Stop listening to people who agree with you

It’s not just the Internet that is to blame for serving us only with news we want to see with opinions that reflect our own. It was ever thus. My parents chose the Telegraph because it presented a view of England unchallenged by what was actually going on around them.

We’re now all in danger of becoming small-minded at exactly the moment we need to wake up and not just smell the coffee but realise that it may be sourced from plantations that don’t pay their workers properly, shipped in aircraft burning fossil fuels, stored in packaging that may leak chemicals, and creating a dependency that is not healthy, antioxidants or no.

Who’s really getting to the truth?

Like you, I don’t believe most of that but I am willing to be challenged on any aspect of my coffee consumption and on any other opinion I may hold about my specialist subject, Retail, because we are all in danger of accepting a single view of the future of the industry that simply cannot catch everything that is really going on.

The truth is, one department store chain got itself into trouble because it re-platformed its fast-growing ecommerce business, which stopped that growth in its tracks. It might otherwise have had time to continue on its digital transformation journey and kept the banks at bay a while longer. And that’s just one retail business. The idea that many of the ills affecting UK retail can be packaged into a shortlist called 5 things to do to save UK retail, is disingenuous to say the least. And not the least helpful to individual retailers trying to find their own way forward.

Retailers are still making basic mistakes

We can agree on certain truths – all retailers need to get better at understanding and responding to their customers if they hope to keep them, but this is not the answer for all those retailers that still cannot get the basics right. Why is there no cheese at noon on a weekday in my local convenience store? What possible reason can there be, which I might accept as reasonable, that there is no cheese! This is a supply chain screw up that continues to affect this particular retailer and other lines in its chiller cabinets, to the point where I have just given up and gone elsewhere.

This is not a problem with the new dynamics of retail, this is a problem as old as the hills that many retailers seem unable to fix. And yet, we all get together to agree about what the future of the store needs to look like, tech-enabled, customer-sensitive and replenishment-active, whilst the basics continue to go unaddressed.

Consumers are calling the shots

This was once not a problem, because competition was low, customers compliant and availability limited, but now, with customers calling the shots, these businesses that cannot get the basics right are in trouble, particularly in the face of a growing band of retailers who are taking the trouble to reinvent themselves.

So, instead of agreeing with each other about all the things we already agree on, let’s acknowledge that many retailers’ malaise runs a lot deeper than we would like to admit. Let’s talk about management isolation, cultural inertia, functional silos, fear of failure and shareholder indifference. Not the prettiest way to talk about retail but it is often one or all of these that really bring a business down.

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