Why retail trends matter to every business

It's been over four years since I first started to describe how we were living in a world where our definition of good was no longer set within one industry sector or type of activity. If your bank was able to do something then you expected Government to be able to do it. If you were able to get an appointment slot at the supermarket for grocery deliveries in an hour then you expected every other delivery service to achieve the same. The term I attached to this was Expectation Convergence. Our expectations were formed from our whole world view, not within silos as previously happened. Our tolerance for poor service by traditional institutions was diminished by the rise of the FAN (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix) providers.

Then in mid-2017 as I started a new role in central Government I took the John Lewis How We Shop, Live and Look Report into a discussion with the Human Resources leadership team and suggested it should be essential reading for them. As you may expect, this got a few raised eyebrows.

Today the need to understand what is changing is greater than ever. We cannot predict the future (with any accuracy) but we can anticipate and look for early signs of changing behaviour. These become early warning signals for other impacts that may result from these changes.

As we shift from a full lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic towards forms of recovery the need to consider how people will shop, live and look mattes to every business and not just those in the retail sector. Just as rising expectations in one sector set the benchmark for good in another, so too will acceptable behaviour and cultural norms in a socially distancing environment are defined.

The need to keep work and non-work activities separate (I’m not a fan of work-life balance rather thinking about the balance across your whole life) is a topic of many discussions. What becomes apparent however is that the way we behave in our own time and space quickly starts to impact what we do when in a corporate environment. Oddly, many people have forgotten how they use technology in their personal lives when they enter the office but even that is beginning to change.

A long time advocate of video conferencing in a work setting (but changing my view), it has been interesting to observe how the perceived barriers to use have reduced over the last couple of months as people have embraced services like Zoom in their own lives. As shops and other non-essential venues start to open up we are going to see how behavioural norms are established in the space where people want to be able to do something. These will then set up what is possible in the environments, like the office, where people may be less reluctant to push the boundary of what is desirable or possible. Not only does this show what is possible but it also hints at what the future of work will be like.

Change is always going to be difficult. For business leaders then finding ways to take external momentum and build on it will be preferable than trying to do something against the flow. It doesn’t mean you don’t sometimes need to do difficult changes but should look for those you can accelerate because the mood of the general population is also shifting.

As it is nearly always people, not processes that get things done having an awareness of how behaviour is changing in the population helps businesses achieve the most with the teams. That's the first way that observing retail trends can be of benefit.

The second aspect is that unless you're in retail then you're able to observe how behaviour changes and think about what that means for your business model. Even in a business-to-business model then the buyer will have an expectation that is being shaped by their consumer world. Expectation Convergence means that if it's easy to do an online grocery shop then it should be easy to interact with your business as well; not just as a consumer but within the back-office functions at a corporate level as well.

The action you should be taking now:

  • Identify the consumer groups that are most relevant to your organisation and how you can observe trends in their behaviour
  • Consider the adjacent group's behaviour as well since this could show you new opportunities and avoid developing confirmation bias
  • Explore how your employee's behaviour is likely to be changing and see what aspects of this create a flow for you to build on and achieve change at a greater pace
  • Be curious about the changes that are impacting other sectors than your own and look to steal from the best and get ahead of the curve for your customer base.
  • Focus on creating the agility in the organisation to pivot and take advantage of change as the opportunity is created rather than just focussing on how you will survive the next disruption.

Written by

An experienced senior digital business leader with experience of delivering transformative change.

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