors

In addition to creating a different kind of experience, Stephens identifies in "The Retail Revival" three essential behaviors retailers will need to practice in order to remain relevant – honesty, illumination and immediacy – all of which should be part of every retailer’s strategy and are worth a mention in a little more detail.

Let’s start with honesty. Every consumer is for the most part – connected – whether its digital, social, or “old school” word of mouth.  As retailers adjust to this reality more fully we will most likely start to see more models akin to a Warby Parker or an Everlane – with transparency around pricing, manufacturing, etc…  At the end of the day – that’s a good thing for consumers as well as the retailers, as Stephens points out clearly in his book.

The second essential behavior in Stephens’ book is illumination.  You could argue that this ties into the honesty theme to a certain extent – but it’s more than that.  As consumers – we can never have too much information. Why?  Because the more information we have the easier the purchasing decision becomes.  This is part of what makes Apple, for example, so successful (among many other reasons).  Unlike traditional retailers who used to put out a dummy version of a product, Apple actually let you try their devices, make phone calls, test the software, compare and contrast.  It seems so simple now – but not everyone has figured this out for their niche yet.

Lastly – the third behavior, and in my opinion the most critical one, is that of immediacy.  We all know the stories of the situations that went wrong, and how a lack of response, or a slow response put the retailer on the defensive.  What we don’t often hear about though is how retailers are flipping that equation and leveraging this real-time connection to their advantage.  Stephens does a good job in connecting the dots on this in ways that not everyone is thinking about.

"The Retail Revival" is an interesting and critical read for CMOs, CIOs, and anyone who is trying to figure out what is next in retail. The actionable survival tactics Stephens delivers provides retailers (who realistically understand where they are positioned) with a sustainable competitive advantage.  

It’s a brand new world.

For those of you who’ve read it, I’d love to hear your take on it. 

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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