Sainsbury’s and Asda (owned by Walmart) weren’t being disrupted. They were planning to be the disruptors. And now they are.
Perspective is the position from which you see a situation, and what informs your reaction. Here are a couple of examples from conversations I had over the weekend.
A friend was asked by a music teacher of her singing voice, ‘Is that your normal voice, or do you have a cold?’ From one side of the conversation, a blunt and tactless question, but from the other, a simple way of anchoring expectation.
Another: ‘Will you get another dog?’
Answer: ‘No, I can’t tell you the number of times I was nearly arrested in Hyde Park when he chased squirrels – oh, and he liked to hump our MP’s dog.’ Real life imitating fiction, and yet we can see the situation from both sides. On one hand, it’s an amusing anecdote. On the other, it’s unsociable and verging on illegal.
In business, we rely on data. Data tells us everything we want to know. It’s infallible, reliable and exact. It is incontrovertible. Facts are like that – mostly. But people like to argue about stuff, and interpret solutions depending on their agenda and from where they see the facts.
Facts, though, don’t tell us what’s to come. They are historical. Forecasters struggle, by their own admission, to get within a stone’s throw of an accurate ‘actual’ business performance using facts. If yours does, hang on to her/him. They’re worth their weight in gold (gold prices can go down as well as up).
So Sainsbury’s and Asda are ‘merging’. Tesco and some trades unions won’t like it. Many other people seem quite animated over the prospect. It’s exciting. It’s radical. It was unexpected – and yet…
When the Coop announced a liaison with Nisa, commentators rolled their eyes and claimed to have seen it coming. Tesco has been merging with Booker for so long, no-one’s talking about it anymore. Amazon bought Whole Foods and there was a ripple of anticipation as the online giant stepped into bricks and mortar. And sooner or later, the coming together of Asda and Sainsbury’s will just be something that happened.
The trend that predicted consolidation of the retail FMCG sector has been flagging up this kind of activity for years. The prediction may have been pushed into the background because it didn’t happen sooner, but the trend never went away.
Did retail competitors see it coming? Probably. While talks that culminate in deals like this are kept under wraps, it’s likely someone let it slip. Did they do anything about it? Who knows? Let’s see who blinks first.
Could we have predicted that Walmart wouldn’t be sitting around waiting for Amazon to pull the rug out from under them? Yes – in fact, we did. In a blog back in April, I wrote What’s the difference between a headline and a trend? and suggested exactly what we see today: Walmart working on a plan that will increase its value and use its market dominance to push back against the Amazon juggernaut. Let’s not forget that, if Amazon is a juggernaut, Walmart is the fleet of trucks filling the highway and rolling down both lanes towards you. It’s still THE global retail giant.
So you see, perspective matters. Knowing what has happened is useful. Believing what’s going to happen is helpful. Seeing it from another perspective is revelatory – and deciding to do something with that vision is where disruption starts. It’s what we like to call innovation strategy.
Sainsbury’s and Asda/Walmart weren’t being disrupted. They were planning to be the disruptors. And now they are.
Futre thinking. Future proofing. Seeing it differently. It’s what we do.