retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

DALLAS - Fascinating day at the annual Category Management Association/Shopper Insights Management Association convention here, with Duncan Wardle - for 25 years with the Walt Disney Company, most recently as head of Innovation & Creativity - suggesting to attendees that if they see themselves as being in the retailing business, they are likely to be out of business by 2030.

Retailers, he said, sell products - the vast majority of which also can be bought online.  "You're going to be gone by 2030 if you don't offer customers an experience," he said.

Wardle's example:  In 1940, Walt Disney produced Fantasia, and when he was talking to theater owners about releasing it, he wanted to do things like spritz the audiences at moments when there was water onscreen.  Theater owners, of course, said no - too expensive, too hard, and too much trouble.

Which made Disney think about the fact that he was essentially unable to control the environment in which he was trying to tell stories.  He wasn't happy about that, and so he decided to address the problem.  His solution:  Disneyland, which opened in 1955.  (FYI … I'm condensing the story, and not telling it with nearly the panache that Wardle did.)

But his point was this:  One has to think about retailing as storytelling, and that by approaching it from that perspective, it is possible to differentiate one's business from the competition.

While there's no question that AI is becoming a great factor in all our lives and businesses, Wardle suggested that there are four things that AI cannot do:  Creativity, imagination, curiosity, and intuition.  And it is in those four things that retailers can go beyond retailing, and maybe crave out a credible and growing role for themselves.

More from CMA/SIMA tomorrow…