“Why does it take a crisis for retailers to get innovative?” by Steve Dennis via Retail Wire

“Why does it take a crisis for retailers to get innovative?” by Steve Dennis via Retail Wire

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of Steve Dennis’ recent Forbes article. Steve is president & founder of SageBerry Consulting and a senior Forbes Contributor. His first book  Remarkable Retail: How to Win and Keep Customers in the Age of Digital Disruption  — came out earlier this year.

The COVID-19 crisis has led to tremendous innovation and experimentation on the part of just about every retailer.

From curbside pickup (and other forms of contactless delivery) to appointment shopping, hyper-online growth and more, so much change has occurred in such a short period of time.

Legacy retailers are being applauded for embracing the notion that most customer journeys are digitally-driven and that online shopping and brick-and-mortar stores can work in tandem to produce remarkable results.

To this I say, “Really?,” adding: “Glad you finally woke up, Rip Van Winkle.” (Note to Millennials: look him up.)

Clearly, some shopper behaviors (and resulting retail responses) are very much of the moment and it’s uncertain to what degree they’ll continue. Yet there’s no denying the retail industry witnessed an epic revolution during the past two decades, much of it driven by digital technology. In turn, the power has shifted to the consumer and the underlying bases of competition have been upended. Even in the pre-COVID world, shifts were happening faster and faster all the time.

Many retailers — from Home Depot to Lululemon, Best Buy Nike and many more — were keenly aware of the shifts and responded in remarkable ways well before a crisis. Their commitment to innovation and agile business models explains their better than average performance thus far during the crisis.

Retailers that have been asleep at the wheel do not get a do-over. Their boards should demand an after-action review to discern which outcomes were unpredictable and simply bad luck versus those that reveal systemic failures to understand where we have been headed and why leadership failed to embrace a culture of experimentation years earlier. As just one example, it’s been pretty obvious for close to a decade that BOPIS would eventually become table stakes for most retailers. Yet still only half have implemented it.

I am hopeful that one of the lessons of the COVID-19 crisis is that retailers that defended the status quo will become retail radicals, rewiring their processes to say “yes” more often and aggressively fostering a culture of experimentation. Time will tell.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What lessons does the COVID-19 crisis offer about the barriers retail management teams often encounter to innovation and experimentation? What’s the likelihood that legacy retailers will more readily embrace digitally-first approaches as the crisis lifts?

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