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Living inside Amazon

If you want everyone at your conference to keep quiet, Guy Smith, Head of Design for Arcadia, is your man. A few weeks ago at Future Stores in London he suggested that one option for retailers that are not as good at logistics as Amazon, might be to end up living inside it instead.

What that means is you focus on the retail and the brand, and let Amazon worry about the mechanics of moving product.

Result? 500 people in one room and not a sound to be heard.

We are all now getting used to the idea of living in Amazon’s shadow, if not inside it. How many reports, articles and presentations are now prefaced with qualifiers such as: how to compete with Amazon; how to differentiate yourself from Amazon; how to do what Amazon can’t; and so on?

And along comes Smith suggesting that throwing in the towel and going down the Amazon Marketplace route might not be such a bad idea for certain types of retailer.

I’m with Smith – better to think the unthinkable, rather than watch someone else recognise that your area of business has no barriers to entry, or does something so left field that you can’t possibly respond in time (if ever).

Consider this week’s announcement that Conde Nast, the publisher of Vogue, GQ and others, is throwing in the towel on its expensive investment in, and partnering with Farfetch to “monetise its content” (meaning sell stuff online). Farfetch, founded in 2008, is now heading for a $5bn stock market listing.

This is what everyone means by turning the dial – events that make a dramatic difference in a category, forcing everyone to rethink.

Consider Action, a Dutch discounter you’ve never heard of, that enjoyed modest growth through the Nineties, but has rocketed in the last five years after receiving a massive cash injection from 3i. It has expanded from 245 stores to 840 in that time, opening outlets in Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria and France. Any discounters in those countries will almost certainly be concerned.

The only difference with Amazon is that they do it every day (just look at the Whole Foods acquisition), so any retailer currently struggling to differentiate itself in the same pond might want to consider its options – live in the belly of the whale, or eat all the other fish.


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