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Sunday Soundbite

Who cares what the future of retail holds?

Chris Field
Chris Field

What is a retailer to make of news that says the future of the store is safe one day, then reports that it is doomed the next?

Clearly, closing stores is working for some retailers – while others can only see growth by opening them.

Does anyone know the answer? And if they do, how will it help, when every retailer is different? Should we listen to everything that comes our way, or hide under the bed until things settle down?

Sadly, the latter is not an option. I guess we can agree that things will never settle down.

Or will they? Surely, there comes a time when there is no more power to transfer to the customer (as is clearly happening now), and we achieve a kind of balance.

Right now, the power is entirely in the customer’s hands, and redressing that balance is proving a struggle. The economics of online retail, for instance, will never work while retailers continue to go for growth and market share at the expense of profit, and fail to embrace the tech and processes to stop the leaks.

While other people are tossing a coin to try and understand what the future will look like, I am in the middle wondering why more retailers don’t spend time and money trying to fix what’s wrong right now.

It’s not glamorous to talk about ‘a single view of the truth’, but until retailers have it, no amount of innovative optimisation tools will help them. Bluntly, if you don’t know where the stock is, you can’t really allocate and replenish it any better.

So, it’s not the future that retailers need to prepare for, but the present; that stark reality of falling profits and rising costs can be fixed now, without getting distracted by a future that no-one can predict.

We already know that the cost to serve is high (although I can’t for the life of me understand why no-one can produce a true calculation, even if doing so is difficult!); so why not focus on improving the many little inefficiencies that add up to an expensive result?

The tech industry is awash with solutions that address current needs. Finding the right one can be a struggle, I know, but the effort is worthwhile – and some of the smarter retailers seem to have found the answer to curating innovation and nurturing it through to implementation. It may not be working yet, in truth; but at least the model is there.

In short, the technology may be futuristic, but its value is current. The vendors that get that message right will be the winners.

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