One of the key challenges facing any retailer today is how to keep track, and ideally stay ahead of, shoppers and a retail landscape that seem to change at an ever-faster pace.

One of the key challenges facing any retailer today is how to keep track, and ideally stay ahead of, shoppers and a retail landscape that seem to change at an ever-faster pace.

Even some of the largest retailers, which historically prided themselves on their customer-centric approaches, now seem to be struggling to adapt to what customers actually want.

The ‘slow death’ or gradual decline that many retailers traditionally suffered has now often been replaced by a single sharp shock that can reverse their fortunes.

A case in point is Best Buy, the world’s biggest consumer electronics specialist. Until recently, it was talking up global domination. However, within a relatively short period, things changed dramatically and the superstore now faces questions about its future.

A deteriorating performance in its core domestic market has forced it to scale back its international presence. Meanwhile, the retailer aims to reduce its store footprint, recognising that opening more and more big stores is not a guarantee of future success.

Best Buy now seems unsure where its future lies. It used to see its Geek Squad customer service division and highly trained in-store staff as a major competitive advantage.

However, last month it said it was cutting hundreds of such positions in the US. A recent scandal that brought about the departure of chief executive Brian Dunn also seems to have left a vacuum.

No surprise then that Best Buy’s founder Richard Schulze now intends to take the company private. “There is no question that now is the moment of truth for Best Buy and immediate and substantial changes are needed for the company to return to its market-leading ways,” Schulze said. “Best Buy’s best chance for renewed success is to implement with urgency the necessary changes as a private company.”

Whether Schulze’s judgment is correct remains to be seen. However, the lesson is clear: retailers of any size should not rest on their laurels. In today’s retail sector, fortunes can change at a stroke.