Rethinking Retail

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Who’d-a-thunk music and video would one day exist in the ether? Of course, the ether is now called the cloud, and all you need is paid access to plug in and play your own custom collection, accessible from any kind of computer, anywhere.

Well, the music, film, and video industries didn’t thunk it. They never anticipated the shift in form and distribution of recorded content, and have been in a reactive backslide into irrelevance ever since.

A shift in form and distribution is now pushing the retail industry into an existential crisis as well — and no amount of social media campaigns and loyalty programs can save it. The cruel paradox that runs through it all is that, though shopping is taking up more time and space in our lives, we just don’t need a store to make it happen anymore.

Retail can still get its “store on” at two ends of the spectrum — the low-price, no-frills superstore (grocery now comes standard) on one end, or the well-tuned, well-located unique boutique on the other — yet all retailers face a frightening truth: the number that can succeed at these two ends is desperately few. For everyone else, the trends (extreme customization) and technologies (Internet of Things, 3D printing, among others) that are transforming the retail experience are also driving the standard shop-in-a-box format into obsolescence — unless, that is, it’s completely rethought.

I’ll explore this re-thinking in a four-part series, “Emerging Themes in Retail.” In it, we’ll see inspiring examples of brands and businesses that have rooted their strategy in (at least) one of these important trends:

1. Local and Bespoke
2. Transporting Experiences
3. Guided Discovery
4. Omnipresence

As an economic indicator, retail is both a laggard and a leader. When technological “revolutions” make production of goods more efficient, manufacturing and labor are always the first to be “disrupted.” The stress on retail gradually mounts over decades until it reaches a change-or-die breaking point, which is where we are now.

Because retail is undergoing a very visible transformation, business models that win in this sector will be a harbinger for organizations in every industry. Lessons learned from retail can be applied to re-think business models across the board, including energy, agriculture, banking, apparel, technology, education, healthcare, philanthropy and, yes, even government.

Come and explore, over the next four posts, how changes in the retail landscape forecast what’s happening in business everywhere, and what it means for you.

- Also posted on Capsule Design