Magazine article The Futurist

Training for a New Ball Game: Retailing in the 21st Century

Magazine article The Futurist

Training for a New Ball Game: Retailing in the 21st Century

Article excerpt

Imagine you are a professional baseball player preparing for a very important game. Now, the game is a little far off - you're going to play it in the year 2010. But this game is so crucial and so competitive that you absolutely must begin to prepare right now. You must begin despite many uncertainties.

First, you don't know who all the players will be. In fact, you're not sure which teams you might be competing against. Baseball could easily become internationalized by then - you might play the Japanese or a team from Russia.

You know you'll be playing baseball - but you're not sure how the rules might change. You only know that they will change dramatically between now and then.

Finally, you don't know where the game will be played or whether you'll play with the same balls and bats and equipment. You can't even be sure that a baseline will still measure 90 feet.

Today, retailers face a very similar set of uncertainties as they look ahead to the year 2010 and beyond. They don't know who the players will be, how the rules will change, or what the playing field will look like.

The only certainty, in fact, is that all these things will change. The retailing business will almost certainly change as much in the next two decades alone as it has in the last hundred years or more.

Retailing 2010:

A Whole New Ball Game

With that in mind, let's fast forward to the early twenty-first century - the year 2010.

First, a look at our perplexed baseball player. Sure enough, the year 2010 finds him in a "whole new ball game." He's now playing international teams, like the Tokyo Tornadoes and the Russian Red Sox. And second, the rules of the game have changed. In order to make things a little more interesting, each team plays a different team - every inning!

Now, let's move to the retailing game of 2010. Imagine you are a major retail chain, warming up for that big game: competing for the next consumer dollar.

Take a look around at where the game is being played. You are still slugging it out at the malls, but malls are very different places by 2010. They are major entertainment centers - giant community gathering places that offer much more than just shopping. Swimming pools, concert halls, and amusement rides lure shoppers and their dollars into the mall.

Now you look around, with just a bit of trepidation, to see who you will be playing against. You see some new faces, and a lot of the old, familiar faces are gone. Half of the retailers that were in business in 1990 are now out of business. Too many stores, too much leverage, and too much merchandise sameness left no room for mediocre performers.

Discounters were especially hard hit. Consumers came to expect those rock-bottom prices and switched, without a moment's hesitation, to the retailers that offered the best prices. Only the leanest, meanest players remain. Wal-Mart was the big winner: In 2010, it's a $60-billion company.

Department stores had a shakeout, too, but some survive because the convenience of department stores fits the twenty-first-century lifestyle. Shoppers like to choose from coordinated collections of apparel and home furnishings.

Of course, there is one player who's definitely still in the middle of the action: the consumer. But the consumers of 2010 look, act, and buy differently.

In 2010, baby boomers still dominate the retailing game, as they have since the 1960s. As always, the boomers have a nickname. Once they were yuppies and DINKs; now they're woopies - well-of older people.

Technology Levels

The Playing Field

Now, take a look at the rules of the retailing game of 2010. "Technology" is a place where the playing field is almost level. Two decades earlier, only the giants of retailing could afford the computer systems and cutting-edge technology that allowed them to deliver personalized service on a volume basis. …

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