04 Feb 2020

Author:Frank Quix, Managing Director Q&A Insights & Consultancy, chairman EbeltoftGroup

Retail for me is the most inspiring industry. It’s dynamic, fast and as close to the customer as you can get. The environment is currently changing so fast, but that’s what makes this industry so special and fascinating. Change is from all times and always led to development models in literature. Mid 50s McNair gave us the Wheel of Retailing, in the 60s to 80s Dreesmann gave us his evolution theory and this was followed by several channel approaches in de 00’s and 10’s. In 2016 Jack Ma revealed his New Retail development, for the first time an approach really put the customer at the centre. These days retail has to adapt towards the needs of the customer. New opportunities and technologies are popping up everywhere and consumers adapt faster to these than ever before. The customer is the disruptor of the market. Retailers are still trying and learning to get used to this new situation. They often tend to solve the new challenges with their own legacy as starting point, while they should start with the destination they are heading to. We arrived at a new crossroads in retail with regards to the future of retail. How can we create winning and future proof retail organisations?

We interviewed 30 retail executives and used a new retail development model S.A.L.E. during these talks. This model is based on 4 pillars which retailers should embrace to stay relevant, win and become future proof: Speed, Adapt, Learn & Excel.


Developments retailers have to face are at an ever higher speed. This implies that retailers have to increase their own speed as well. We have to accelerate all our business processes. However we sometimes think speed is disruptive, it’s more the complexity and the fast pace at which technology changes. You would expect that technology makes everything easier, but in reality it makes almost all retail disciplines more complex than ever before. Making the right decisions at the right time is extremely important. It’s act before your ready. It’s better to be 80% right and on time, than 100% right and just too late. Technology is fuelling retail at high velocity. It is moving from a support function to a primary function and should be a board position.


Today you adapt or die. We have to adapt continuously to the new market environment and the customer needs. It’s not about if our people are willing to change, but how we can create an organisation in which people are willing and happy to adapt. Adaptation starts with recognizing and understanding the impact of change. Basically adaptivity is the core competence of retailers, they are flexible and able to adjust fast to a changing environment. The more flexible an organization is, the easier the adaption process will be. This implies creating and building retail networks that are able and willing to adjust continuously. The big question is, do multiyear strategic plans still work, because they take all the oxygen out of flexibility. To create more flexibility and speed, you could start with a 3-year plan, and run the execution within one year. Use a month instead of a quarter to evaluate and accelerate and execute in 1 year. The frequency remains the same, if you exchange a month for a quarter and everything runs 3 times faster.


People are the biggest assets for retailers. They create added value. Retail has to make the transition from a fully operational focussed workforce to a more multidisciplinary orientated workflow. Several disciplines working together in one team, every time to solve new challenges. In such a new structure we should create a workspace where testing and experimenting becomes second nature. If you want to create speed, testing fast new technologies with some pilots is essential. Learn to fail fast should be one of the ways forward, not for failing, but for learning. Retail has to sell itself better as the best industry to work for. There is no industry where people can make such an impact on a daily basis as in retail. By joining forces the industry can show new young talent how dynamic and fast this industry is and that we are at the heart of the consumer.


To excel is more than just running your operation. It’s more like a repeated loop of successful improvements. Making this happen requires a solid and flexible workforce with the right age mix. Young talent combined with the right third parties that provide new ideas, but also ensure the flexibility needed for improvements. Staff members want to be meaningful, so leaders should give them the chance. Create an environment where people feel safe and comfortable to share. Together we will see and discover way more. Just imagine if we are able to make daily improvements for our customers, we can overcome any change. Becoming data savvy is a must. By translating data in insights and using the insights for meaningful actions makes you a winner. This is a loop of permanent improvement. Ultimately, excelling means that we have to reverse our thinking. As retailers we are used to start from our legacy, our stores and our assortment. This is understandable, but today the timing seems right to begin thinking in reverse, starting with the customer needs.

"Dad, if you really believe in something, you can do it!" Valerie Quix (8)