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Change: An obstacle, or an opportunity?

Denying change is denying reality. Fearing change is fearing reality and the inevitable impact it will have on a company or an individual’.

Famous words said in November 2019 by the Ex-Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at a technology innovations and investment seminar.

Was it prophetic? Or is the appetite for change already genetically encoded into people that have accepted and adopted that the pace and scale of change will always yield uncertainty, and with that, opportunity. 

By its very nature, change will always upset the status quo regardless of the resistance or the neglect it faces. It powers on like a mudslide or tsunami – erected barriers in its path will either slow it down or end up themselves consumed by its momentum. The barriers rarely stop it for long.

Less than 10 months later, we have seen the impact forced change can have on governments, companies and individuals. There is almost no one left untouched by its impact, and we have yet to fully come out of it. The change is still happening, and we are all being moved or consumed by the mudslide before our eyes. 

So, judging from your position, change can have another name. One more palatable and welcoming of its impact – Disruption. Disruption is something that not only welcomes the change, but accelerates and monetises it. These are becoming more frequent and produce much greater impact across several fronts. Disruption is nothing without its champions. The people behind its force that seek to change things permanently. Imagine inventing electricity every year, or revolutionising the way we travel or communicate on an annual basis. That is the power of disruption.

Here comes the hard part. If you’re too busy or too consumed in your current reality, and are either not driving or even seeing the disruption, or even appreciating it, and by default are not preparing for change, then someone else will do it for you. A predictable reality many don’t see until it’s either too late or has already eroded the benefits to your prospects of adopting it. 

This is where we find ourselves in retail.

The impacts of every force imposed on it are being felt more every day and running deeper across every retail business model, without exception. We are seeing previous strengths being flipped to now being negatives – E.g. a prominent retail footprint in high profile shopping centres is now a burden rather than a business asset. Nimble online-only business models have flourished and gained prominence in months rather than years. Such is the power of being ready for and willing to exploit a disruption. 

But wait, there’s more. 

Before we all begin re-designing our retail business models and tear up leases, let’s pepper the plans with some contingency and caution. The first ingredient to this is a preparedness to amend our approach as we go. Disruption doesn’t come with a manual or a schedule. Having a willingness to change, must also appreciate when is the best timing for it. If your business or plans are not ready, be prepared to amend them as you go or at least know when they are not working or need serious re-assessment. 

The second part is to be prepared to learn. Learn from your own observations and that of others. 

Making a mistake is part of learning. Avoiding a mistake others have made is just as beneficial. Accepting that mistakes will be made is an attribute that comes with being naturally inclined to be a disruptor, embracer and ultimately, a benefactor of change. 

The alternative is paralysis, because no one wants to be wrong, or the reason for the failure. A position that will be self-fulfilling if and when the tide inevitably changes. As we have seen with large retail brands with many long leases secured in now dormant shopping centres. 

Courage to change is often in short supply when businesses are performing well or few serious challenges are faced. Leaders have little appetite for it, and the disruptors are in effect left to nurture and refine their threats and potential onslaught in relative obscurity. 

Then it happens. The opportunity presents itself to the uninitiated as a solution, an innovation or revolution. To the incumbent, it’s a threat to be dealt with by pure force, and driven out of the equation. However, it’s the end customer that will decide. The final step in the process determines whether this is good for them or not, and if they will adopt it as their new minimum standard. Very few went back to the electronic pager when the Cellular mobile phone came out, nor the typewriter when the PC launched. The incumbent is offered a choice of whether to adopt or challenge, with little or no middle in between. Do they leverage their existing power, directing it into the wind, or would it be easier to steer the business in the direction of the breeze, thereby thrusting it further into the journey? 

There are parallels being drawn everyday about the challenges many face with COVID, and its scaring impact on retail. Few will see them for what they are: societal changing and business revolutionising impacts that will not be undone with lifting of lockdowns or reopening of borders. They will run deeper than that. 

So, upon midway reflection, where do we go from here? 

Well, here at Sherpa we saw some businesses adapt during the COVID crisis, quickly incorporating our crowd sourced, scalable fast delivery model into their business. These businesses earned themselves a reprieve from the lockdown, some even grew during it. Whilst others took a precautionary approach and accelerated plans to introduce an omni channel fulfilment system for their retail networks that now includes 1,2,4 hour or same day delivery, investing in features that effectively steered them in the direction of the change, rather than against it. This tide will not dissipate. Businesses will not return to the typewriter after lockdown is lifted and borders are re-opened. 

Online businesses and home delivery have thrived in recent months. Too many home bound customers have seen it make their lives a little more bearable and many brands can thank it for giving them a new lease on life and tenure in an unpredictable time. The change came easy for some, whilst others still grapple with the paralysis. 
We predict Sherpa will become a commonplace offering for all major brands with extensive retail footprints. Instead of redesigning their business models, these brands will transform retail stores into mini distribution centres, shipping orders to customers which travel only 5, 10 or 15 kilometres, rather than hundreds or even thousands. They will fulfil orders within hours instead of 3-14 business days.

Leveraging changed technological and societal conditions will now redefine the retailer’s ability to meet the new customer expectation and wield this not just as customer service, but as a strategic marketing tool. Brands that are ahead of the game will implement and capitalise on these opportunities whether the customer takes advantage of the new level of convenience or not. Our bet is they will.