It’s Time Retailers Change the Way they Do Business

Last month, I read with dismay in the papers that The Orchard Road Business Association of Singapore has decided not to participate in Black Friday sales.

The main reasons cited were that Black Friday “is a mostly e-commerce festival” and that physical retailers cannot compete with online stores. The Association also stated that Black Friday will clash with stores’ Christmas promotions. The newspaper report then went to quote a Polytechnic lecturer who echoed the same sentiments, lending credence to the Association’s views, rendering its decision “legitimate” and credible, hence acceptable to those who agree with its stance.

This is precisely the thinking that will sink companies eventually. Company bosses who refuse to think unconventionally and who insist on sticking to age-old dogmas are unable to transcend outworn habits, increasingly antiquated modes of operations and out-of-date beliefs to deal with the realities of a changing world. Retailers missed a golden opportunity by writing off Black Friday without giving a serious thought on the impact of their decisions; decisions based on misinformation, fallacy and utter lack of true understanding of the buying behavior of today’s generation of shoppers.

Anyone who is not out of touch will know that nowadays Black Friday is far from just an online event to dump cheap electronics. And while it is indisputable that brick-and-mortar stores have higher overheads compared to online ones, this is precisely the catalyst for retailers to think “out of the box” and use creativity to overcome these perceived roadblocks. Look at Uber, the world’s largest ride-hailing company that doesn’t own a single vehicle, or Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider that doesn’t own a single hotel room – their founders refused to accept status quo, challenged the norms, and creatively disrupted centuries-old tradition to triumph.

Retail is in the doldrums, it is believed, though the same newspaper also made reference to year-end travel bookings increasing despite a seeming decrease in retail spending. There appears to be a dichotomy here that perhaps someone beyond a polytechnic lecturer should seriously research further. Some may argue that the data indeed shows a reduction in retail spending but just as every pollster who used data to forecast a Hillary Clinton win has proven themselves so dreadfully wrong, retailers must pound the pavement, feel the heartbeat of the retail landscape, talk to shoppers, and respond to what shoppers want, in order to overcome their lowered takings. And all shoppers want a bargain, it doesn’t matter when. If retailers stop worrying about how Black Friday is clashing with their Christmas promotions, therefore messing up their neat and tidy calendars, and start thinking by walking in the shoes of shoppers, see things from shoppers’ point of view, that will be a laudable first step to saving themselves from ultimate ruin. Stores who ignore the Association’s decision to proceed with Black Friday events deserve my salute for being visionary and innovative.