Retail Metamorphosis: Lessons from Disruptive Lives

Hot on the heels of seeing the new John Lewis TV advert, here am I, watching a TV programme on caterpillars, butterflies and a variety of other creatures. And I’m thinking, as I ponder the challenges confronting the retail industry, that businesses would do well to learn a little from nature.

A lesson in lifestyle

From caterpillar to butterfly, the most common metamorphosis, the visual change is startling. The journey from an unassuming bug to a beautiful creature is truly magical. However special effects and admiration are not the reasons for this dramatic change.

The reason for change is lifestyle. A slow-moving creature surviving on leaves is transformed into a highly mobile flying organism in search of the nectar of life. The physical identity is not an end, but a necessity for a new life where food is plentiful, and competition is less.

Survival is not skin deep

So, the first lesson from nature is that change for survival must be fundamental not ornamental, as much in organisations as for organisms. Simply changing the visual look, the graphic identity, the store design, the team hierarchies, the job titles, the staff uniform and the marketing strapline will add nothing to your chance of survival or success. Only with meaningful change deeper within the structure and philosophy of the business will sustainable benefits be experienced.

Only by addressing the very lifestyle of the business and its customers.

The Price of Change

Now, apparently the most significant metamorphoses occur in the seas. And here the level and degree of change is somewhat more dramatic. No tales of gentle evolution but profound creation and destruction in the quest for life and dominance. For the new incarnation to survive and flourish the old must be significantly or completely discarded.

How far will you go to change?

And there is the second lesson. When the environment significantly changes, or new competitors threaten the comfortable status quo, the actions for survival need to be decisive, if not brutal.

Without being dramatic, this really is the situation confronting retail businesses in the developed markets. We face the combination of online competition, diminishing desire for products, increasing spend on experiences not physical things, as well as an economic squeeze on disposable income for many consumers.

Necessary means to a better end.

These challenges are not cyclical hurdles but irreversible changes. For existing traditional retail businesses, the initiatives required for survival cannot be cosmetic or gentle.

For those who can make the changes the rewards are great from the patronage of the new consumer.

How easily those changes can be made, and how quickly, depends on the evolutionary stage and historical baggage of the business; and the future vision, the depth of desire, the strategic awareness and the decisive management of individual retail business leaders.

React to the retail environment, look to the future and discard sentimentality for past inefficiencies and indecision.


How much are you willing to destroy your past to grasp the future?

What parts of your existing organisation do you need to transform and which to let go?

We can help?

Sleep on it and give us a call in the morning…

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