LONDON, United Kingdom — “It’s like standing in the middle of a hurricane and trying to grab things that fly by you, and hoping you’ve grabbed the right thing that can save your life,” says Doug Stephens. “That’s the way retailers feel.”
The renowned retail industry futurist, advisor and author talks to Imran Amed about how brands can make sense of all the change that’s happening in the fast-evolving retail landscape. One of the biggest challenges is a shift in distribution, as insiders are saying the days of wholesale are numbered. “They’re not delivering the kind of experience that brands would like to have associated with their products,” says Stephens. “[Brands are] in the cold, hard light of 2018 evaluating the relative equity that they get from distribution of their products through merchants.” And during that reallocation from wholesale to direct-to-consumer, Stephens advises to first define experience and build perfection on a small scale.
But customer acquisition for direct-to-consumer brands is more difficult than ever. “Product on its own is not enough. There is just too much out there and there’s something new every day.” Stephens’ secrets to the perfect retail experience? “Surprise, uniqueness, personalisation, engagement and repeatability,” he says, although noting they are not features he has been able to find across many luxury and fast-fashion retailers.
Another challenger has been Amazon. “They should be haunting everyone’s dreams,” Stephen says, because at its core Amazon is a data innovation technology company, rather than a retailer, making it flexible in any product category. While luxury has been hard to crack for the company, large fashion houses will inevitably end up on the site, since the opportunity will be too large to pass up. When that happens, “my encouragement would be [to] do it with your eyes wide open and pack a parachute, because Amazon does not have your best interest at heart,” he continues.
His advice to chief executives of retail and apparel companies is that “innovation, by definition is uncertainty, if you’re doing things that have never been done before ...you have to be willing to embrace that uncertainty.”
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