Has the tipping point arrived? For example, Freeserve launched in 1998, and the Internet boom started. For years people talked about e-commerce, but nothing happened. Smug people said, "I told you so," then a few years later than expected, Amazon finally arrived, and the e-commerce boom really started.
Then people said e-commerce will have a big effect on our high streets, but still, nothing happened. The same smug people said, "I told you so." Later than expected, things have now changed, and our high streets are a lot quieter than before.
So, the big question is, has the tipping finally arrived?
When the Internet first arrived, we only used it to surf the Internet, we didn’t buy or sell anything on the internet. Mobile phones were only used to make phone calls, we only took our phones out of our pockets when they rang.
Now I’m in a panic when I can’t feel my smartphone in my pocket. My smartphone tells me everything. Companies are only limited by their imagination, I have a smile on my face every time I pay for a pasty in Greggs using ApplePay, it’s absolutely fantastic.
It’s not just about the internet. All my life I’ve heard smart, intelligent people say the words "It’ll never happen." What won’t happen? Anything that a smart, a higher ranked person say’s won’t happen. Every day I read about things that are now happening, things that people previously thought would never happen.
Businesses don't "Pivot", they need to constantly keep changing. Lots of businesses only change after they have problems. Every day there are stories in the press about companies that are going through change because their customers have abandoned them. Don’t they understand? Customers don't say goodbye. They just leave.
Apple stores are still busy because they go through a pivot when customers are still spending money with them. Our Managing Directors don't understand this rule.
Guess what? Change is happening, and this is just the start. Managing Directors are still saying, “It’ll never happen, it’s not going to affect my business, we’ve been doing this for many years.”
The problem with a lot highly paid people is, every month, they’ve got lots of money left over after they’ve paid their bills and mortgage. They don’t understand that every month their customers have no money left over. They lack empathy, they can’t feel what their customers feel because they’re doing okay.
Why do Managing Directors not listen when someone offers them some free advice? Because they like to interpret facts to confirm the beliefs they already have. Confirmation bias is when we interpret information in a way that confirms the bias we already have.
They don’t want someone else telling them what to do. They only want to look at information that confirms what they already believe. They like to ignore or simply not be exposed to information or opinions that challenge what they already believe.
Even when they take the brave step off exposing themselves to an alternative point of view, it may still be confirmation bias, because they still want to confirm that the opposition is, indeed, wrong. They start an argument about why you are wrong.
Even as you are reading this, you may be coming up with reasons why I am wrong.
Does any off this sound familiar? So, don’t argue, start to listen before it's too late for your business.
This blog first appeared in Retail Week written by Ajaz Ahmed
I recently gave a talk to a group of business people, I reflected on recent frustrations and thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great if people just got to the point and “cut the crap’ so that’s what I spoke about.
I called the talk #cutthecr*p and it was well received, the theme was no-nonsense advice about what it takes to be successful. I’ve registered the Twitter handle @cutthecr*p and encourage everyone to follow it and leave advice and wisdom, I will retweet the best tweets.
I broke the talk down into a series of hashtags so people could share it with their followers. Space here is limited so here’s an abbreviated version, feel free to share and tweet.
What’s the difference between a businessperson and an entrepreneur? I believe entrepreneurs have greater power of #observation, they see things that trigger thoughts that lead onto great ideas. They also have a greater power of #empathy, they can put themselves into their customers shoes and do not rely on market research or customers surveys to back up their gut felling. Lastly they ‘believe it before they see it’ whereas businesspeople need to #seeittobelieveit.
#dotheobvious - life really is about doing the obvious before it becomes obvious to everyone else because by the time it becomes obvious to everyone else its too late because people like you have done it and the others guys haven’t. Simple.
#pivot – when things aren’t going well and your customers have moved on, you need to pivot and change direction. When companies don’t pivot, they start to blame everyone else for their own problems, they simply don’t change direction. Business doesn’t stand still, pivot and move on.
#pickabigfight – if you’re launching a new venture, think big and pick a big fight. Don’t restrict your ambition.
#vestedinterests – Sony should have invented to the iPod, they manufactured and owned the Walkman brand and own music content. I suspect when someone suggested it, different divisions didn’t see the big picture and came up with reasons why they shouldn’t do it. It took outsiders like Apple and Amazon to show the incumbents what to do. Vested interests often prevent businesses from doing the right thing.
#swimmingnaked – Warren Buffet said “It’s only when the tide goes out that you can see who was swimming naked”. Any idiot can take money in good times, since the recession started we’ve all seen who was swimming naked.
#whatwhyhow – when you visit a website you should be able to answer these simple questions. What do you do, why should I care and how do I do business with you. Think about it, how many times have you visited a website and thought, what do you do? So what, why should I care? How the hell do I do business with you? Look your own website now.
#expertsarefullofsh*t – just because someone calls themselves an expert doesn't mean they know what they are talking about. Experts designed all the poor things that you’ve ever seen. Don’t be embarrassed to ask experts stupid obvious questions.
