By Ajaz Ahmed In Retail Week 2 July 2020
Almost every day there’s another story on Retail Week about a retailer doing things in an entrepreneurial way. But where were all these entrepreneurs before the start of this pandemic?
Were they locked in a room and given a warning? “If you come up with anything that is remotely entrepreneurial, we’ll sack you.”
Incumbents have always been scared to embrace change. Entrepreneurs are usually disruptors who come in and see the gaps, see things in a different way and look at things from a customer’s perspective.
A huge loss in revenue and retailers are embracing the internet with both arms, both legs, and running around evangelising about the power of e-commerce
My question is: why have retailers become so entrepreneurial all of a sudden? Why did it take an enormous reduction in revenue for them to look at the world in a different way?
I’ve been writing about the internet for many years, and it’s made no difference. But a huge loss in revenue and retailers are now embracing the internet with both arms, both legs, and running around evangelising about the power of e-commerce.
Earlier this month, one of the headlines in Retail Week was ‘Boots leans on digital as it prepares to reopen beauty counters’.
And Dixons Carphone launched a new service that allows customers to chat to staff in store using a video link to get advice and see demonstrations of the products they’re interested in from the comfort of their own homes.
What a truly great idea. CEO Alex Baldock said, “Sometimes crisis spurs innovation.”
When I read this, I wanted to run around the room and shout, “Why, why, why?” Why does a crisis spur innovation? Highly paid executives and their teams are supposed to come up with good ideas to move their businesses forward. It shouldn’t require a crisis – that’s why you get paid all that money.
Businesses are supposed to pivot all the time. Retailers need to understand that customers don’t say goodbye; they move on and start spending their money with someone else without telling you. Have retailers not learned this valuable lesson yet? It doesn’t look like it.
So, how do we change going forward? I think it’s very simple really. If you want to be more entrepreneurial, just start listening to people – listen to the people that work for you, encourage them to be entrepreneurial and tell you their good ideas. But you have to promise to sit and listen to what they’re telling you.
Allow people from outside your company to approach you and talk to you about good ideas. When watching Dragons’ Den and one of the Dragons says “I’ve got contacts at retailers”, I’ve always wondered why you need contacts to do business with retailers?
Why can’t I go to your website and find a section that says: ‘We want to talk to anybody that’s got a great idea – here are our contact details.’ Why do you make it so difficult for people to talk to you?
My advice to you is to stop worshipping Excel and make it easy for people to tell you about new ways of working
I once tried to talk to a retailer (a Northern-based supermarket) about an idea. I had to go through a contact and, before even listening to what I had to say, the person said, “You’ll need to go through a credit check.”
I was so annoyed they didn’t listen to me that I ended up saying that, unfortunately, I did have some debt.
“Sorry to hear that,” was the response.
“Yes, I’ve bought two sofas from DFS on interest-free credit and I haven’t finished paying for them.” And I left without sharing my idea.
Listen, guys, my advice to you is to stop worshipping Excel and make it easy for people to tell you about new ways of working.
You never know – somebody might come up with a fantastic idea that could change the way you do business. Don’t wait for the next big drop in income to listen to people. You can be entrepreneurial even in good times.