Don't fear the reaper: The retail cult of blaming the internet
Is the internet really to blame for everything? Looking at the very mixed retail results from across the UK over the Christmas and early January period, we don't seem to be able to get past online retail as the root cause of every ill. But while the sector insists on remaining stuck trying to close the door on a horse that has well and truly bolted, can it really move on?
Forgive me if I'm being naive here, but haven't JLP, M&S, Debenhams etc got online channels? Weren't legacy retailers in poll position to embrace the future and to make the exact same move that pure players took? Aren't there also a whole bunch of retailers who have adjusted their pricing and products for the consumer and put in strong results? As an industry I think we're in real danger of anchoring ourselves to the past.
I am not for a moment discounting issues such as business rates in the UK or tax liability for sales. Clearly there are things that need to be addressed in order to create a fairer playing field. But over-arching that, it has simply become too easy for poor management to be shrouded by scapegoating the Internet. It's a default which is accepted by the national media but more worryingly often by the industry and all those around it too.
Hot retailers always have come and gone, the industry has always been on a fast transformation cycle - just take a look at any picture of a 1980s/1990s shopping centre and spot the names that have disappeared. Yet somehow we have become tied to the names which are familiar to us now - perhaps it's because we are coming out of the first true generation of mass retailers occupying every town centre, main street or mall (which you may recall people reacted against as every town became a cookie cutter clone of the next). And ironically, we are thinking in static terms just as those transformation cycles speed up.
No retailer has a divine right to exist and yet when you hear some of the legacy operators talk it sounds as if they believe that they do. But to look at what happens next, look at what happened before. In much the same way as consumers complained about the loss of the butcher, baker and candlestick maker on their local high streets, so they drove past those ailing businesses on the way to a Tesco superstore. That was when the fact that £1 in every £8 spent on retail went to Tesco caused fear of 'Tescoisation' and it opened mezzanine levels to achieve its aim of becoming 50/50 food/non-food.
Do you see what I mean about things changing fast?
There is no 'us and them' in retail. The new generation of online retailers and brands aren't replacing retail, they are retail. And they have inspired some legacy retailers to rewrite their strategies, often with powerfully strong effect. We need to start identifying with these new players and the direction they are taking, because they - not the dinosaurs - are what retail looks like.