#uglybabysyndrome – we’ve all seen parents with ugly babies, they love them because its their flesh and blood. It’s the same with ideas. People fall in love with their idea because they came up with it. The best thing to do if someone tells you their crap idea is just be honest and say “its crap”, pretend you’re Simon Cowell.
I hope you get the idea, so #encourage everyone in your company to get to the point and #cutthecr*p.
This blog first appeared in Retail Week written by Ajaz Ahmed
We’re exposed to a mountain of visual stimuli everyday. The power of observation is a great gift and I love walking around shops, it gives me great inspiration. I love looking at how great retailers practise their art and I learn something new every time a walk around a shop. It’s the details that make the biggest difference, the lighting, the colours, the fonts, the visual merchandising and great design.
I love walking around Hollister even though I’m never going to buy anything. I’ve noticed that they have the best sound system in the high street, does that make a difference? Yes, I don’t feel like leaving. I love the copywriting that stores like IKEA and Pret use to entice their customers. I was in heaven when recently visited a Whole Foods supermarket in the US. I felt like buying things that I didn’t even need - what a truly clever retailer.
I love looking at newspaper adverts, it’s amazing how advertisers manage to grab your attention when they only have a few seconds to do it in. I love looking at websites to try and figure out how companies like Amazon make the experience of visiting their site so much better than their competitors. I love reading books and magazines to learn how people and companies achieve their success.
If there is so much to learn from other successful companies, why don’t more people learn by observing? Do they walk around their World blind?
I’ve visited some appalling companies in my time and I could cry when I see them making simple basic mistakes. If I asked the senior managers of these companies “how’s business?” they’d probably say it’s a struggle and list all the reasons why, but they’d never admit it’s their fault.
I’ve always wanted to ask senior managers at WH Smith, “what do you see every time you walk around your stores?” I think it’s a visual mess and other than fixed price products, everything you sell is available cheaper within walking distance of most stores. If they stood and watched the people walking into their stores at lunchtime they would observe that people buy food and drink somewhere else and newspapers and magazines from them.
It’s the same at Argos, it not a great in-store experience and did they real need to hire expensive consultants to advise them that the future for them is the Internet?
Why do struggling retailers not learn by comparing themselves to other successful retailers? When they go shopping don’t they ever ask themselves, “Why do I shop here? Why do I look forward to coming here?”
We have some fantastic retailers but we also have a lot of awful retailers, it doesn't matter what sector your business is in, there’s a lot to learn from good retailers.
The solutions to most of your problems are all around you. Simply open your eyes and take a good look around, don’t walk around your business with your eyes shut.
Go shopping and don’t buy anything, just look and take it all in, be inquisitive, be curious. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll see.
This blog first appeared in Retail Week written by Ajaz Ahmed
Why are so many retailers struggling and going out of business at the moment? Because before the recession it was easy to take money, easy credit drove the market and a good time was to be had by all, but as the quote says when the tide goes out, only then do you find out who was swimming naked.
This industry is full of people who simply are not retailers, it’s as simple as that. It’s full of people that have never worked in a shop and could never work in a shop, they simply don’t understand customers and its customers not spreadsheets that drive a retail business.
What’s the difference between a businessperson and an entrepreneur? The two biggest skills that an entrepreneur possesses is the power of observation and empathy. The ability to put yourself in the customers shoes is priceless, that’s how great retailers are able to become such a success without any formal qualifications.
Freeserve was born out observation and empathy. I’ve worked in retail (Dixons/PC World) for many years and one of my observations is that when senior management visited my store, they would very rarely talk to the staff. They would never take time to ask the people who spend all their time on the front line shop floor “what do you think? How can we improve things? What are our customers asking for?” The solutions to many problems often lie with the staff if only someone would ask them.
Comet has struggled, so how much change has been made to the retail part of the business since OpCaptia took over? Not a lot. Here’s an interesting fact that the guys sitting behind their desks at head office and the private equity guys might not understand, it’s the retail part that customers see, not the cost cutting or the operations, they see the shops. Customers walk into the shops and spend money.
A number of my friends work at Comet and I would often ask them “what would you change?” They came up with all sorts of common sense ideas that would make huge difference to Comets business. But did anybody ever ask them? No. I asked my friend who is a store manger, when the chairman, John Clare came to visit your store, did he talk to any of the staff or any customers? No was the answer.
That’s why Comet is going bust, because none of the Private Equity guys or Senior Management of Comet are retailers with observation and empathy skills. They are too arrogant to bring themselves to believe that someone on the shop floor might be able to make a suggestion that could make a valuable difference. Because people at head office never went into the stores and asked the staff what they they thought, they look down on the staff that work on the shop floor.
Retail greats like Sam Walton and Ingvar Kamprad walked the shop floor and talked to their staff and customers. You can’t run a shop from just spreadsheets sat behind a desk.
British retail needs more retailers.