retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Doesn’t anyone study history anymore?

You have to ask yourself that question after reading of all the discussion in France about keeping Amazon and other on-line merchants out, or at least reducing their ability to compete and protecting smaller, independent booksellers. You can almost hear the impassioned arguments to build a wall behind which French retailers will feel eternally safe.

Until they read their history books, that is.

In the 1930s the French actually did build a wall, but to keep out the Germans, not e-tailers. The wall, called the Maginot Line, was supposed to be an impregnable defense that would prevent the type of fighting that so scarred the country in World War I.

While the line prevented a direct German assault, it proved completely useless in World War II when the Nazis simply outflanked the Maginot and conquered France in about six weeks.

Just as walls can’t stop a determined army, created barriers won’t prevent a new idea from taking hold. Rather than look for protection, French retailers need to consider every way possible to combat’s advantages. (The same holds true for car dealers concerned about Tesla and cabbies facing Uber competition.)

Fences may make for great neighbors, but they are a terrible competitive strategy.

That’s both a lesson from history and an Eye-Opener for today.
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