Future of retail - people like to buy from people they like

Another brilliant blog from Jon Bird in his piece for InsideRetail Asia - a must read in the debate about the future of retail….personally from my travels around the world I find the retail future is currently being shaped out of low hanging fruit, arrogance and relevance. Not physical versus on-line.
Let me explain in reverse order:

‘Relevance’ - simply put, some things lend themselves perfectly to on-line and that’s simply the way of the world – just like some retail experiences don’t lend themselves to self-service and some do. If what you’re selling perfectly suits an on-line world much better than a physical world, move on, the people who were selling wooden tennis rackets have.

‘Arrogance’ - over the recent past, retailers have become incredibly arrogant, doing things that suited their bottom line and not their customers. Take for instance same-day home delivery (boy on a delivery bicycle etc) or free garment alterations or (the one that always cracks me up) would I like to have my new bed delivered because there's an extra $50 charge - no thanks I was thinking of carrying it home? Then there's the complete absence of sales assistants that truly know what they were talking about…or even dare I say, experienced sales assistants on the sales floor empowered to make decisions, there to make the buying process a joy and pleasure. Each of these little emotional triggers have been cut away in the march for profits – we have been told it’s to keep prices lower but we as customers know it’s about bottom-line.

‘Low hanging fruit’ – retailers the world over have simply been asleep to the threat of pure-play operators. It’s a mistake to draw a straight line from the last 5-10 years and expect the trend to continue upwards and away from ‘retailers’. The successful retailers will ‘morph’ into multi-channel operators and then do it a good deal better than the individual parts are being done today. The brilliant Jon Stine from Cisco more accurately calls multi-channel: ‘channels of influence’. With each channel seamlessly influencing the purchase when the customer wants, how the customer wants.

So for what it’s worth my view is that the low hanging fruit has been picked, the pure play operators are looking for physical presence because they now know that’s what their customers now need on the journey to deliver greater service and commercial success. Successful retailers are eschewing anything that talks about ‘their’ agenda and instead, celebrating their customers' agendas and for these operators there’s not a hint of arrogance anywhere in their culture. And finally, in true Darwinian style, successful retailers are ensuring they’re relentlessly relevant, adapting how they work and what they offer in order to survive, in order to succeed. Because to succeed, profits in this day-and-age must be an outcome, not a purpose. 100 years ago, Gordon Selfridge opened the eponymous department store in London claiming it was a place for people to gather and then,  if they saw something they liked, to buy it. Selfridges still leads the way, with the ultimate flattery of Apple Retail executives rumoured to be loving it and inspired by it! The reality is successful Retail will always move-on but some things remain the same – given the choice, most people like to buy from people they like. And it’s easier to like someone you can see.