Dear Reader

Robin LewisThere are incredible transformative events going on in retailing today. Most of them are due to the necessity for gaining competitive advantage in our over-stored, “share wars” marketplace, increasingly exacerbated by the relentless and rapid growth of e-commerce.

U.S. population resided in rural areas, with scant access to towns and cities, people ordered everything they needed or wanted through their “Internet” at the time (the Sears catalogue). The department stores, located in the major cities, created enough compelling experiences that those rural families would travel long distances and spend the entire day at Macy’s or Marshall Field’s and others. Indeed, these stores were described as “palaces of consumption.” And, even post-WWII and well into the 1970s, department stores continued to be all day outing destinations for families. Then they were not.

The huge irony today is that, just as compelling experiences lured customers away from the Sears “Internet” in the earliest years, and other competitors later, until they didn’t, the department stores are finding they must once again create great shopping experiences to drag consumers away from the real Internet. This time around, however, it’s even more imperative, due to our over-competed marketplace. And, I dare say, given the knowledge and access of today’s consumer, the experiences are going to have to be overwhelming just to get their attention.

The other irony, as an offshoot to this, and not yet broadly articulated, is that as these brick and mortar retailers build their “omnichannels,” they will have competitive advantage over the Internet “pure e-commerce” players like Amazon, Ebay and others. Simply put, they provide the consumer with dual access (online and offline, with the lure of an experience to boot).

So, guess what? Understanding this, and witnessing the Apple experience, Amazon is opening a store in Seattle. And, Google, eBay, Living Social, Gilt Groupe and others are in various stages of considering and opening brick and mortar stores. The game-changing ironies keep coming. “Big Box” retailing is breaking down into “small box” neighborhood retailing to gain quicker and easier access to consumers, and to provide quicker and easier access for consumers. Again, much of this strategy is driven by “share wars,” in addition to the fact that online sales are beginning to lessen the amount of physical inventory needed.

What else happens in an over-stored and – stuffed world, added to by the proliferation of e-commerce, each new site offering a better “deal?” I’ll tell you what happens: It “lowers all ships.” Deep discounting accelerates, eventually driving price deflation. More outlet stores open than full-price stores. Quality and value ultimately decline.

With the consumer driving all of these ironies and more, it is forcing all retailers and brands to pursue greater control over all aspects of their business so that they can respond more rapidly to the ever-increasing expectations from today’s consumers. This translates to a seamless, simultaneous, fast, flexible, transparent, collaborative, efficient and effective value chain from creation all the way through consumption.

A final irony here is that this value chain model was pioneered by Zara in the 1980’s and mis-labeled by industry veterans as “fast fashion,” when its model should have been revered and adapted by all retailers, not for “fast fashion,” but to be as consumer-responsive as required to compete in the 21st Century marketplace.

As always, have a good read.

Robin Lewis About Robin Lewis

Robin Lewis has over forty years of strategic operating and consulting experience in the retail and related consumer products industries. He has held executive positions at DuPont, VF Corporation, Women’s Wear Daily (WWD), and Goldman Sachs, among others, and has consulted for dozens of retail, consumer products and other companies. In addition to his role as CEO and Editorial Director of The Robin Report, he is a professor at the Graduate School of Professional Studies at The Fashion Institute of Technology.