Reading some of the articles surrounding the current state of retail, I can’t help but think of that old ‘The king is dead! Long live the king!’ saying you hear in movies whenever a historical monarch passes.
Given the fairly recent news of Toys R Us filing for bankruptcy protection, and the earlier bankruptcies of major retailers such as Payless and Radio Shack, it’s easy to see why many believe retail is dying.
Of course, retail as a whole isn’t dying.
Parents still buy toys for their children. People still wear shoes. Devices still need doodads to connect to other devices. (Yes, Radio Shack escaped bankruptcy a few years ago by partnering with Sprint and focusing on cell phones, but cell phones still require doodads of their own.)
The reason why these long-established companies are going bankrupt is because retail has evolved, and these companies have failed to evolve alongside it. This isn’t the first time this has happened, either. Just look at what happened to music retailers in the wake of digital media: Big-label record stores either shut down or shifted their inventories from music to movies and kitsch, while a handful of upstarts who embraced digital media, such as streaming services, quickly became multi-million, or even multi-billion dollar companies.
So how can you make sure that you’re on the cutting edge of an evolution, and not left to go the way of the dinosaur?
Identify Change Early
The expression “If it were easy, everyone would do it” most certainly applies here. It’s often difficult to see the changing tide when you’re swimming in it; it’s important to be very mindful of what’s going on in your industry. Has your business very slowly started to wean? Has your customer base been shrinking? It’s possible that a new technology, or a new industry trend, is slowly chipping away at your pool of prospects?
Try to keep your finger on the pulse of your clients. Research can often help you to identify changes in the needs, goals, and desires of your target customers, as well as identify any potential demographics that you may currently be under-servicing. And don’t be afraid to poll your most loyal customers for feedback on how you can improve your service; while they might not know the ins and outs of your industry, they may be able to provide a seed of an idea that could grow into an industry-redefining change.
This research can also highlight non-industry shifts, such as changes in income or affluence in your customer base, or a shift in client expectations.
See What Others Are Doing
While it’s usually better to be on the forefront of change, following the lead of your competitors, or even those in related industries, is still often much better than being left behind. After all, most people have some level of ingrained customer loyalty and a preference for familiar brands. If a competitor is starting to lure away some of your customers with a new technology, product, or service, then that means that there is a need or desire that you aren’t currently fulfilling.
In the case of retail, convenience plays a massive part in the slew of bankruptcies. Online purchasing allows customers to not only make their purchases in a bathrobe from the comfort of their living room, but to also makes it very easy to look up product reviews and do some bargain-hunting as well, all with a few clicks of the mouse.
Many big-box retailers are adapting to this by including online ordering and delivery to their own websites. And while those online sections aren’t going to make them as successful as the online purchasing giants such as Amazon, it does at least give their loyal customers the option to remain brand-loyal while enjoying the conveniences of shopping from home.
There is a caveat…
While adopting new tools to help you better serve your client base is great, it’s important that it’s also appropriate with regards to your business and branding. For example, it’s possible for a barber shop to obtain a liquor license in Ontario to serve beer to waiting customers, but doing so could very easily betray the brand of a family-friendly or community-focused business.
See What Others Aren’t Doing
The best opportunities are often found through under-served markets and novel applications of existing technology. In other words, it’s being able to identify how you can be the innovative force that changes the way your industry functions.
Of course, this is easier said than done.
This is much like ‘identifying change early’, in that it will likely take a bit of research and require one to pay attention to emerging technologies in not only your industries, but in other industries as well. And the process isn’t an easy one, either; being the first means that you are going to need to do a lot of digging to even find out if the idea is even logistically possible or financially viable—and, if not, if there is some sort of work-around that would make it work.
In other words, innovation requires ‘Research & Development’.
Wait… Don’t massive companies have highly-funded think tanks doing R&D?
If you’re reading this, you’re most likely in a small-to-mid-sized business. As such, you most definitely don’t have the tens of millions of dollars to dump into R&D like the goliaths in your industry. However, your size actually tends to work to your advantage when it comes to change—it makes your business agile.
I won’t go too into detail here, because the concept of business agility is one deserving of an entire article to itself. The gist of it is that smaller businesses aren’t as bogged down by bureaucracy, and find it much easier to pivot to meet changing trends in technology, demand, economics, culture, and so on.
Test The Waters (In Moderation)
Of course, to jump head-first into something new and, to this point, unproven would be a fool’s errand. Every major change should be thoroughly thought-out and tested, particularly if it represents a radical departure from how you have thusfar been doing business. To cite our initial example, if Toys R Us were to completely shut down all their outlets overnight to convert to an entirely online store, they would likely anger and alienate a good deal of their loyal client base, and suffer devastating losses in sales and customer confidence with every bug and wrinkle in the new system that they need to iron out.
At the same time, you do need to give your new concept enough breathing room to thrive. Quietly opening a ‘shop online’ section without any sort of customer awareness isn’t going to yield any results even if it would be a crucial step to your company survival.
Also, if the new concept doesn’t seem to work, don’t just throw it away—ask yourself why. Assuming you’ve done your requisite groundwork, there’s going to be something you’re missing. That ‘something’ might be a rectifiable situation that’s holding your new technology back (such as a lack of awareness that the Toys R Us website actually does have online shopping), or it might point to a completely different pain point that you will need to address (such as an inability to offer a competitive price point while sustaining your current business structure).
Information is power. And even if your foray into the cutting edge isn’t successful, at the very least it should provide some extremely valuable insight into how your customers, your industry, or even your own business is poised to evolve.
Jumping on the Cutting Edge?
Awareness and execution are extremely important when testing a new business venture. Precision Impact and our affiliates can help you to develop whatever marketing elements you need to ensure your new venture gets a fair shake, be it new branding, a dedicated micro-site, a launch/awareness campaign, branded give-away swag, and so forth.
We can even help you to develop various digital concepts, such as e-commerce, custom interactive web applications, and mobile apps.
If you’d like to learn how we can help, contact us today.
He is also unable to make a 'Penseur' pose without looking at least a bit ridiculous, as evidenced by his profile photo.
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