Technology Doesn’t Change People, People Do

speed kills_FinalPardon me for using the “guns don’t kill people” metaphor. But people are now using the incredible power of technology and the Internet in ways that are disruptively changing our entire culture: some of it awesomely positive, but some of it ominously negative. The myriad of positive effects is accelerating on a daily basis, immediately recognizable as providing “better, easier, quicker, more convenient, more sustainable, more experiential” and on and on. Yet, in my opinion, there is a darker side that threatens to alter our culture in a very negative way.

Today, humans are born with a mouse in one hand and a smartphone in the other. “Digital” is the ‘D’ in our DNA. That is to say that as we evolve generationally, the importance and utility in our lives of newspapers, books, libraries, movie theaters, concert halls, designers and on and on, become irrelevant. Exaggerating a little bit, but you are getting my drift; and we are, indeed, participating in this cultural evolution whether we want to or not. [Read more...]

A Changing of the Guard: An Interview with Tim Greenhalgh, New Chairman of Fitch

Robert-Hocking_final-imageThe last 20 years have been a time of incredible upheaval in the retail order. So with the recent announcement of a new chairman at retail design agency Fitch, I was curious to hear the perspective of an agency that’s spent four decades designing retail experiences for many of the world’s leading brands.

Tim Greenhalgh’s title is Chairman and Chief Creative Officer. Having someone with a creative background at the top of the organisation says a lot and, as Tim sees it, his role is fundamentally about fueling the culture of creativity within the business. One thing is clear: despite the uncertainty facing consumers and retailers, he’s still incredibly bullish on where the world’s going.

In Tim’s words:

“Figuring out retail isn’t easy; where do you pin the tail on the donkey? There are lots of consultancies but our job is to bring creativity to the business problem of our clients and some of the most interesting brands we meet have creative leadership in the C-suite. [Read more...]

The Meaning of Time

SONY DSCAll of us move through our lives with a clock ticking inside our heads. Even in troubled economic situations, time, rather than money, is our most important commodity. That clock tends to tick at relative degrees of loudness. You can meet a friend at Garden State Plaza Mall for the afternoon, and the clock ticks softly, a kind of shopping therapy. At the same mall another time, you want to get in and out as fast as you can. In other words, the meaning of time can change.

My mother was relieved when a 7-Eleven opened a location close to our suburban home in the 1950s. The idea of buying milk for a young family any time of day was a godsend, even if she did have reservations about both the price and quality. Ask a Millennial today where they buy milk, and you get an eclectic list; the drug store, the grocery store, the convenience store, the mass merchant, even the office product superstore sometimes stocks milk. In parts of Europe, you can even buy milk at roadside vending machines. [Read more...]

In Search of The Future

futureThe Past is Not Prologue

I feel your pain, your anxiety, your confusion. I’m just relieved it’s yours and not mine! You are in the middle of chaos, the “Wild West,” in search of the new frontier, and a future shrouded in fog. However, two things are clear. The past will be no prologue for the transformation your business must go through; and if it fails to transform, it will surely die.

The disruptive, game-changing dynamics of the Internet, all of the new retail and supply chain enabling technologies, globalization, and over-saturated markets continue to drive unlimited and instantaneous access for whatever product or service consumers desire; whenever, wherever, however and how often they so desire. The unprecedented convergence of these dynamics of commerce and a 24/7-consumer is arguably driving the greatest transformation in retailing’s history, which will require innovation and creativity; plus fundamental new strategies and systemic change in our business models to succeed into the future.

To paraphrase Charles Dickens’ opening line in his epic Tale of Two Cities, for this revolution, we are now in the most exciting of times and the most challenging of times. [Read more...]

Lost Shack

Radioshack Lithium BatteryThe good news is that Radio Shack has opened five high-profile remodeled stores featuring its “Let’s Play” strategy that sports a cleaner, pared-down assortment dolled up with electronic merchandising wizardry like video screens and audio plug-in stations.

The bad news is that this leaves 4,306 Radio Shack stores in the country that need to be remodeled.

Welcome to yet another chapter in the ongoing retail soap opera that Radio Shack has become over the past few years. The company is on its fourth CEO in three years, has seen its market cap drop to 2% of what it was at around the start of the century, and it has not made money in at least the past four quarters. All the while, it has seemingly had more merchandising solutions than the number of batteries in its ubiquitous signature department. [Read more...]

Crime, Punishment & Retailing

African street vendorOrganized retail crime is escalating, but can law enforcement cope with a global crime spree and a new class of criminal?

When I was eight years old, me, and two equally nefarious friends, decided to hit the local Woolworth. The objective? The new Duncan yo-yo and two green plastic, spacegun-shaped waterguns.

My guys—not exactly Goodfellas—were supposed to distract the cashier and stock boy, but took a powder when they saw the manager grab me by the shoulder. Half an hour later amid threats of prison, my mother picked me up, smacked me on the head and dragged me home where I faced the dreaded “wait ‘til your father gets home” scenario.

So much for my criminal career! [Read more...]

