How to conquer this brave new world?

This is part II in a series of two posts on the 'Winds of Change In The Retail Business' written by Marin Licina.

Established Players

Almost all big companies in the retail ecosystem know something needs to change - but very few actually pull off change. First step is to realize that you need very different competencies for this new world of retail. Of course, distribution, making a killer product and awesome marketing are still important, but distribution needs to be more agile, production needs to be more attuned and particularly marketing needs a completely different set of paradigms and skills. This means learning to think in terms of customer journeys and experience instead of funnels and (only) conversion rates.

Changing an organization drastically often means changing the people. Dinosaurs who are resistant to change or blind to what’s coming need to go out. And it’s time to bring in people with a proven track-record of innovation and those who are able to adapt to a much more dynamic landscape. G-Star Raw is one of the retailers who are doing really well and I think this can definitely be attributed to their hiring policy, amongst other things. G-Star has been able to amass young talent from many places and also give them enough power to actually make stuff happen.

Apart from hiring young guns, smart established players will partner up with curators and creators who can help them reach the millions of niches that exist today.

New Entrants

Want to start a fashion or retail company? Now is the time. Of course, start-ups carry risk and do realize that for every Ralph Lauren, there’s a 1000 brands in the purgatory of failed fashion attempts. To prevent this, it’s smart to start small and conquer a loyal following: Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso started off by selling vintage womenswear on eBay, and quickly developed both a bunch of fans and a great intuition for what her customers liked. Don’t try to imitate Tom Ford or Tommy Hilfiger by building it all and hoping customers will come. Find a niche where your product is best and then build from there.

Luckily, there are more than enough tools to do this nowadays: from optimizing marketing, to sending out beautiful e-mails, from selling to the masses, to making your product known to early adopters. Often, they are free or near-free for small startups. 

Former Pelliano employee Maaike Nieuwenhuis has her custom-made lingerie brand La Maison Nouvelle taking off, by doing exactly this: I’ve heard most customers buy one lingerie set first, but come back quickly for multiple repeat orders. La Maison Nouvelle understands that experience breeds advocacy and leads to a loyal base that loves, buys and recommends, something that’s priceless in the world of new retail rules.

Curators: Be real, be authentic.

Authenticity is the currency of any curator. Some go bottom-up, regular people gathering grassroots following before exploding as (Internet) superstars. American make-up blogger Bethany Noel Mota would be a prime example. Authenticity can also come from top-down, as Cirqle curator Yolanthe Cabau does so well: famous people can come closer to their fans and followers by sharing authentically: everything from Instagram selfies to favorite products.

Of course, authenticity means being yourself in the core. It doesn’t mean being amateuristic. Just as Obama and dutch prime minister Rutte don’t actually write their own tweets, realize that being a popular curator is more than a full-time job. You can start small and fly solo, but also be smart enough to bring in (professional) help once things take off: web designers, developers, photographers, video makers etc.

The world of retail is rapidly changing. Consumers have more power and choice than ever before. Clear lines between making, promoting and selling are being blurred. People either shop for convenience or maximum experience. Smart brands know how to shape holistic and meaningful experiences. And curators are the new power brokers. A lot is happening and not all established players will survive this tidal wave of change. But those brave and smart enough to adapt, will deliver unprecedented value to their customers. And thrive financially as a result.

~ Marin Licina was creative director at fashion/technology startup Pelliano and co-authored the omnichannel retail strategy for G-Star Raw. He currently works with startups in Amsterdam and San Francisco Bay areas.