Survival of the fastest: agile consultancies can help retailers survive disruption

Speed is crucial in life and business. In today’s world this is true more than ever before, with major disruption affecting the retail outlook. In the past few months we have witnessed the demise of many previously established retailers, (most recently ToysRUs and Maplin), and the latest figures from March indicate a 6% decline month on month in retail footfall, the sharpest fall in eight years.

So how to read the signals and stay ahead of the competition in this challenged environment? Whilst 3-5 year strategic planning horizons will always have some role to play, new digital competitors and rapidly shifting consumer behaviours mean that the short-term, here-and-now is becoming disproportionately important, which brings a whole different set of challenges to a traditional business, over and above just hitting next week’s trading numbers.

The disrupters of our age, like Amazon, succeed so well not just because they have access to great data, but because they are able to quickly make sense of it to answer and respond to customer needs. Meanwhile, traditional retailers who are hampered by legacy systems and internal cultures and a slow-moving approach to data are losing out.

With this need for speed, the traditional retail consultancy model is also becoming increasingly, well, traditional. You know the approach; Business X invites the consultants in to confirm (their own) diagnosis, spending numerous months designing a ‘perfect’ (and expensive), solution, often leaving behind the dreaded ‘added value’ multi-hundred-slide-PowerPoint-monster. Job done, and on to the next ‘transformation’ project…

But as the recent news should warn us, you cannot afford the indulgence of spending months of valuable analytical time to find the perfect answer when the world may have moved on before you even get to present your finely crafted PowerPoint deck.

You can be losing customers and millions in revenue in this time frame nowadays, as disrupters, able to both predict and react quickly, nibble away at your previously exclusive lunch.

So how can traditional retailers best respond to the new forces impacting their industries? The key is in learning from the new competition rather than merely being threatened by it. With the right expertise in data, quickly acted upon, modern retailers can react to the signals and succeed. Data specialist consultancies, who adopt a pragmatic and agile approach offer the best opportunity to thrive in the new retail landscape.

Here are four key benefits that the right specialist data-focused consultancy partner can offer:

1. Speed of action

Agile data-focused consultancies can offer something different. At Starcount, blending brilliant people with smart technology and data sources is an absolute given; table stakes if you like. But Starcount’s promise is to partner with our clients to help quickly activate changes in their business, informed by the data driven insights. Rather than the ‘proof is in the pudding,’ for us the ‘proof is in the starter.’ With agility, speed and the right read of the insights, you can quickly move into activation, i.e. at shelf edge, where it matters most for customers. In condensing this value chain, a process that may have taken months can now be done in weeks – essential in today’s environment.

2. Pragmatism

A second key flaw in the ‘traditional’ model is the lack of realistic thinking among consultancies about the ecosystems that exist in the businesses they are sent in to transform. The ‘perfect’ solution often pays little or no attention to the realities on the ground. Pragmatism is key to this, understanding at speed the challenges and then reacting appropriately to the signals. A truly client-centric approach understands what a company has in systems, people and technological solutions. You might call them baby steps to get you going on the path to delivering fast results; results that then build trust and confidence in your approach, ahead of larger (and more complex) changes that may be required down the line.

3. Activation

Connected to the above is activation. Being able to turn theory into action is critical, joining the dots between insight and activation. Generating brilliant pieces of technical analytics is no longer enough without the ability to work with the client to activate the science, whether communicating with the clients in the right way to drive additional sales and online engagement or ensuring the right products and offers are available at the right time.

4. Embedding a data culture

Finally and crucially is the ability to embed the learning and create a true data and customer led culture across the business. Rather than just leaving behind that weighty document that gathers dust in a CEO’s drawer or inbox, success is ensuring the data-led approach is written like rock through the business, evangelised and role modelled in day-day decision making, (and ideally linked to Executive and colleague performance measures). The customer lens needs to be applied across all facets of the modern retail business if it is to survive and thrive. After all, your customers’ behaviour is certainly not fixed, and neither should be your approach.

Andrew Blackmore is an accomplished brand, consumer and retail specialist with over 25 years’ of experience in helping organisations improve the experience for customers and grow value.

Starcount was recently named one of the FT’s top management consultancies, one of the youngest companies on the list. To find out more about how a data-focused consultancy can transform your business please email

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