What Retail Can Learn from Brexit & Trump.

There is a holy trinity between the ‘the political class’, the media and pollsters that has for too long shaped issues and the way power is exercised at all levels of political life. Effectively this trinity talk to themselves, determine the theoretical way they believe people should lead their lives and contrive to affect the outcome. The recent ‘Brexit’ decision and the rise of Donald Trump are two examples of the push back from the stakeholders who believe the system is supposed to represent and support them. And they have had enough of theoretical models that fail them in reality. Politicians are on the nose and anything that looks and smells like it is ‘Anti-Politics’ gets a huge cheer from the voters.

The fundamental flaw in this system is the ‘political cult’ getting caught up in the intellectual fervour of the ‘clique’ and the lack of rigour they apply to investigating the real world outcomes of their theories over multiple timeframes. Politics has denigrated to being single mindedly focussed on ‘correctness’, belief and short sightedness and increasingly the target audience is the media and not the voter.

Retail is beginning to look the same.

And as a result it is failing the critical stakeholders – staff and customers – who fuel its future. In both politics and retail this is nothing new and arguably cyclical. It can also be changed however, just like helping an alcoholic, there needs to be an admission of the problem and a willingness to do something about it.

In the pursuit of higher dividends in a low, steady growth environment cost cutting is driving nearly all decision making. This is dumbing down the retail offer and strangling investment in anything outside technology. Technology that often sells itself on cost savings that very rarely materialise. Staff numbers are being reduced. Retailers talk about focus on improving customer experience but in practice do the opposite. And the primary target audience is the media because the primary focus is propaganda to fuel share price because that is how most senior management are remunerated.

That is what must fundamentally change.

Retail is a human endeavour that drives merchandising. The two critical stakeholders are staff and customers. And both have better ‘bullshit detectors’ that either the media or investors. Equity markets and financial markets are about funding not about telling you how to run a retail business. All roads in retail lead to the customer. The customer is the source of revenue that justifies your right to exist, let alone be profitable.

If your frontline staff and your customers aren’t led, motivated, stimulated and satiated then the productivity and sustainability of your retail business is compromised. The prioritisation of enterprise relies on a clear understanding between drivers and enablers. We shouldn’t need a ‘Donald Trump of retail’ to inflict the pain of change upon us. It should be clear but then it hasn’t been to politicians. I’d like to think we’re cleverer than them.