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A lifetime of retail – nothing better

teamwork2018 completes my first 30 years in retail while this marks my 50th article for Inside Retail Australia, covering an incomparable industry.

With the privilege of age and experience, comes a new dimension of consultation and mentorship. A multifarious mix of confidants, expertise (actual and perceived) from corporate to startup and encompassing most niches imaginable.

A rare prerogative carrying a heftiness of obligation and integrity. One of lucidity when offering opinion and in the favouring of prediction and edification before instruction. Consistently safeguarding against the vulnerabilities of prophecy and expediency. The onus upon the acceptor to do as they see fit based on gut feel, experience and confidence.

So how has retail changed over the last three decades?

In short – NOTHING has changed!

The fundamentals have not changed one iota or at least not for the successful merchants who ply their trade with the same disciplines and attention to detail that accentuate iconic brands past and present. A non-negotiable focus on basics through the simplicity of process and in exceeding customer experience.

What has changed are the tools in which to deliver these core principles in the form of technology, social cognisance and logistics. Never dismissing the impact of capricious expectation by the customer, employee, leadership and shareholder – real or anticipated. All too often these opportunities override the foundations of operation thus introducing gratuitous complexity and bureaucracy.

Retail is and has always been about people and the associated five senses influencing decision, reaction and wellbeing. Companies who stray from this principle for whatever reason face alienation, be it short, medium or long term. For even the popular fads risk repercussion if they fail to satiate human desire and aspiration.

Advancements for the better? Improved working conditions. A less hostile environment more conducive to a meaningful inclusive workforce. Still some way to go for the sector to benefit the rich aptitude of the differently abled.

Advancements to the detriment? The estrangement of potential retailers in its reluctance to provide stable fulltime entry-level positions and in providing transparent career paths to develop future leaders and the much-needed specialist. Today’s dire talent shortage pays homage to this neglect.

Questionable advancement? Time will tell but there is a palatable inherent disquiet amongst the populace at the sectors incessant and blatant preoccupation for automation over interaction. Worth consideration is the latest opinions suggesting the millennial generation’s preference favours brick and mortar.

Would I change the past third of a century?

Not a chance and not for a single minute during that time have I considered changing profession.


No two days are ever the same. It is impossible to master the trade for it is an art form as much as it is a science. It has enabled me to live all over the world because the basics are relevant to every country. There is no greater divergence of cultures and ideology for my twin passion for writing. So too the sense of belonging, of a comradeship only superseded by the family unit itself.

Change without history, courage without conviction, commitment without reward are as inconsequential as retail without people. Retail is about the people, for the people, by the people.

Dave Farrell is a retailer and writer with three decades of experience on three continents. He can be reached at Freelance Alliance NZ on

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