The Death of Mega Brands

P&G’s Tide: Just One Canary In the Mine

Preposterous!!! You must be thinking: “he’s finally gone off his wheel,” when I say iconic brands like Tide, and suggesting that other P&G mega-brands, Chevrolet, Levi’s, Nike, Coca-Cola, Wheaties, Cheerios, Skippy, Ralph Lauren, Gap, and on and on, are going to suffer a precipitous decline in relevance, in sales, and share of market; or drop dead, at the very least.

canary FC_FINALWell, yes, that is what I’m saying, because we are well into what can be called the Consumer Century. So what? All of the mega brand managers and retailers understand the power of the consumer today. Furthermore, most of them believe that classic mega brands are each powerful and compelling enough to win the purchase.

Not a chance. Today, the consumer has the power and is operating on technological steroids bringing mega brand power to its knees. This is due to shoppers’ rapidly increasing power of choice (including price dictation in a world of too many stores and websites, and too much stuff); instantaneous access (ubiquitous distribution); and demand for ever-greater experiences. [Read more...]

The Future of Everything

MakerBot_Replicator2X_high_1In 2011, at the TED conference in Long Beach, surgeon Anthony Atala demonstrated an early-stage experiment that could someday solve the organ-donor problem: a 3D printer that uses living cells to output a transplantable kidney. Dr. Atala and his team take an image of a kidney to create an exact 3D image of the organ, then print the kidney layer by layer based on the patient’s kidney using their own living cells. In seven hours, you have an exact replica, ready to transplant. Given that 90% of the people who are on the transplant list in this country require kidneys, it gives new meaning to supply and demand. Out of all the presenters at TED that year, Dr. Atala made the biggest impression on me. 3D printing is a revolution that will transform our society in ways we can’t even imagine. It will give rise to thousands of new businesses, new ways of distribution, new processes of intellectual property management, and create an entrepreneurial and financial tidal wave that will dwarf the Internet in its scale and disruptive power. [Read more...]

So, What’s a Little Surveillance Between Friends?

surveillanceUnless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard the National Security Agency vehemently denying that its spy program is trampling on the constitutional rights of citizens, while privacy advocates bellow about the rise of Orwellian dictatorships. They do love trotting out the 1984 metaphors.

Frankly, there are hypocrisies on both sides. But retailers using data mining and loyalty programs, could get caught in the wringer if they don’t police themselves and those that gather the data. More disturbing is what I’ve heard in retail circles recently about reining in customer analytics for fear of incurring the wrath of privacy activists.

I sincerely hope that government surveillance is more concerned with terrorist plots than people’s personal proclivities. But surveillance isn’t new. It just went electronic with George Orwell’s vision of an authoritarian utopia and the Internet has simply made it easier. [Read more...]

Lessons from the Internet for Brick-and-Mortar

yg_email_issue6In today’s environment, brick-and-mortar retailers are facing unprecedented challenges. C-level leaders are navigating through increasing headwinds brought on by a confluence of technology-driven changes – including big data, the cloud, mobile devices, and social media – that threaten the viability of the traditional retail business model.

Over the past decade, retailers have made huge strides in streamlining their store operations and supply chains. As a result, additional cost-cutting opportunities are waning as fixed costs of rent, marketing, inventory, and infrastructure become more prominent on the P&L. With today’s retail cost structure, even a few percentage points in incremental sales can mean the difference between continued stagnation and breakaway success. [Read more...]

What’s Up With Social Shopping?

Social Shopping is not a brand-new concept, but the term defines a set of phenomena that have been occurring for several years now. At its essence, social shopping has been focused on ecommerce to a great extent and has flourished in a number of areas, most notably in coupon code sharing, and of course Craigslist. But as the number of smartphones and other Internet and app-capable devices has increased, these phenomena have begun to spread like wildfire into the world of brick-and-mortar retail.

social_shoppingFirst, let’s look at where we are. There are several defined categories of social shopping;

  • Group Shopping (bargain hunting)
  • Shopping Communities (crowd thinking)
  • Recommendation Engines (advice)
  • Social Marketplaces (buyer to seller connection)
  • Shared Shopping (online collaborative group experiences) [Read more...]

The Home Run

photo-11 Don’t look now, but Wall Street is actually loving home furnishings retailers…finally.

Many of the stock prices of pure-play public retailing corporations that specialize in selling home furnishings —Bed Bath & Beyond, Home Depot, Pier One, Williams Sonoma, Ethan Allen—are at, or near, their recent historical highs.

Restoration Hardware, which went public only last winter after years of struggling to right itself financially, has nearly doubled in price in six months and

people are lining up for the company’s next stock offering. Even the recent poster boy of retailing disaster and disarray, JC Penney (née JCP) has seen its stock run up over the past two months by almost a third. And it’s not been on the departure of retail savant Ron Johnson or the return of Magic Mike Ullman, but on the speculative success of the re-launch of the store’s home department.

All of which begs the question: What’s up with that?

OK, first take the recent run-up in home store share prices in the context of the overall stock market. The Dow has been breaking records on a regular basis for much of the past year. Even as the overall economy continues to slowly recover and unemployment remains a huge drag on consumer spending, Wall Street is riding high as the place where people with money…well, put their money. [Read more...]