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  Comments (0) Total Thursday Apr. 24, 2014
 
Doing Ahead vs. Thinking Ahead
Commentary: Business is Personal
Quite often, I talk with business owners about thinking ahead.

Something happened Thanksgiving weekend that tells me that I need to change my terminology to "Doing ahead."

Why the change?
Primarily, I'm concerned that small businesses are thinking ahead, but stopping there.

Thinking ahead discussions often include strategic thoughts of putting yourself out of business by inventing new products and services for your customers that replace your current top seller.

So let's talk retail for a moment, since they're an easy example.

Every time you enter a WalMart store (something I try to avoid - I'm just not into the crowds), you're likely to see something different. Just a little thing here or there that's different. Sometimes it's a test to see how something works, other times it's the result of such tests.

What you never see is exactly the same store, time after time, town after town. Sure, the overall store is quite similar overall but there's almost always something different. Something being tested. Something being implemented.

This effort isn't limited to their brick and mortar stores. WalMart and the rest of big retail spend a lot of time looking at how they can improve the performance of their online retail properties. They have lots on their todo list simply by comparing themselves to Amazon.com - which blows away most (if not all) online retailers in end to end performance and customer engagement.

This is the price they pay for ignoring Amazon during their climb to cruising altitude.

What we don't see is massive shifts designed to make the store or parts of the store irrelevant. It doesn't mean they aren't there, but they're much harder to see in a brick and mortar store. Honestly, I can't think of the last time I saw a brick and mortar store do something like this but I suspect I just don't recall it.

Amazon tweaks too
Naturally, Amazon.com is working hard to improve what they already do - testing and tweaking their retail site and their back end (such as the systems that email you about things you might be interested in). You can see evidence of this on a regular basis.

Meanwhile - they're doing things like this and (More video here from 60 Minutes). Print readers, see youtube.com/watch?v=98BIu9dpwHU and cbsnews.com/news/amazon-unveils-futuristic-plan-delivery-by-drone .

This isn't just about speed, though that is certainly part of it. Keep in mind that this also means that Amazon can deliver without using any of the established shipping systems - all of which have legislative limitations as complex as those currently preventing the use of shipping drones. The only difference is that no one wrote a pile of legislation in the 1920's to protect the USPS, Fedex or UPS - all of whom are just as likely to have drones in their future.

Parts of this are not just changing the rules but eliminating them wholesale. I would expect this to be implemented in other countries long before it happens in the U.S., due to the legislative challenges here. We're already well on the way to delivering relief supplies via drone. Why not retail?

Learning while looking ahead
Learn from seeing Amazon look years ahead without a guaranteed payoff, hitting on pain points, looking to shorten the sales cycle (money loves speed), looking to eliminate competitive disadvantages with WMT, looking to improve/control shipping, etc - while ignoring the fact that they can't put the drones into service and prepare for the day when they can.

They'll be learning new things about their business and their customers as well.

The challenge for you and for businesses all over the world is not to see another way that Amazon will eat your lunch, or to think you're safe because you aren't in retail, aren't near an Amazon fulfillment center or are in a rural location unlikely to be served by drones.

Your challenge is to think beyond the advances you've been working on or considering. Those advances are important, but you also need to be figuring out things that are years off, all while considering what will replace them.

The dangerous thought is to ignore these things because they don't threaten you now and wont for years.

Why is that so dangerous? Because that's exactly what many in Amazon's market did a decade or so ago - and they still haven't caught up from making that mistake.

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a strategic, operations or marketing problem? See Mark's site, contact him on Twitter, or email him at mriffey@flatheadbeacon.com.
 
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