Charles Darwin Does Retail

Like most of you, I subscribe to a number of industry news and analyst services.

One in particular appears dead-set on maintaining its click-rate with sky-is-falling reports of a USA “Retail Armageddon.”

A recent 2018 piece of wide-eyed anxiety noted – accurately – that stores are continuing to close at a record pace across the nation.

Which, the author concluded – cue the screeching of bats and dark organ music – could mean that the retail apocalypse is worse than previously thought.

Oh my.

Deep sigh.


A number of colleagues (we’re looking at you with thanks, Greg Buzek of IHL) have made clear that when it comes to the Retail Armageddon-Apocalypse – well, it just ain’t so.

While 2017 US store closures did reach record levels, the truth of the matter is that there was an overall net gain in open stores last year. And a 5.5% year-on-year jump in Holiday 2017 revenue – well above the National Retail Federation’s forecast of 3.6% to 4% for the season – is anything but apocalyptic.

In fact, 2017 brought the best year-on-year Holiday growth since 2010’s positive bounce from the financial crisis.


But let’s pause for a moment. Something significant is clearly afoot.

It may not be Armageddon, but we ignore at our peril the store closures, the empty malls, and the struggling brands.

So what is it?

Let me offer a metaphor for retailing today:

Accelerated – and accelerating -- evolution. Merciless Darwinian natural selection.

No species is ever unchanging. But the pace of noticeable change within most species is slow. Almost invisible. Measured in thousands of years.

Likewise, no industry is ever unchanging. And the pace of noticeable change for retail and consumer goods has been – certainly through the first decade of this century – relatively gradual. Even gentle.

Yes, e-commerce showed up, but it was no more than a store’s equivalence in revenue. (And then, it really only hit the music and book stores.) Yes, the smartphone showed up, but show-rooming wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Yes, the overall industry climate was changing. But it was manageable.

Certainly not broke. And thus, not worth fixing.


No longer.

We in retail are now in a time like when the meteors began crashing around the dinosaurs.

Boom! Crash! Prime! Go! Google Home and Alipay! AI and autonomous stores!   Pow!

It’s big-time natural selection time.

Some will survive and thrive by evolving to unified commerce and new store concepts and new services and new revenue streams.

Some will survive and thrive by deepening their data-driven understanding of shopper needs and wants, and creating new, rich, value-add relationships with shoppers.

And some will not survive.

But run in circles and howl in confusion, stretching too-short arms toward the skies.


It’s not Armageddon. Certainly not the apocalypse.

But it is a time of most rapid, ever-accelerating, give-no-mercy evolution.

Welcome to retailing 2018.


Tell me what you think.


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Jon Stine

About Jon Stine

Global Director Retail Sales at Intel. Jon Stine leads Intel’s global sales and strategy for the retail, hospitality, and consumer goods industry sectors. His CV includes leadership of North American retail consulting practice for Cisco Systems, and a prior stint at Intel, where he founded the company’s sales and marketing focus on the retail industry. His perspective on technology’s value in the industry has been shaped by advisory and project engagements in the United States, across the European Union, and in India, Australia, and the People’s Republic of China, and from 15 years of executive sales and marketing experience in the U.S. apparel industry, working with the nation’s leading department and specialty stores. At Intel, his current areas of research and engagement include the future of the store in this new digital age; how and where retailers turn data into competitive advantage; the role of technology within the new cross-channel shopper journey, and, the critical business and IT capabilities that industry success will demand going forward.