retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

The very smart folks at the Institute for the Future have a fascinating way of presenting potential future trends. They create “artifacts from the future” as if an archeologist centuries from now was looking back on our time or our near future and finding relics from our age.

In that spirit I want to offer us a story about future shopping that highlights the degree to which things are changing, and the breakneck speed at which these changes are taking place.

The son of a friend of mine (his name, nicely, is Michael) recently got married and headed off to Disney World to start his honeymoon before moving on to a Caribbean island. At Disney World, Michael, as is his way, started collecting souvenirs to the point that he needed an extra suitcase.

He went to a shop at Disney World where a standard suitcase was priced at around $300 and he knew he needed another way. When he asked me what I thought he did, I speculated that he summoned Uber, went to Costco, Walmart or Target and bought a suitcase.

Apparently, I am much older than I think.

No, he said. He told me that he pulled out his phone, went on Amazon and ordered a suitcase and had it shipped to his hotel. In two short days, and at a vastly cheaper price than Disney World was charging, he had the new suitcase. It's actually more impressive than that - because in that time Amazon shipped him the wrong suitcase, and after he notified him of that fact, they shipped him the one he was supposed to have gotten in the first place.

Two days. Think about that for a moment.

Here’s what I think we all need learn from Michael and his suitcase. First, Michael is 29 and what he did clearly fit the shopping pattern of his generation. For his entire adult experience he has learned that any problem can be solved with just a smart phone in just a few seconds. Plus, he knows there is always someone who will solve that problem for him.

In fact, it is more than the fact that he knows these things. He expects these things. Which creates an enormous challenge - and opportunity - for anyone who wants Michael and the rest of his generation as a customer.

I think his purchase also demonstrates how little location matters anymore as a competitive advantage. There are few environments in the world more insular than Disney World. As any parent can tell you, when you are enjoying the magic you also know that everything is going to cost you. When your kid wants an ice cream or a drink, you can get it, but it will cost because there is no competitive alternative in the Magic Kingdom.

But even Disney’s borders cannot repel an invader like Amazon. So if you need a suitcase, you can get it.

I was curious how far this would go, and found that with just a few keystrokes, I was able to buy a complete “Elsa, Ice Queen” ensemble (complete with gloves and tiara) on line for under $25. Thankfully I don’t think I have to buy one of these anytime soon, but I’d be willing to bet it costs a lot more than that at Disney.

It’s a stark reminder that traditional retail strengths aren’t enough in this new world with new shoppers like Michael. And there is no magic sufficient to bring back what some might say were the good old days.

Like it or not, Michael and all those Michaels out there are in charge and they know where to go to get exactly what they want, where they want it, when they want it - and for a price that they - not the retailer - think is appropriate.

Fantasyland? Nope. This is Realityland, folks.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.

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