Could ‘platform thinking’ be a blueprint for retail success?
“Platform thinking” is the key to succeeding at retail in the face of the upheaval it has experienced, according to Kate Ancketill, CEO of GDR Creative intelligence. In a session she gave at the 2018 National Retail Federation show in New York City, Ms. Ancketill defined steps that were, in her view, critical for retailers to compete with monopolistic players like Walmart and Amazon.
“No one entity has enough data or machine learning to do its job sufficiently well to compete with the big platforms,” Ms. Ancketill said. “You can’t beat them — they’re too big. You can either join them … or you can not join them … but you can’t not think like them, because they employ platform thinking and everyone else has to, too.”
The first component of platform thinking she defined was adopting new contextual channels, such as in-flight and car dashboard-based shopping.
The second was moving outside of traditional core competencies. Ms. Ancketill gave examples:
- Wallpaper company Castorama sells children’s wallpaper with cartoon character designs. Kids can point devices at a character to see their story on-screen. For Ms. Ancketill, this illustrates the move from being a wallpaper company to a media company.
- Deliveroo builds “dark restaurants” in shipping containers in ZIP codes in which their data told them that customers were ordering Chinese food, but where there were no Chinese restaurants, and then invites Chinese restaurants to cook in the locations and deliver through the platform.
The third was understanding the deeper significance of a product in a customer’s life. She gave examples such as:
- The Museum of Ice Cream in Los Angeles that bridged the gap between retail and art, and become a viral sensation on Instagram by providing selfie backgrounds.
- Backpack company Cotapaxi’s Questival, a 24-hour adventure race in which people taking part prove they’ve completed challenges by posting pictures on social media.
The fourth part Ms. Ancketill defined was getting as much out of assets as possible (“sweating assets”). She pointed to examples like Japan’s Toyota Drive to Go store, which has reconfigured its car rental space into a café-like environment.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is platform thinking as Kate Ancketill defines it a path to success at retail? Which elements promise the most success and the ability to compete with big platforms such as Amazon and Walmart?