Last year during a high profile legal process, the former Chairman of a publicly listed retailer openly confessed that the company had pushed out supplier payments as an embedded pillar of ‘business as usual’. Not only was he not contrite nor apologetic about the practice, he extolled the virtues of such an approach as a sound and operationally legitimate way of reducing capital tied up in inventory to be deployed elsewhere for aggressive growth.
If you read the propaganda masquerading as ‘news’ about Amazon you would believe that this ‘Big, Bad Wolf’ will be rolling into town and leaving a trail of destruction in their wake that is the retail equivalent of Nagasaki after the bomb was dropped. Make no mistake, Amazon has one of the best public relations machines in global marketing. How else can you explain a market capitalization that defies the gravitational effect of actual return on investment and trading performance that affects every other traditional retailer on the planet.
Bunning’s Warehouse has been a juggernaut since it emerged from the acquisition and merger of former Howard Smith businesses Hardwarehouse and BBC Hardware and Wesfarmers’ Bunnings business. Its unimpeded growth has been the envy not just of the hardware sector, but also of the broad retail landscape. Masters was intended to be its only true national rival and we all know how that turned out. So having seen off the most well resourced and best-funded local competitor, would it not seem like the sky is now the limit for Bunnings’ ambitions?
The problem with having lots of experience spanning many decades and being a nerd who studies and thinks about retail and product marketing – in its totality as the core business discipline – is that you really have seen it all before and seen the cycles repeat themselves many times. Think the fashion cycle endlessly re-interpreting the 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s, 1980’s over and over. Human nature it seems is locked in a loop of ‘discover it: do it: learn from it: abandon it: forget about it: re-discover it (without the benefit of the lessons learned last time): plagiarise, repackage & exploit it: etc etc etc’.
I readily admit I am getting older and grumpier. Mea Culpa. But sometimes you just have to get some opinions off your chest, if only for your own mental well-being. The recent announcement by American Express of its support for the Surcharge Free movement is one such moment. How a company that is one of the most blatant gougers of interchange fees at point of sale can seriously believe that retailers don’t see this for what it is staggers me.
How many retailers – especially listed retailers – do you hear talking about “the great lengths we are going to in order to lift our customer experience”. It seems every second day another business leader, who looks entirely disconnected from the customers the business serves, delivers a very slick piece of theatre in the hope the media will spread their message for them.