retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

I hate to say "I told you so."

Actually, that's not true.  There are times when I love saying "I told you so."  If you're in the punditry business like I am, it is nice from time to time to a) get one right, and b) be able to say so.

That's what happened when Howard Schultz returned to Starbucks as CEO.  (To be fair, I did get it wrong when I suggested that having returned, Schultz would give up the CEO gig there when they pried it from his cold, dead fingers.  He says he's leaving.  I'm taking him at his word.  At least, for the moment.)

Here's another one, which didn't surprise me at all, and that offers an important retailing lesson.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Netflix "is warming up to the idea of offering live sports on its platform—as long as it can do so without breaking the bank, according to people familiar with the discussions.

"The company recently bid for the streaming rights for the ATP tennis tour for some European countries, including France and the U.K., but dropped out, one of the people said. It also discussed bidding for a series of other events including U.K. rights to the Women’s Tennis Association and cycling competitions, the people said.

"Additionally, in an effort to bypass the ever-escalating costs of bidding for sports rights, Netflix executives have had discussions about buying lower-profile leagues, people familiar with the discussions said. The company late last year was in talks to buy the World Surf League, but negotiations fell apart because the two organizations couldn’t reach an agreement on a price, people familiar with the potential deal said.

"Some Netflix executives believe that given the size of its platform, Netflix could turn lesser-known sports like surfing into big franchises, and create new sporting tournaments or events, the people said."

I've been predicting this for some time now.  There is a reason that the likes of Apple and Amazon have been securing the rights to various sporting events, spending billions of dollars to be able to say, "This is the only place to watch X event."  (Like Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime Video.). It is proprietary content - you can't get it anywhere else, which brings more people to their sites.  The goal is simple - Apple wants some of these people to buy iPhones and AirPods, and Amazon wants these people to buy … well, everything else.

It was inevitable that Netflix - which, having pioneered the streaming business, has been struggling lately because of competition - would join them in getting into the sports business.  It is interesting that Netflix may take a slightly different approach to the strategy, which makes sense - if they can build something strong in an untapped area, it could be even a greater competitive advantage.

(One quick note.  Expect these folks to also get into the news/public service business at some point.  If I were at Amazon, Apple or Netflix, I'd be thinking about - depending on the race takes shape - streaming some presidential campaign debates during the 2024 cycle and trying to find a new approach to the concept.  I have some ideas about this, if any of these three companies want to chat about it.)

The Eye-Opening retail lesson?  

Simple.  Retailers have to find ways to offer proprietary, differentiating, unique products, and use these items to distinguish themselves in the marketplace.

Look at your store(s).  How many of the products that you sell also are available at your closest competitor?  At your most effective competitor?  Ninety percent?  More?  (Be hard-eyed about this.  Self-delusion is not your friend.)

And then, figure out a strategy to consistently innovate with new items, new services, and transformational approaches to retailing that make you indispensable to your shoppers.

Okay, maybe not so simple.  But I do think that it is critical to survival, to success.