2020: Retail as a Service?
Digital disruption is typically seen as a form of “waterfall innovation” – where a new entrant unseats legacy players by adopting a radical new approach to service delivery using technology (like Amazon leveraging its own cloud based e-commerce platform capabilities to beat incumbent Retailers on convenience and price). Yet a challenge to this view is that such disruptors are actually applying a form of “agile innovation”, where through incrementally developing their own live services they gradually transform and re-shape a market – a detailed look at Amazon finds its approach to customer service improvement is not disruptive but iterative; where over the last ten to fifteen years it’s used its own net revenues for R&D activities (not for short-term profit) to continually drive massive grow.
The implication is that a Retailer can exploit the competitive advantages of digital disruption by using an iterative service delivery approach – so what could be the benefits and challenges of this “Retail As A Service” model? Here are some ideas…
OpEx Funded Innovation – A major blocker to Retailers investing in digital transformation is that it can involve significant upfront capital expenditure to deliver a return in investment that is difficult to forecast and realise. Applying an “as a service” approach, an alternative could be to deliver small, incremental improvements using a portion of Retailer’s margin earned during the same financial year. No big financial risks, the Retailer can only invest what it earns from the market with the added benefit that such OpEx funded innovation can rapidly pivot to changing customer demands. Yet any slicing of margin will impact a Retailer’s profitability – its owners or shareholders would need to tolerate a different form of financial risk to make this approach acceptable; reduced, variable short-term profit for potential significant long-term gains.
Zero Physical Asset Operating Model – Could the application of a service-based approach to delivery be extended beyond the traditional areas of IT and back office transformation into other parts of a Retailer’s operating model? For example, a Retailer could run a “zero physical asset” business; where front-end services like stores, supply chain management, even sales staff resources are provisioned on a pay-as-you-go basis. A key benefit would be that the Retailer doesn’t run the risk of owning fixed term assets like property or technology that may become commercially unviable or obsolete. However, this would create new risks – a key one being that the Retailer becomes wholly dependent on other service providers’ availability and ability to innovate to meet its competitive needs.
Authored by Mark Howard