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How Not to Die in the ‘Average Middle’

Recently, I wrote about the 'edges' of retail and how some brands were actually performing incredibly well, even without an online proposition. The two examples I provided, Primark and Value Retail, are at opposite edges of the spectrum, but certainly could not be considered in the middle.

I was reflecting on this at NRF last month as I listened to Doug Stephens, author of the hailed book, The Retail Revival, one of the most interesting, thought-provoking and for many retailers gut-churning reads of 2013.  To summarise Doug's talk and his book, retail (as we know it) is dead and that a 2000-year-era of retail has ended.

Those retailers that are still claiming their problems are a result of the recession are just hiding from the truth. We are currently undergoing the biggest shift in consumer behaviour ever, accelerated by technology, and fueled by a much deeper socio-economic theory. It’s worth reading about the X and Y generations and the baby boomers in The Retail Revival to understand more.

At our exclusive NRF event held at the Andaz 5th Avenue, Doug spoke and signed copies of his book. Our clients and attendees gave us feedback that this was the by the far the most interesting and profound speaker they had heard during the whole conference.  

Unsurprising really when Doug talked about zombie retailers and declared that "Best Buy was dead and it didn't even know it was.”  We will see if that prediction comes true, but the point made was that during the post-WWII era, most retailers made billions by being 'distinctly' average. If you could get it on the shelf customers would come. Not anymore. These retailers are the ones folding by the week.

There is some good news for retailers, however, and a plan, or well at least some advice on direction. Doug suggests two axis - High Fidelity or High Convenience - but you should go one way or the other (with clear intention) - to avoid being stuck in the 'average middle'.

As Paul Coby, CIO of John Lewis, wrote in his post NRF blog recently, “whatever tech we use to achieve it, the basics remain the same. Spedan Lewis, the Founder of John Lewis, talked about VAST - value, assortment, service and trust. Your values and how you deliver them, are what matter.”

So, in summary, chasing your tail trying to find technology vendors who have the silver bullet is futile. The technology is important but retailers have to look at their customers and themselves to find their own “Retail Formula” for this next generation of customer experience and consumer moments of delight.

If you need help finding your formula, e-mail us at retailexec@thoughtworks.com  to learn about Product Innovation, Enterprise Innovation, and Organisation Re-Platforming.