Sunday 26 March 2017

It Is Now OK To Say Retail Apocalypse

The shackles have been broken. There is no longer an elephant in the room. The current global retail condition has been described as an apocalypse (universal or widespread destruction or disaster) in a number of news articles over the last week.

Let’s take a look at that. This a graph showing the number of US store closures in early 2017.

A History Of Retailing
It is interesting to look at a history of US retailing and let’s make the point up front that cataclysmic change, like we are currently experiencing, terminates many retailers.

In the early 1900’s catalogs were the go. You could buy almost anything from mail order catalogs – beds, plates, pianos, food, shotguns, hats, and feathers. Sears Roebuck came up with the wonderful idea of combining catalogs with bricks’n’mortar stores. They provided assortment, value and service and prospered. Instant gratification was the carrot with nearby stores and a newly established railway system exciting customers. Sears Roebuck became one of the world’s dominant retailers, but how times change. In recent weeks Sears have announced a $2billion loss over the last 12 months and in their words, there is “substantial doubt” for their future.

Amazon’s online catalog is eerily similar to Sears in at least one respect – they have just about everything. They have raised the bar on assortment, value and service, but this time the emphasis is on e-commerce providing a large part of the convenience factor. You don’t have to go to a store.

Walmart’s CEO Doug McMillon recently said –
Our goal is to be able to serve our future customers. To do that, we need to build a strong and capable e-commerce business—but also to strengthen what we’re doing in stores. Customers want to save money and time and have the broadest assortment of items, and we think that by bringing e-commerce and digital capabilities together with the stores, we can do things that a pure e-commerce player can’t.

So what does this mean for retail markets like QVM? We are not immune from the new e-commerce connection. Traders love saying that we are not a shopping centre and new technology has never been part of a traditional market, but isn’t that just another excuse for doing nothing? The evidence is out there.

QVM has started the ball rolling with more engaging social media and it is doing something about the convenience of way finding. The QVM website needs to be more dynamic and more trader-related, and we need better data collection facilities on simple things like customer counts.

But this is a shared responsibility and a lot needs to come from traders. The personal interface between trader and customer is paramount and these days that interface includes e-commerce. You cannot escape it. You cannot sidestep it.  It is what customers expect.

Add in a huge amount of competition from a whole range of sources and Traders must find better ways of being relevant to modern consumers or become one of the retailers that fell by the wayside during the retail apocalypse of 2017.