Ryan Mathews – Black Monk Consulting
The future of retailing has less to do with technology and more to do with storytelling. Bluntly put, retailing is in desperate need of a new narrative line. The old narrative of, “Once upon a time there were makers of things, and they sent their wares to the happy shop keepers who, in turn, put them on their shiny shelves and opened their doors waiting for the ovine consumers to come in and happily graze off their bounty …,” perfectly describes the past and — in still too many places — the present of retailing, but like so many fairy tales, the plot and vocabulary, while familiar, are getting seriously dated and have lost their ability to inspire.
Countless firms across many industries have been making meaningful progress on this important issue, yet retailers have been laggards. This is sadly ironic, because retailers have better access to data (and the systems to make better data-driven decisions) than their counterpart in other sectors. But because this kind of granular financial thinking often goes against the grain of traditional retail operations, it has rarely been a major focus for them.
That’s because future retail narratives won’t be written for consumers by shopkeepers and manufacturers. Instead they will be written by the consumers themselves and dictated to retailers and other branders. Consumers don’t think about technologies, or channels, or classes of trades or any of the other things that occupy the minds of retail pundits. No, consumers are relentlessly focused on one thing — the satiation of self-defined needs. Increasingly, that need state is best expressed as, “I want what I want, when I want it, accessed in any way I want.”
The difference between a good story and a great one is that a good story informs, educates, amuses, provokes, etc., while a great story allows the reader/listener/viewer to find themselves inside the story. Without doubt, technology provides a series of good stories, but, to become truly future facing, global retailing is in immediate need of a new class of great storytellers.