Christians vs lions: Which side of the retail battleground are you on?

“The lion, which is mightiest among beasts and does not turn back before any.” – Ancient proverb.

I imagine it can’t have been easy being a Christian lining up against the lions in those big match colosseum events, being outflanked, lacking the speed, aggression and guile of those fast-moving predators.

An extreme example of being outplayed perhaps, and as Charles Darwin observed, it is the most quickly adaptive of the species that survives perhaps even against the might of the lions.

So what do we as retailers take from these simple analogies, especially in the context of the global lions of retailing that we are experiencing first hand in Australia?

Sydney CBD retail is currently a prime example of the power of these global brands – when you consider that between Apple, Zara, Top Shop alone there is well over $150 million spent yearly in these three physical stores alone (excluding online sales) in a consistently reported static retail sales environment.

Why are these three retailers doing so well in an environment when clearly some of our local retailers are not travelling so well? Now add H&M, Abercrombie and Fitch, Uniqlo and others to come and we see heavily globally adaptive retailers staying ahead of the game at all points.

These businesses are reinventing in terms of scale, brand, use of media channels, social media, aspiration, segmentation, merchandise, omni-channel, in-store experience, design both in store and in product.

Their high focus on research, understanding the consumer and presenting the perfect integrated solution at all levels really equates to a highly adaptive “fit” retailer.

By way of example, Top Shop’s 100 or so London-based product designers, whose entire focus is on creating product designs, versus some localised retailers who singlehandly search out trade fairs and knock-offs, or in some cases, genuinely burn the midnight oil to compete. Department stores also rate a mention, yet I could devote a paper to the challenge that the likes of Top Shop represent in this category.

We are waking from the golden slumbers that the tyranny of distance once protected, being pricing and margins. Retailers now face a customer revolution where full price comparison and the most incredible consumer research tool was and is at everyone’s fingertips and places some of our retailers in the world of Alvin Toffler’s “future shock”.

So what is left behind or in the wake of these juggernauts? It is for many local retailers about moving with grace and agility to outpace the lions in this battle. And some meet the challenge beautifully – think Lorna Jane, Peter Alexander, Cotton on to just name a few.

Capital investment underpinning competitive advantage and innovation, digging in for the long haul, embracing new and unique omni-channel strategies, resourcing accordingly in skills that seem so far removed from retailing and possibly even chancing our arm are the new required attributes to compete.

Or in the true spirit of risk mitigation, sometimes we just have to say when we are out competed and simply move on rather than linger to the inevitable shadow of what was once a relevant business. After all, every business has a life cycle; the trick is to know which side of the curve you are on.

The summation is that doing the same old thing probably puts you on the Christian’s side of the battleground.

Happy ‘fit’ retailing.

Brian Walker is the managing director of Australasia’s leading retail consultancy, Retail Doctor Group.


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