Retail Reflections

The Law Of Unintended Consequences

The Law Of Unintended Consequences

Because I have the pleasure of working for an enlightened, forward-thinking organisation, I am writing this not from the office or even from my home office. Instead, I am enjoying what I refer to as a ‘work break’, not a break from work you understand, but working from somewhere a little further south than would usually be the case.

Mallorca, you see, enjoys something of a balmy climate this time of year, between the sea and the mountains, it’s a great place to work. It also has great roads. And that presents something of a problem. Because great roads have a habit of especially attracting one thing; cyclists. Hundreds of them. Not that I have anything against cyclists of course.

I arrived late on Friday, which was just as well, because if it had been any earlier, I wouldn’t have been able to get to the apartment. Why? Because all the roads had been closed to allow our lycra-clad heroes to hoon around the place in yet another competition to see who could run over the most young children and small dogs before lunchtime.

Who would have thought that in reality we actually like to visit shops. Not our laptops, not our smartphones, and certainly not using a headset

The law of unintended consequences you see. Although I’m sure the local Mayor will be pleased as punch because when they’re not scaring the local wildlife, they can be found in the bars and restaurants around town, a seething mass of steaming lycra. Matching of course. And that got me thinking.

Unintended consequences, much like Liz Truss’s sixth form grasp of economics, can trip anyone up at anytime. For example, take one pandemic, add in a few lockdowns and bingo – online sales go through the roof. Find a vaccine, let everyone out again and online sales tumble.

And there’s the thing; who would have thought that in reality we actually like to visit shops. Not our laptops, not our smartphones, and certainly not using a headset (I’m still traumatised from base jumping off the top of the Burj Khalifa – in virtual reality of course – it all seemed so real).

No, much like the man from Zoom said at a conference I attended in London last week, the new normality is that we expect to be able to work whenever, wherever and however we like. And that goes for doing the shopping too.

We expect to be able to shop whenever, wherever and however we like. And that might, in the future be in the Metaverse (once it’s been invented) but equally it could be on our smartphone on the train or (whisper it) by walking into a shop and talking to a human being.

You probably haven’t heard of S P Setia Berhad, Sime Darby Property, The Employees Provident Fund and Permodalan Nasional Berhad – granted, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but these are some of Malaysia’s most respected property development and investment businesses. Why do I mention them? Because they are behind pumping billions into the Battersea Power Station development which opened its retail and hospitality facilities to the world last Friday.

So why didn’t they just create a version of Battersea Power Station in the Metaverse? Would have saved a fortune. But that’s to miss the point. Because we like human interaction, we like physical experiences, we like creating memories. After all, I didn’t need to come to Mallorca, I could have simply cranked the heating up at home to 25 degrees and listened to the sound of the bath running all day.

Digital transformation

No, we want to experience retail on our terms and this is both a threat and an opportunity. For years we have heard an awful lot about digital transformation without really stopping to understand exactly what it means. But in the new post-pandemic inflationary world we now in habit, the so what? question of why digital? is finally being answered.

From driving greater operational efficiencies to better customer service, digital transformation – out of sheer necessity, must be at the heart of every retail organisation’s strategy. This isn’t (and probably never was) omnichannel, this is unified commerce creating an effortless customer experience.

No longer is digital transformation an option, no longer can it be ignored, because to do so is to consign the business to history. Your customers will see to that.

Andrew Busby is Global Retail Senior Director at Software AG and Founder of Retail Reflections

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