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Insight in an Era of Change: NewMR & New Retail

Posted On  July 7, 2017

I’m not a Buddhist, but I love one of the core tenets of Buddhist philosophy: the illusion of permanence is the root of all suffering. Nothing lasts forever, and the more we cling to the notion that something does last forever, the more we suffer over the inevitable change. In business and in our personal lives, the more we can anticipate change, accept it when it happens, and be nimble in our response to change, the more content we will be AND the more we can thrive.

Retail is the perfect example of an industry grappling with rapid, unsettling change. Overall, retail sales are up 3.8%, according to the National Retail Federation, driven almost entirely by online sales, with nearly two-thirds of the online growth coming from Amazon alone. Traditional brick and mortar retailers are suffering their worst losses since the 2008-2009 recession. Clearly, those who are clinging to old retail models and business practices are suffering in both sales and employment terms, and those who are accepting and adapting are thriving.

So what is a retailer to do? Cling to a “tried and true” business model, or change with the changing times? Best Buy is an interesting example of a company trying to adapt to new realities and innovate their offering. Like many retailers, Best Buy has seen consistent declines in foot traffic. Best Buy has also been losing sales as some of the feet that did make it in store walked out after examining products, ultimately purchasing items online.

Unwilling to suffer the onslaught of “showrooming” or from a spate of “buy and return” trialing, Best Buy is rolling out a product rental program. This program will allow customers to pay a small fee to take a product home for a certain length of time to try out and then return it with the option to buy the same product new for a discounted price. This clever strategy will allow them to repurpose their open box stock in a way that encourages both customer engagement and increases the likelihood of keeping the final purchase in their brand. Best Buy is responding to an unprecedented business challenge with an innovative solution.

Researchers in retail or other industries under siege should take a page from Best Buy’s playbook, augmenting traditional methods with newer approaches. Here are a few ideas to help you change with the changing times:

  • Consult with experts who are using advanced technologies and thoughtful frameworks to analyze vast numbers of online conversations. Deep listening can help you pick the next lock of innovation. For example, “listening in on” conversations on photographer message boards might uncover consumers’ desire to try before they buy a new camera model.
  • Explore the unique sequences of different consumers’ journeys to find moments ripe for exploitation. Understand the many steps consumers do and don’t take (like buying and returning products they’re only considering owning), in what order, and analyze where your brand is and isn’t being considered and what is important during those steps.
  • Leverage decision-making tools and approaches that integrate multiple data streams and account for the complex nature of human-based markets. For example, consider choice model simulators that not only allow for the playing of “what if games” with your market using survey data, but also integrate sales data, emotional responses, word of mouth, adoption and diffusion modeling (to fully optimize a rent-to-buy new offering).

Peter Drucker, a “Buddha” of business, said, “The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.” Now is as good a time as any to put philosophies old and new into practice: expecting and seeking the change in business, research, and life that will allow us to collectively thrive.


  1. I love this. Great to think differently! A quote from Adam Grant’s “Originals” that strikes me: “The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists. The starting point is curiosity: pondering why the default exists in the first place.”

  2. Great perspective on winning at retail from a super smart colleague of mine! Change is hard, but it does offer new opportunities for those with an entrepreneurial mindset…


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