As I finished writing the second edition of my new book late last year, the predominant retail narrative was the so-called great acceleration of all things e-commerce. More recently, ebullient stories portend the resurrection of the mall and suggest that department stores are back (narrator’s voice: “Let’s not confuse better with good”). Unfortunately, much like the years-long fascination with the “retail apocalypse” and just about all things omni-channel, there is some truthiness in all this, but not much that provides tangible strategic guidance .

What the COVID crisis accelerated profoundly — and what I would argue demands a dramatic re-think…

With so much uncertainty and volatility in the economy, it may be foolhardy to go out on a limb with any predictions. My crystal ball has certainly been faulty more than a few times. Nevertheless, I throw caution to the wind with my (mostly) educated guesses on what will turn out to be noteworthy in the VUCA world of retail this year.

The great acceleration moderates. Perhaps the biggest COVID-related headline of 2020 was how just about every retail trend accelerated, most notably digital commerce. While directionally correct, the idea that most retailers experienced 10 years of e-commerce growth in…

The reports that Hudson’s Bay Co. is planning to split its online and brick-and-mortar operations into two companies, and then take public, immediately strikes me as one of the dumbest strategic decisions I have heard in a long, long time.

If we have learned anything from the past two decades of retail disruption, it’s that notions of separate physical and digital shopping behavior are increasingly distinctions without a difference. The lines are blurring. Digital drives brick and mortar and vice versa. Indeed, the customer is the channel and retailers with a more harmonized and remarkable retail experience generally outperform…

“Great brands don’t chase customers; customers chase great brands.”

Gary Friedman, CEO Restoration Hardware

If we learned anything during the past couple of decades of digital disruption it should have been this: Even very good is no longer good enough.

In a world where media, information, product choice, distribution access, delivery convenience and connection are no longer scarce, to be anything less than remarkable is often to be ignored. If you’re the slightly taller or faster or better looking cow hoping to stand out among a large herd of pretty similar, run of the mill cows, prepare to be disappointed.

There are a few different ways people approach the ocean.

Some dive right in.

Others inch in slowly, testing the temperature of the water until they feel comfortable to wade in all the way.

A few like to stand there and get pummeled by the water’s force.

And of course there are those that avoid going to the beach entirely.

The most daring and remarkable of all are the surfers.

The surfer harnesses the ocean’s power, gliding above the surface, zigzagging their way to the shore. Of course, sometimes they fall off their board. But the good ones understand this…

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change” — Brene Brown

I hope you are familiar with the work of Brene Brown. Brene is a shame researcher and the author of several fantastic bestselling books on the power of vulnerability, the gifts of imperfection and daring greatly. She’s delivered two of the most popular TED talks of all time. She’s been on Oprah. Yeah, she’s kind of a big deal.

“You know what the big secret about TED is? I can’t wait to tell people this. I guess I’m doing it right now. (Laughter) This is like the failure…

“To my mind the old masters are not art; their value is in their scarcity.”

- Thomas A. Edison

Before the age of digital disruption, scarcity played in a big role in determining retail’s winner and losers. Sure, having a compelling value proposition was helpful, but in many cases sheer lack of reasonable alternatives allowed for some pretty average retailers to do quite well for a long time. Yet over the past two decades scarcity has been eroding in just about everything. And this insight goes a long way to explaining why some many retailers have found themselves in serious…

Did you immediately spot this old-and not especially good-joke?

Or did you briefly stop to wonder if it could possibly be true, finally coming to your own conclusion that I must just be goofing around (as I am often wont to do)?

Or did you say, hmm, that doesn’t sound right, but let me go check it out just to be sure.

Or did you simply assume it must be true, because, hey, you saw it on the internet? Maybe you even passed it on to some folks as if it were an objective fact.

This particular example is rather…

(Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In true Dickensian fashion, this retail holiday shopping season looks to be a tale of two cities. The idea that retail has been bifurcating-that companies, particular product sectors and consumers alike are experiencing increasingly polarized outcomes-is hardly new. I began writing and speaking about this trend many years ago and teased it out further in my new book. Deloitte and others have also called attention to this dynamic in recent years.

As has been true of so many things we’ve experienced during the Covid economy, the pandemic…

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic concept that finds beauty in imperfection and the universe’s natural cycle of growth, decay, and death.

Practicing wabi-sabi means eschewing the unnecessary, getting rid of the clutter, and valuing authenticity above all else. Wabi-sabi requires us to accept the reality that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. We must not only believe that this is okay, but come to see the great power in the practice. Embracing this concept is critical to fueling our sustained commitment to innovation.

A culture of experimentation means we become more radical in our approach. We take…

Steve Dennis

Keynote speaker & strategic advisor on retail innovation. Top 10 retail influencer. Senior Forbes contributor. Best selling author of “Remarkable Retail.”

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