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I am reading a terrific book at the moment. The first line in the book Remarkable Retail by industry expert Steve Dennis had me hook, line and sinker.

“Retail is not dead. Boring retail is.”

I outwardly cheered when I read this line.

Do you remember when you would enter a store and your heart would beat just that little bit faster when something new caught your eye?

When you were excited by what you saw? When you were overwhelmed by the store experience?

Do you remember when you walked out of a store with an empty wallet and full arms, feeling pure joy by the experience you just had? I know I do. I used to have this every time I would enter a Zara store. This was when I would regularly travel to Europe, and before Zara opened in Australia. Just seeing that Zara sign on the window sent my heart racing.

How long has it been since your heart raced like that? I know for me, it has been a long time.

Retail was once known for being the perfect harmony between art and science. But has this harmony become imbalanced?

The art I refer to being the creative element.

The creation of trends. And I mean real trends. Things we all had to have, had to wear, had to own. The continuous drive by merchants for “what’s next”. Not a constant repeat of what had already been done before. Innovation went beyond trying something in a new colour.

A true merchant used their ‘gut’ to determine those things they would go on a limb to secure. This would feel like a risk for some, but for the merchant, their gut feel was — more often than not — right on the money.

The merchant knew their customer. They knew what their customer wanted. They also had the innate ability to give their customer what they didn’t even know they wanted.

Seasons were true seasons, and stores represented that. It was heels or wedges. Dresses or pants. Shorts or skirts. One or the other in abundance.

It was fluorescent green or pale pink. It was mustard or berry. Not all colours of the rainbow just to be sure every colour was covered.

The art was the focus on how to stand out in a cluttered market.

The art was in how to be first to market.

The art was giving your customer a sensory overload. An exciting, flutter in your stomach experience.

Fashion retail stores


Balanced with the art, was the science.

The data.

The analysis.

The information that told you a story.

The information that enabled you to use the past as a guide, but didn’t dictate the future. You drove the future through your innovative plans. Data would sense check those future plans but, not direct them. Those future plans would be focused on the continual drive of change. The drive for new. The drive for “what’s next”? The drive for providing a true destination for the customer, and giving them a true reason to visit your store over another.

The art drove the future plans with the back up of the science. Art was driven by gut feel and a true merchant mentality.

The science validated assumptions and provided a compelling story for future seasonal plans.

office workers


Today it seems that the science has greatly overtaken the art. Data from the past is dissected in so many ways and over analysed to point of “analysis paralysis”. Data, for far too many retailers, is directing the future. If you look at fashion as an example there is the continuation of key colours, season after season, because it is clear that the data shows that this colour sold well and therefore must continue into the next season. I don’t know about you, but one season of mustard is enough for me.

As Steve Dennis pointed out,

“Retail is not dead. Boring retail is.”

This so true. Those retail stores driven by science, without the balance of art is far too common. It is unimaginative, predictable and outright boring. Isn’t it time to reintroduce the merchant or trader mentality? To provide room for that good old “gut feel” to drive innovation and excitement? To encourage teams to think more with a “what’s next” mentality as opposed to a rinse and repeat mindset? How do we bring back, or for some retailers introduce, a more even balance of art and science?

I am not saying data should be ignored. Nor am I saying that analysis doesn’t have a place. It does and plays an important role. But data should be used as a starting point in retail, not the impetus of all decisions. Everything doesn’t need to constantly change. But when evolution, change, innovation and differentiation don’t exist, boring remains.

Isn’t it time to be gone with the boring and shift the balance where science no longer outweighs the art?

Let’s reignite retail and say goodbye to boring retail.

This article was first published on LinkedIn

Source: Is retail boring now? Here’s how stores have lost the balance of art and science