retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Over the weekend, the always-reliable David Pogue, technology columnist for the New York Times, had a piece in which he looked “to review, to reminisce — and to distill some insight from the first decade in the new tech millennium.” One of the interesting things about it is the fact that a number of the lessons Pogue cited seemed to have some parallels in the retail world. Some examples:

”Things don’t replace things; they just splinter.” Pogue wrote about technology, “TV was supposed to kill radio. The DVD was supposed to kill the Cineplex. Instant coffee was supposed to replace fresh-brewed.

“But here’s the thing: it never happens. You want to know what the future holds? O.K., here you go: there will be both iPhones and Android phones. There will be both satellite radio and AM/FM. There will be both printed books and e-books. Things don’t replace things; they just add on.”

That’s a great lesson for retail practitioners, suppliers, analysts, and even pundits. Sometimes there is the temptation to see change as being absolute, but the simple fact is that in a diverse economy, made up of varying demographic groups, there potentially is room for all formats and retail iterations, the traditional and the radically provocative.

Of course, this cuts both ways - you have to remember that regardless of whether you yourself are traditional or radically provocative. There always will be room for the other guy, especially if the offering is compelling and offers a differential advantage.

”Some people’s gadgets determine their self-esteem.” Pogue wrote, “Today’s gadgets are intensely personal. Your phone or camera or music player makes a statement, reflects your style and character.”

I think it is fair to say that when people feel loyal to various stores, it is because they feel those choices say something about who and what they are. That goes for people who shop at Wegmans or Dorothy Lane Market or Lunds or Bristol Farms ... or people who shop at Walmart or Target or WinCo or Costco.

And it seems to me that if a store does not speak this way to the shopper - does not prompt a specific response or connection, it may be that the store may be too nebulous or fragmented in its approach.

We want our customers to have intensely personal reactions to our choices, even if they disagree with us and tell us so...because the very act of making a complaint often means something else - that they care.

”Sooner or later, everything goes on-demand.” “The last 10 years have brought a sweeping switch from tape and paper storage to digital downloads,” Pogue wrote. “Music, TV shows, movies, photos and now books and newspapers. We want instant access. We want it easy.”

And the next generation of customers will extend this desire...indeed, this demand...to every segment of their lives. Not all the time, and not for everything.

But retailers better be ready with increasingly responsive options...and with evolutionary and multiple offerings that create personal connections with their shoppers.

That’s the gospel according to Pogue, extended to the broader world of retailing...and it’s our Monday Eye-Opener.

- Kevin Coupe
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