retail news in context, analysis with attitude

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I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

There was a piece in the New York Times the other day about a Seattle-based investor and entrepreneur named Richard Barton, who has been part of such major internet success stories as Expedia, Zillow and Glassdoor.

"He is a staunch believer," the Times wrote, "in the opportunities afforded by giving consumers access to data, including Yelp-like reviews and prices, that did not exist before or were closely guarded by professionals. In conversation, he blends business buzzwords like 'transparency' and 'opacity' with the language of liberation movements, using the slogan 'power to the people' to describe the philosophy behind many of his businesses."

"If we’re doing things for regular folks that make their lives better and save them money and give them transparency, we’re on the side of the angels," he says.

And here's the quote from Barton that really grabbed my attention: "We live in fear and awe of consumers."

That's exactly what every retailer and marketer should do. Retailers - in fact, every marketer - should have that sentence emblazoned on a sign and posted in stores, meeting rooms, cafeterias and even bathrooms. It's that important.

By the way, I'm not usually big on taking retail advice from the investment community - as a rule, I'm more interested in what is happening on Main Street than Wall Street - but I got a note from a friend of mine in the investment community the other day that I thought made an excellent point.

He was writing about investment opportunities, and he wrote:

"Investors always say they want opportunity, but the fact is that opportunity is only created when enough investors don't want something - either because they're scared or the investment is out of fashion - and its price falls too low. Real opportunity is unattractive to most investors (and a great investment opportunity like 2008 is positively hideous). On the other hand, a soaring market like 2013, while quite gorgeous, presents little opportunity. At the end of the day, what investors really need is a more volatile, less-than-beautiful environment."

I'd never really thought about investments in that context before. That's really smart. And I think that the sentiments actually serve as pretty good advice for the retail community.

Opportunity, the argument goes, can be found when things are tough. That's certainly the retail environment right now … the middle class has less money than ever, the bottom third of the economy continues to hurt, there is more competition than ever before, and much of the competition is coming from unorthodox places.

Which is why this is the time not to "get back to fundamentals," to use a catch phrase I really hate. If you're not great at the fundamentals, you have no business being in business. No, now is the time to stretch … to find that great opportunity that most people don't see or are too afraid to invest in … to use consumer knowledge to forge new and unexpected connections to shoppers in a way that gives power to the people and puts revenue in your pocket.

It ain't easy. If it were, in the words of the great Jimmy Dugan, everybody would do it.

That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

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