Retail is not dead, it is just changing shape – a lot!

Image credit: noel bennett /

Listening to the news over the past couple of weeks you would be forgiven for thinking that retail is dead.

The rise and rise (and rise) of Amazon (other online channels are sort of available) is like a juggernaut. People complain that they are monopolistic, encourage sweat shop like conditions in their fulfilment depots and put companies, even industries, out of business on a daily basis. Yet, even if an industry dies when Bezos has an idea, the vast majority of people still prefer the ease of clicking once, maybe twice, and seeing their product arrive (wherever) a day later.

The end of retail?

In the autumn of 1999, on a train travelling across Washington DC, there was a heated argument going on. It was not about retail it was about publishing and the rise of the digital publication. A consultant was arguing that physical newspapers would be dead by 2002 (just three years away). The head of a minor trade association was arguing that the consultant should get real, that he had no idea what he was talking about, was obviously from a different planet and how come he was a consultant anyway.

The argument ended with the head of said minor trade association tearing a $20 bill in two and making a bet that physical papers would definitely be around in 2002, unlike the consultant.

The head of the trade association obviously won the bet, in fact he overshot by at least 20 years, and the only reason he still has his half of the $20 bill is that the consultant became an ex consultant soon after the argument and hasn’t been seen since.

The point is that just because technology comes along that allows us to do things better, quicker and cheaper it does not mean the end of the way we used to do things.

Retail is a classic example.

What technology is doing to retail is what technology does to [insert name of industry]. It give consumers more choice and makes it easier for them. It also shakes the industry itself to the core.

Innovate or die becomes the watchword.

Dire warnings from one retail chain before the Christmas Season that their sales were down 15% meant every pundit who was not at the office party immediately announced the death of the retail sector. Yet after it was all over, other retail chains announced that sales were up slightly. And, yes, these chains are the ones that are innovating like crazy and driving innovation across their industry.

Of course, online shopping is convenient and quick. But going to a cool new ‘Market’ that is an attractive destination and a great day out (and away from social media nonsense) will become increasingly attractive. One such example is a multi multi million pound development in an unlikely town in the poorer part of Northern England. Designed like a market, it was – and still is – buzzing. Concessions and store owners simply cannot believe how busy.

It is fun, it is a day out. And, let’s face it, everyone loves a market.

Is retail dead?

No, at least not in the way we know it, Jim.

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