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Where Instinct and Objectivity meet: Retailing

Reflecting on Google UK’s Retail Conference earlier this week it was striking that retail seems to be balanced right on the edge between ‘we have shops and a web division’ and ‘we have clicks and mortar integrated’.  The cultural and organisational barriers are ever more obvious in this transition.   Star turn was Richard Last from J.C.Penney in the US who revealed that some colleagues regard the store network as billboards for the website.  After an hilarious run of asides from Ian Jindal I ran a panel with the unpromising title of ‘KPIs’ but fortunately Michael Ross of ecommera, Tony Stockil of Javelin Group, Richard Lowe of Barclays Bank, Neil Saunders of Verdict Research and Pete Bitsakis of ValueClick Europe had plenty to say.  The focus on website data is relentless and it would appear this will yield plenty more prizes and threats.  As Michael pointed out, if you cannot spend time walking around the store you can only rely on your web data to interpret performance – obvious, but not to a retail executive who spent 20 years walking the shop floor.  Threats abound too – if price was your point of difference before you’d better think again.  It’s becoming apparent that for many the battle to live or die will be fought on the web and your strategy has to be based in the hard facts reflected in your web data.  Tony pointed out that he used to be able to compare retail chains on three key measures – now the question is which measure to choose on the web where data on shopping behaviour is abundant but more complex.  So objectivity is needed but we also need to apply our instincts…. cue great quote from Mintzberg “The conception of strategy is an exercise in synthesis, which is best carried out in a single informed brain. That is why the entrepreneurial mode is at the center of the most glorious corporate successes.”

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