The rise of Retail Darwinism: It’s time to survive or die

By Rhena Bunwaree

With recent major job cut announcements from Boots, Waitrose, Debenhams and Bathstore, there’s little doubt retail is undergoing a seismic change.

Spending is switching to online, and we are splashing out less on things, and more on experiences, with consumers prioritising discretionary spend on going to the cinema and eating out, flipping the idea of shopping as a leisure pursuit in its own right on its head.

We caught up with Natalie Berg , retail analyst and author of the newly launched book ‘Amazon: How the World’s Most Relentless Retailer will Continue to Revolutionize Commerce’ at a recent event by RingCentral.  She was discussing the fundamental shifts transforming retail in what she believes amounts to a race for the fittest to survive. We’ve rounded up her key observations:


As shopping habits change, it is no surprise that in the future we may have fewer stores – but it’s not all bad news, as we will see the emergence of fewer but better stores.  The Amazon effect is well documented, but this doesn’t tell the full story. What about the Aldi effect? Or the Primark effect?

Increasingly, we will see the rise of more nimble and dynamic bricks-and-mortar retailers displacing other retailers on the high street, wiping out the likes of department stores that have large store footprints but questionable relevance and specialist retailers that have forgotten how to be special.


Retailers’ struggles stem from another problem too. Being relevant to your customers in times where things are changing so fast is a major challenge. And if you cannot differentiate yourself from your rivals then yes, you might just be the next victim of the retail apocalypse.


Amazon is killing complacency – but it is not killing retail. Often painted as the death knell for the High Street, Amazon’s force for good has given us access to millions of products at our fingertips, that magically turn up at our doorstep the same day, next day, or within a couple of hours.

And if you stop to consider what we expect when we shop online today – user generated reviews and ratings, personalisation, online checkout – this all amounts to an impressively seamless experience when shopping online, which we can’t help but admire. This is the Amazon effect – the rise of digital check-out resources and delivery that is very reliable. And it’s redefining retail standards and customer expectations, which other businesses are looking to emulate; Waitrose now promises two hours delivery outside of London, and Walmart will even deliver groceries into your fridge – whether that’s creepy or convenient, this could well be the norm of the future. Just think, five years ago, getting into a car with a stranger was creepy, but we all use Uber now.

Amazon keeps retailers constantly on their toes. Because Amazon is breathing down their necks, they have no choice but to offer something better to the customer.


Retailers are also realising that pureplay ecommerce is dead.  When you opened stores, it created a halo effect for ecommerce sales because it generated awareness. Not all ecommerce retailers have stores – take for instance Asos and Wiggle, who have no stores, but they use Asda for goods collection because they recognise the importance of having a physical presence.  So, despite all the changes on the High Street, the store is here to stay.



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