retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Content Guy’s Note: Below is a commentary on the same subject as the video piece, but it isn’t word-for-word the same. You can look at both, or is up to you. I look forward to hearing from you.

I know I’m going to get a little grief about this, but once again I want to talk about Apple. Some of you don’t like it when I do this, the same way some people think I ought to spend less time writing about Walmart. But the thing is, these companies are leaders and newsmakers, and we can learn from what they do and don’t do. So I’m going to keep writing and talking about them until they’re irrelevant.

First up... CNET reports that most if not all Apple Stores around the country plan to cut back on the minimal space that they devote to boxed computer software, as well as on their selection of computer peripherals such as printers, scanners and hard drives.

The reason? Well, Apple thinks that the space would be better devoted to personalized one-on-one sessions that help people learn how to use various Apple products, and that it is this level of service that is really the company’s differential advantage at retail.

While my first reaction to this was negative, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. After all, the stuff that Apple would be taking off its shelves is the stuff that you can get anywhere - including from the company’s website. And if Apple stocks this stuff in the back room, providing a kind of menu listing of what it carries to people looking for software or hardware - something rumors say it may do - then this may be a very smart move.

Too many retailers, in my view, spend too much time and space selling the stuff that does not make them special ... though I recognize that there often are good financial and marketing reasons for competing on the same playing field as everyone else. But compelling retail stories are constructed out of differences, not sameness. No surprise that Apple, a retail pioneer if ever I’ve seen one, recognizes this and is acting on it.

The second thing I wanted to note about Apple has to do with Steve Job’s recent introduction of the iPad 2, and a phrase he kept using during that event - “post PC.”

In part, this is what he said:

“And a lot of folks in this tablet market are rushing in and they're looking at this as the next PC. The hardware and the software are done by different companies. And they're talking about speeds and feeds just like they did with PCs.

And our experience and every bone in our body says that that is not the right approach to this. That these are post-PC devices that need to be even easier to use than a PC. That need to be even more intuitive than a PC. And where the software and the hardware and the applications need to intertwine in an even more seamless way than they do on a PC.

“And we think we're on the right track with this. We think we have the right architecture not just in silicon, but in the organization to build these kinds of products.”

My question here is simple. A few years ago, I’m not sure many people would have thought that a “post-PC” world would happen anytime soon. And yet, here we are, and the plethora of tablet computers about to be unleashed on the marketplace suggests that a fundamental change is happening, faster than maybe anyone (other than Steve Jobs) expected.

So here’s my question: Are food retailers preparing for a “post-supermarket” world? Are they trying to envision what it might look like, how it might be completely different from what has come before, and how they might be relevant?

Change happens faster than ever these days, and takes us in directions both unexpected and challenging. None of us knows the answers, but we have to keep asking the questions, so that when the moment comes, we have the right organizational architecture.

Steve Jobs likes to say that “it is in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough. That it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”

That’s a pretty good definition for what great retail can be, should be, and will be.

That’s what is on my mind. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.
KC's View: