We hear and read an awful lot these days that people want to get back to normal. Whatever that is? Often, in their mind they are thinking that normal is pre-COVID-19. Well folks I don’t think that is going to happen. And here’s why.
Whenever there is a significant change in life it never goes back to where things were before the change. History tells us this. Just look at every significant change that took place since 1900. After the First World War things were not the same as prior to the war. After the Spanish flu things were not the same after the Spanish flu. After the advent of the development of the automobile and air travel, we approached travel differently. After the Second World War we developed new social, health and educational systems. After the development of the internet we approached our shopping, communications, and yes even our relationships differently. After each change the way we approached business, work and life after the event were never the same as they were before the event.
Often when people face change, they become afraid – afraid of losing what they have accumulated and afraid of what the future might bring. We still have people denying climate change, claiming the earth is flat, claiming that the US didn’t land someone on the moon, and that 9/11 was caused by the US government.
Adjusting to new realities is a fact of life. We cannot hang on to yesteryear, nor yesterday – they are past. Everyday a new world opens up for us. People who have most difficulty with the new day always seem to see the storm clouds rather than the sun above the clouds. They are shadowed by the darkness rather than the light, which as Leonard Cohn sang (and I paraphrase) always shines through the cracks.
I have seen the same reactions to change in many of the organizations I have worked with. It’s the ambiguity and paradox that we experience as a result of the change. We are not comfortable because our comfort zone is shaken. Our sense of security is lost in the turmoil. And ever so slowly we become comfortable with the new. In these days of rapid change, however, becoming comfortable with the new really means becoming comfortable with ambiguity because the new doesn’t stay very long.
During change we come face-to-face with ourselves. Often it relates to the lack of confidence in ourselves that we can get through this, and that things will be alright. In many ways we have given our sense of who we are over to some other person, institution, or movement. We become chained to what we know and what comforts us and we perceive things through those lens rather than an openness to the different and the new. We can’t seem to let go because we no longer have a sense of control.
Does this then make all change appropriate or acceptable? No, not necessarily – if the change is not for the common good, doesn’t hold to universal principles and values, and isn’t inclusive than it isn’t sound or healthy change. Negative change usually means change for a privileged few or one group over another or for selfish reasons to the exclusion of others.
Reactions to change in business, organizations, and institutions, whether they be religious or otherwise, often get played out by people bucking the change process and wanting to keep the status quo. They often focus on keeping past policies, procedures, structures, and even rubric. What is not realized or understood is that change is evolutionary, unfolding and what worked in the past no longer works today. Each age and stage of organizations and society has its follies which require fixing. As we go through the ‘fixing’ pain occurs. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “there are no gains without pains.”
So what do we do:
So will there be a new normal? Absolutely, but it wont look or feel like the past. It’s about building better and not recycling the past. The real message here though is to be ready for an uncertain future fraught with difficulties and pain but there is hope for the better when people work together to find solutions rather than holding on and holding back.
Thank you for reading,
Since the advent of on-line shopping I have been interested in its impact on in-store retail outlets. During the past ten years I have noticed two significant shifts: 1) Big Box retail outlets keep closing their doors or reducing the number of stores they operate; and 2) Small Box retail outlets are refining the customer experience.
The "click and buy" internet experience tends to be impersonal and cold, however, it is balanced with convenience and timeliness. We can purchase items, any time of the day or night, pay for them with a click, and receive them at our door step within a day or two. But, the experience lacks the social aspect of the shopping experience. That may not be important for the harried professional and time pressured young family, but it is important for those who want and need attention for a special purchase or the meet-and-greet of neighbors and acquaintances in an ever-disintegrating community fabric.
Big Box Resizing
The "click and buy" internet experience has had a significant impact on the "Big Box" stores. Often sheer size alone makes them less flexible to meet changing demands. In the past five years we have witnessed retail outlets that have either closed their doors or in the process of significantly reducing the number of their outlets throughout North America. Here are just a few “Big Box” stores that had strong brand power in the not too distant past and are now closed or reduced in numbers: Eatons, Sears, Radio Shack, JC Penny, Payless Shoesource, K-Mart, Zellers, Ben Moss, Danier, Guess, Chapters-Indigo, The Gap, Hudson Bay, and Macys. Who would have thought that these household retail names would disappear or find themselves in such economic straits that they need to close hundreds of stores, placing thousands of people out of work? (Read more: "over 5000 stores closed in 2017" ; "Major US Retailers Are Closing More than 6000 Stores" ; Canadian Retail Continues to Polarize as Stores Close
There are several reasons why stores close their doors or downsize besides an inability to keep pace with on-line shopping. These may relate to: an inability to keep up with consumer trends; old management processes, systems and technology; a response to economic downturns within their local marketplace; and the fluctuation of taxes and the Canadian dollar.
Another major factor may relate to the 'big box experience.' The 'big box experience’ is one that often overwhelms customers by the: size of the store, expansiveness of the merchandise, sparsity of customer service personnel, quality of products, pressure to push them through the payment line-up, and intrusiveness of security mechanisms. All of which take away from a ‘positive customer experience’.
We do see, however, "Big Box" stores attempting to keep pace with the changing customer needs. Walmart has realized that their personnel need customer service training and improved wages. They are also gearing up to give Amazon a run at on-line shopping. I have also noticed that many of the "Big Box" stores are re-designing their expansiveness by developing specialty stores within their stores. These includes everything from coffee shops to banking outlets. They are trying to turn themselves into ‘customer convenience stores’, or a concept of a mini-mall within their store. And, most of the "Big Box" stores that have downsized are frantically trying to catch up with the "click and buy" phenomenon. The question is, is it too late for them?
Small Box Refinement.
What the "Big Boxes" and "click and buy" lack, the "Small Boxes" replenish. The owners and service personnel of small boxes were always close to the customer. They knew the regulars by name, their sizes, preferences, and in many instances their family members. They connected both on a social and an emotional level. They couldn't compete with the Big Box stores on price and quantity, but they could outwit them with service and quality.
The "Small Box" stores are finding unique ways to draw new customers. They are combining their customer service strength with new approaches to further advance the customer experience. They are not "pushing the sale," but guiding the customer in making decisions and offering opportunities for them to test products. They are creating convenience, ambiance and activity to attract customers. They encourage, what may be called ‘encounters over the counter’, such as: special tasting times in bake shops and coffee outlets; come and go evenings to try on new clothing coupled with refreshments and meet designers and tailors; or, enjoyable conversation and a free cup of brew while you browse.
Although they don’t have the selection and quantity of merchandise they do have access to the manufacturers and can bring a product in within a few days, or have it delivered to the customer's door - just like their big brother counterparts. Price may be a different matter. Often their limited purchasing power doesn’t allow them to compete on price, so they scale up on product knowledge, quality and service.
Employees find a greater sense of purpose working in the "Small Boxes" because the relationships are more meaningful. They are not hired just to stock shelves. They are there to build relationships and create a "Cheers-like" culture where "Everybody knows your name." Their face-to-face encounter is further enhanced through social media and email follow-up. The result is that the employee retention rate for the "Small Boxes" is much higher and customer loyalty is strengthened when compared to the "Big Boxes". (Want to know more: Money Magazine, Kristen Behler, "The Future of Shopping" December 2017; Carl Sewell and Paul B. Brown, "Customers for Life" How to turn that One-Time Buyer into a Lifetime Customer; Darrell Rigby, Harvard Business Review, article https://hbr.org/2011/12/the-future-of-shopping
Where Do Customers Really Shop?
Although there is an increase in the number of people shopping on-line one recent Global study by GfK (Growth from Knowledge) found that people still want to shop in-store. The research pointed out that yes customer's felt that on-line shopping, saves money, is easier, has better selection and shopping is faster; but, in store shopping allows customers to feel and see the products before they buy, is also easier, and makes it easier to return products. The interesting finding from my perspective was that: getting information about a product or service and better pricing or saving money was about equal between the two choices for shopping.
The implications for retailers are two-fold: a) "it is imperative that retailers (and their manufacturer partners) innovate to create reasons to visit, to increase propensity to buy your store, category or brand…and that retail touch points will become more important than ever." and the "second implication is that, to succeed in the future, retail needs to create synergy between on and offline, not diversity. …In future there will be less debate about on and offline, and renewed focus on the fundamentals of choice, price, convenience and experience, and how to meet and exceed shopper expectations in each and across all."
