Beware of the simple narrative.
Things like, “We’re in the midst of a retail apocalypse.” You’ve probably heard that. And you’ve probably heard countervailing narratives that go something like: “No, we’re not in a retail apocalypse.”
But far more interesting than whether we are or we aren’t, is the question of just what’s going on.
I recently put the question to Pano Anthos. He’s the managing director of XRC Labs, a hot house of both retail-related startups and innovative thought about retail and its future. You’ll find the crux of Anthos’ answer in the short video below.
It’s an interesting take, as you’d expect from a guy who spends his days immersed in the rapidly shifting world of retail. And it makes sense. But listening to Anthos, I realized that it almost doesn’t matter whether you’re an apocalypse supporter, an apocalypse denier or someone like Anthos, who sees a more nuanced way to analyze the trouble that some retailers are finding themselves in.
Whatever the reality, Anthos touched on something about which every retailer needs to be mindful. Remember how he said that the part of retail that is being hollowed out is the middle, retailers with “undifferentiated products and stores that don’t really add a huge amount of value beyond what you can do on Amazon?”
He was telling the story of how the digital transformation has put many retailers in the position of selling commodities, the same things shoppers can easily buy in a million other places. And no doubt, inventory and having unique inventory or scarce inventory, is certainly a shield against irrelevance and oblivion. But there is another way, too — providing a unique or memorable experience for customers, something which could also be defined as scarce.
Increasingly, the kind of experience a retailer offers — in a store or on the web — is what retailers have to differentiate themselves from each other and from Amazon. Retailers that offer a great experience — not only as shoppers search for their sites, then search for products on their sites, and then buy, but also after the buy button — have the best chance to survive and thrive in the current state of retail, whether that current state is apocalyptic or not.
Photo by Mike Cassidy
Contact Mike Cassidy at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.