On Resurrecting Retail — A Book Review

I read Doug Stephens book on Resurrecting Retail so I’m excited to share my thoughts on the 3 main ideas I got from it that will reshape the world of retail if done right. I focus on physical retail since I’m not that interested in e-commerce because Amazon won.

WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE?

Purpose is the new positioning.

The idea that “Purpose is the new positioning” is an understatement. Here, Doug Stephens abstracts the complexity of designing a 21st century brand with a simple question, “If your brand is the answer, What’s the question?”. It’s such a simple yet powerful framework which to me unmasks the reality that many brands simply don’t have a reason to exist because they don’t have a question to answer. I think this is super important because consumer attention is now dominated by all kinds of information which we are evolving defenses against.

Emotional Visibility — that is becoming the “emotional default in the lives of consumers” becomes how we must capture a̶t̶t̶e̶n̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ hearts and minds in the new economy. It’s been done forever through storytelling. Nike does it by answering the question, “Who inspires you?”. In sponsoring athletes and celebrating their greatness, Nike is perpetually breathing life into what are otherwise lifeless objects on their store shelves. This in-turn gives their products life and personality which people build emotional attachments to.

Nike vs Your Brand

THE MALL MUST BE SAVED.

In 2008, President Obama swept America with a campaign seeded from farm houses in Iowa. I believe that in the near future both mainstream and insurgent candidacies will be seeded from a mall if its promise as a social platform is actualized.

The new anchor must be the community it serves and the people in it. ~ Mark Toro

The mall is a social platform.

The mall is the greatest social platform that no one cares about (except me). Doug Stephens described the mall in its prime as “an analog version of the internet”. The mall was a Facebook, a Netflix, a dating app, an Amazon and UberEats all in one.

I think the biggest problem here is in the business model — The view of the mall as a commercial real-estate holding as opposed to a social platform. Since department stores have lost purpose, they are no longer fit to anchor the mall (I think they should be evicted). Like Mark Toro said in a Retail Prophet Zoom conference I attended, The new anchor must be the community it serves and the people in it. Store transactions must come secondary to community engagement.

Mall’s need a performance act.

There’s a-lot to decode here but the most enlightening part of Doug’s thinking to me was his analogy of shopping centres being glorified tents missing a Cirque du Soleil act. If I could reach into the future and paint to you what the mall looks and behaves like, I would say it’s like a Victorian era ballroom. The past has all the answers that the present needs to build the future if you ask me.

WE NEED A NEW PRICING PARADIGM.

When I was in University, Sociology surprisingly ended up being my favourite subject. I subscribed to the Functionalist theories which argued that any behaviour that exists in society whether deviant fulfills a needed social function otherwise it would not exist. The retail industry has always had a malignant discounting problem who’s function was to generate demand when consumer spending pulls back. The problem is that discounts are now expected by consumers — actually, they are the price. They don’t generate the excitement they used to so what function could they possibly be fulfilling?

Never Ever Discount. Ever.

The most ground breaking idea in Resurrecting Retail was just a title backed by 3 paragraphs, “NEVER EVER DISCOUNT. EVER”. So if the existence of discounting is supposed to be functional but the effects are instead destructive (Devalued goods & brand equity), then extending the functionalist logic, discounting as a pricing paradigm must cease to exist. Discounts however continue to exist which leads me to believe that it is price tags that have outlived their utility since discounts are just a deviation from retail price tags.

No wonder discounts persist — It’s because price tags are an inefficiency.

Price-tags must cease to exist.

Consider an iPhone and an Android both priced at $1,000. My personal preference is the iPhone but if I got the Android instead, the utility is objectively the same. The same is not true for many retail categories like apparel. People are skinny, fat, tall, short, light, dark, funny, not funny, social, anti-social, good looking and no comment. The utility (Where utility = how good do I look in it?) of any piece of apparel will vary infinitely…So price it the same for everybody? Super Dumb! 🤦‍♀️🤦🏻‍♀️🤦🏽‍♀️🤦🏾‍♀️🤦🏿‍♀️

No wonder discounts persist — It’s because price tags are an inefficiency no one thinks about. They are backed by a brand’s homogenous perception of a product’s utility. This is then invalided by consumers’ diverse perception of said utility giving birth to…the discount. Like Doug said most corporate leaders would rather use a tactic they know won’t work than a tactic they don’t understand”. I believe that many products shouldn’t be priced (Note: I didn’t say that they should be free).

Measuring the store of the future.

I subscribe to Doug Stephen’s point of view that stores are no longer distribution channels rather, they are media channels and “media is the store”. What he means is that whereas the old POV of the store being a distribution channel meant creating ads to push a brand’s own selfish need to drive sales onto consumers, the new POV of the store being a media channel means creating content and experiences that pull customers into your brand’s ecosystem. This then demands a new metric by which to measure the productivity of the store.

Doug proposes measuring the “value per media(customer) impression” and the quality of those impressions. I agree with him and believe that it’s only possible if the new media driven store adopts a new pricing paradigm. Price tags (used by distribution driven, industrial era relics) are the greatest point of friction in today’s retail experience. I believe that they are incompatible with a future of media driven retail store experiences.

Thanks for Reading! 👋👋🏻👋🏼👋🏽👋🏾👋🏿

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