Opinion: ‘Why’ is more important than ‘what’ for successful retailers

Kevin Barrett

I have two daughters. Last weekend, I found myself fielding the following questions (among others): “Dad, why don’t people share their homes with homeless people?”; “Why did the First World War start?”; “Why do I need to do maths when I have a calculator on my phone?”; “Why do I ...

Neither of my daughters stops asking “why”. So why do we often avoid asking it in business? This seems especially relevant in today’s climate, as people question the role of capitalism in the face of the societal and economic challenges of today.

The simplest definition of business I know is to sell a product or service to customers for more than it costs to make and deliver. This answers the question “what”.

Often companies leave it at that. Some may thrive and survive because the founder is charismatic enough to persuade people to follow them. Perhaps there is a gap in the market that can simply be filled. But this risks the company dying when the founder leaves or competitors also work out how to fill the gap. Think of Woolworths, the first mass-market discount retail phenomenon of the 20th century that is now no more.

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