Here Comes the Future
Retail outlets, from my way of thinking, will always struggle to find the balance among the pressures of quality, quantity and price. "Big Box" stores often sacrifice quality in the interest of quantity and price; and "Small Box" stores sacrifice quantity and price in place of quality. Both are continuing to search for ways to attract and retain customers by providing an improved customer experience and timely service.
However, today's retail businesses are not waiting for the future, for them the future has already dawned. Here are just a few examples:
Drone delivery. Drone Delivery Canada has a developed a drone that can deliver goods, food, medicine, bulk mail, and emergency aid. Amazon is testing merchandise delivery via drones.
Robotic service. The Japanese are experimenting with robotic service within the hotel industry, and China is experimenting with robotics in the restaurant business.
3D printing. Home grown manufacturing with 3D printing is well underway. We can now replace parts, make new objects, tools and even medical devices. Go to Youtube.com and type in 3D printing and you will be able to view several examples of the technology.
Augmented Virtual Reality. With virtual reality we will be able to: try on clothing in the style and color we want without leaving our home, test drive vehicles, and purchase virtually anything we want.
Facial recognition. Many countries and major outlets are now experimenting with facial recognition, not only to control fraudulent behavior but also to track customer data. This is still fraught with privacy issues, but the technology is available and being used today.
Driverless Delivery trucks. Europe, United States and Canada are experimenting with driverless delivery trucks, which may shorten delivery time, reduce traffic accident deaths and put thousands of truck drivers out of business. There is still some time to go for this to happen. Some futurists see the requirement for drivers in the city, while hubs will emerge on the outside of the city where driverless trucks take over. Read more
Omnichannel retailing: The name reflects the fact that retailers will be able to interact with customers through countless channels – websites, physical stores, kiosks, direct mail and catalogs, call centers, social media, mobile devices, gaming consoles, televisions, networked appliances, home services and more. Conventional merchants will need to adopt a new perspective – seamless. Read more omnichannel experience.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie
We learned last month that another national store, Sears Canada is currently closing dozens of its stores and laying off over 2900 staff across Canada. I'm struck by the number of businesses that were once thriving and are now no more or in the process of massive restructuring.. What happened? The answer is quite simple: The market shifted while the business didn't shift with it. It reminds me of the saying, "if we don't keep up, we will be left behind."
Just look at some of the market shifts that have taken place in the past five to seven years:
Businesses of all sizes need to keep their eye on the “shifting winds of change” if they want to survive. They will either have to close, adapt or continually diversify their products and services.
Two Important Questions: What is happening in your marketplace that will affect your business? Are you keeping abreast of emerging trends and technologies that will impact your business? Keeping a close eye on future developments may allow you to survive the next shift in your marketplace..
Richard P. Fontanie, MSW, FCMC Up-dated from the archives Fontanie Learning Solutions
Image: Clip Art
When sailing we keep an outlook for the changing winds as they may push us off course. This is a good analogy for keeping our eye on the changes that may affect our business strategies. Maybe this is why we refer to identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis) affecting our business as an environmental scan.
Completing an environmental scan is nothing other than keeping our eye on the winds of change and adjusting our course accordingly. Like sailing, sometimes there is a major storm which causes a crisis within the business, and like sailing we don't change the initial destination. We may need to sail to another port for safe harbour and when the storm passes or the crisis is resolved we set sail again to our original destination - unless of course there is no longer a business case for that aspect of the business.
During the strategic planning process we complete an environmental scan to determine the push and pull of the winds buffering our business. How do we do this? First we don't wait until we have a strategic retreat to complete the scan. Environmental scanning is an ongoing process and we use the strategic retreat to review the information to get a clear sense of what will affect our business in the coming one to five years. And since it is an ongoing process we may be able to avoid a business crisis in advance of it hitting the business. We shift the strategies to meet the winds of change but we don't change the destination barring the exception stated above. This allows us to view our Strategic Plan as a "living document" and we adjust it to meet changes in our marketplace.
Here are eight ways to keep an eye on the winds of change within the marketplaces:
The winds of change in the broader market place are outside of our control, but constantly having our antenna up will pay dividends in managing our strategies and will keep our businesses in a constant state of renewal.
Up-dated from the Archives of Fontanie Learning Solutions.