An Interesting Point of View on the Future of Retail

Once again, my research department has come through. They’ve presented me with a paper from PwC and Kantar Retail that talks in some detail about where they see retail going between 2013 and 2020. It’s a little dated, but still very relevant. If you’re already seen it, never mind.

I suppose one of the reasons I like it so much is that they say a lot of the things I’ve been saying, but they’ve taken 44 pages to say it with more analysis and explanation than I ever have time for.

Here’s a quote from their summary, but you really need to read the whole thing to understand what they mean.

“Success will likely be shaped by several factors, weaved together in a flexible, scalable, and agile model. The winning retailers will have a superior understanding of their consumer, considering income and demographic fragmentation, as well as behaviors, and will have the inert ability to analyze shopper data and extract valuable information. They will leverage technology shifts to their advantage and turn business intelligence and data into actionable insight to grow and benefit the business. They will integrate these insights into the demand chain and into enhanced customer service models. They will have an enhanced understanding of market fragments and patterns of growth and will be able to operate and manage “glocally”- on a global scale with attention to local needs. Leading retailers will address the challenges to their economic models and adapt their frame of mind on store formats, employment models and return on investment. The successful 2020 retailer will also build a true omnichannel operation that allows customers to interface through any channel of their preference on a 24/7 basis, anywhere at any time.”

They are asking retailers (and brands) to think and act in a whole new way the outline of which is already, frankly, pretty damned obvious.

When I finished reading this, the question I was left with was, “What will it mean to be a brand?” On the one hand, it seems like the trends they discuss favor the larger retailers and brands in terms of the investment required.

But there is also a requirement for flexibility and rapid change and that has traditionally favored smaller players. In a constantly shifting global market of perfect supplier and consumer information they describe, where will product and brand differentiation come from? How do you avoid a sea of sameness?

As I’ve said before, I’m already finding that brands are retailers and retailers, brands. I’ve also pointed endlessly (and seem to be doing it again) to the conflict between growing revenues and maintaining brand distinctiveness through thoughtful distribution when your product is not fundamentally different from the competition’s.

I think the study’s authors would argue that flexibility will come from systems that allow data mining and analysis in whole new ways. I imagine that’s true and I recommend being on the leading edge of it. But I wonder if those tools can be counted on to overcome the inevitable bureaucratic inertia of larger organizations.

I guess we’re going to find out. Final thought- just because you are a smaller retailer doesn’t mean this isn’t relevant to you.


Here’s the page where you go to download it as a PDF. It’s called, “Retailing 2020: Winning in a Polarized World.”