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Forget channel, think ecosystem

retail ecosystem 160816I run from Horatio Street down just past Battery Park City and back. It’s amazing to run and see the Statue of Liberty and the ferries coming in. People think if you’re not near Central Park, there’s nowhere to go, but there’s a whole ecosystem happening down here.

Andy Cohen

This week I read some social media commentary regarding how to maximise offline and online retail sales and it got me thinking about the ‘ecosystem’ that is retail.

The ‘channel’, per se, is an anachronism now, aided and abetted by historical templates of thinking including hierarchal organisation structures and their deployment, but never the less, in such a fast paced changing retail sector, a memento of thinking.

Now we refer to the ‘ecosystem’ that a retailer develops for brand and its deployment – that is everything that exists in a particular environment.

We see this in today’s retail ‘fit’ businesses from the likes of Sneakerboy to Shoes of Prey; their mantra is to build and develop a community footprint with an ecosystem of virtual, digital and physical expressions of their brand.

Building a loyal community of evangelists and loyalists fuelled by deep personality driven, motivated reasons to join this ecosystem, moving and communicating seamlessly through the channels in any which direction, is the increasingly preferred customer journey.

But of course there is, in some cases, a disconnect between the customer journey and their desire to be in this ecosystem.

For many retailers, offer this is often due to:

– Thinking in channel or ‘systems’ approach – by way of example, employing the online manager and giving them no incentive or buy-in for sales made in the physical environment, or vice versa, embeds the channel approach (and yet their customers don’t think that way).

– Old KPIs measuring a new order of business – imagine your customer walks into your shop, cannot find the shirt they want in their particular size. So they order in the shop from your online shop and have it shipped to their home, then leave the shop. Is that an online or offline sale? The new order simply says that this is an ‘ecosystem’ sale.

– Team members being ecosystem agnostic and channel religious.

– Perhaps some leaders believe in the ego system and not the eco system?

– Simply underinvesting in the backbone of the eco system; being the ability to track the customer journey or to understand with even greater alacrity who these customers are and even to predict activity.

– The ageless principle of building uniqueness into the offer through innovation, cleverness and good old-fashioned product and service.

Not so long ago I had the pleasure of listening to Andrew Keith, the president of Lane Crawford, a premium Hong Kong-based retailer, who spoke of ‘coverage’ when thinking about Lane Crawford’s ecosystem. There was no mention of channels; rather, the community and how big and powerful that ecosystem needed to be.

When planning out the growth of your business, consider ecosystem thinking, rethinking both the external and internal customer journey and implementing accordingly.

Brian Walker is founder and CEO of Retail Doctor Group and can be contacted on (02) 9460 2882 or

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