Beefcake actor Burt Reynolds – Hollywood’s biggest box office draw of the 1970s and early 1980s – died earlier this month.
While he will be remembered by his legion of fans for Deliverance, and the Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run films, he sticks in my mind for one great quote: “You can only hold your stomach in for so many years.”
“Snug-fit corsets and a good tailor may extend the deceit temporarily, but eventually the plain paunchy facts have to be acknowledged”
For my money, this is the finest summary yet devised of this painful fact: we can only remain in denial for a limited amount of time. Snug-fit corsets and a good tailor may extend the deceit temporarily, but eventually the plain paunchy facts have to be acknowledged.
Yet today, with CVAs and outright corporate collapses marching inexorably onwards in our sector, I fear that many of us in retailing are on track to hit a head-burying high, turning denial into an art form.
Because for once it’s not the economy, stupid. We cannot credibly place the blame for sluggish sales and declining profits on the Brexit horror, unseasonal weather, rising oil prices, sterling’s weakness or even a cocktail of the above.
The real issue, which none of us can ignore, credibly deny or truly grasp the scale of, is the absolutely phenomenal and explosive mega-power and monster growth potential of Starship WEB. The high-speed rocket to the planet of retail success.
Facing up to reality
There is a whole new world that isn’t experiencing, or being contaminated by, the ‘lack of consumer confidence’ and ‘declining footfall’ that are sorely trying so many players in yesteryear, flat earth retailing, a.k.a. the shop.
From Amazon to Zalando by way of Asos, eBay, Etsy and Very, we see ample evidence of online specialists greedily hoovering up the old-fashioned shopkeeper’s frugal lunch. Let’s face it, bricks-and-mortar retailing is fading faster than sex in a long marriage, and we all need to accept that fact.
Everyone pays lip service to the fact that online is central to today’s and tomorrow’s world of retail – indeed, their sanity would be in question if they thought or said otherwise – but talk is cheap. We are what we do, not what we think or say.
“Would anyone starting a retail business today, with the blank wall of the future to write on, seriously contemplate going down any other route than online?”
If the future is all about the web, why are so many new physical stores still being opened and existing ones receiving major investment in the form of expensive refits? Isn’t this a bit like putting a bicycle tyre repair patch on the rip in the Titanic?
Retail Week got the message some time ago and now sells its fine journalistic product primarily online; but then it did not have the burden of expensive leases on a large store estate to tempt it to defer that decision.
Yes, there will always be customers who prefer people to drones, and want to see and touch the product before buying it. So there will still be a place for some shops whether as showrooms, advice centres or collection points.
But would anyone starting a retail business today, with the blank wall of the future to write on, seriously contemplate going down any other route than online?
Online 2018-style is so simple, safe, proven and hassle-free for the customer as to make it a no-brainer for me as the primary way forward for every retailer who wants to have a future.
Radical change even with stellar opportunities is rarely the easy option – not that retailing has ever offered any of us a blancmange existence. The less attractive vision on offer is frankly a corporate tombstone bearing this epitaph: ‘They wilfully ignored the inevitable outcome.’