Thursday, May 8, 2008

Living in an ecosystem

A few nights ago I went to a dinner co-sponsored by (a retail trade organization) and Demandware, an e-commerce platform provider. They were kind enough to host a soft sell dinner for 50 retailers in New York City at Ruth's Chris. While the dinner and networking were terrific, a researcher from Jupiter Research, Patti Freeman Evans, gave a brief speech on e-commerce, though her insights had much broader-reaching applications.

I have written often about the act of curation - in writing and in life. As a retailer, there is also a curatorial aspect to my company's work. In our brick-and-mortar stores, we are constrained by the size of the box. Even on our website, there is just so much merchandise that any one Guest is willing to click-through. Navigation must be easy. Content must be relevant. Frustration, confusion, and wait time must be held to an absolute minimum from parking in our parking lot all the way through the Guest exit. As retailers, we are curators. Yes, the content matters, though the thoughtful edit matters even more. Or point-of-view and clear expression of it is mission critical. There's no room in retail for "wishy-washy".

It's easy to have a POV about a store, or a chain or stores, or a website. But what about an enterprise POV? Much more difficult when there are parties of conflicting interest. Our business, like so many others, is currently siloed beyond belief. Many people see an ecosystem within their own microcosm. And you can't build a brand that way. I am surprised every day at how many people drive their respective buses with blinders on. This is only complicated by the fact that we are a turn-around, so we are, as my boss likes to say "driving the bus at breakneck speed while also trying to paint it." Again, if only I could draw...

What Patti Freeman Evans asked us to do, as retailers, is consider our entire business and indeed our entire industry, as an ecosystem. What we do in one store, one chain of stores, or on one site has an incredible effect on many other people and companies. And her thought provoking analogy of businesses being living, breathing entities offers us a chance to reflect on the question, "what would we do, in our businesses, if we were conscious at every moment that our decisions profoundly effect the lives of everyone we reach for years to come?"

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