4 JANUARY 2014 Consulting®
ShortTakes Trends, Views and Analysis
Retail’s Next Revolution
Erika Serow, head of Bain’s Americas Retail Practice, says the retail revolution has arrived
The Retail industry has undergone massive
changes lately with the advent of digital
and mobile shopping, proving a challenge
for retail consultants to keep up with rapid
shifts in consumer behavior. Erika Serow,
Bain & Company’s newly appointed head of
its Americas Retail Practice, says the industry
experiences similar periods of disruption every
50 years or so. Starting with department
stores in the mid 1800s, the shopping mall
around the turn of the century, and the big
box retailer in the 1960s. Each represents a
revolution in retail that forever changed the
way consumers shopped. Serow says Retail is
at one of those pivot points right now, and
retailers will have to evolve to keep up with
the times or be consigned to the dustbin of
history. Consulting magazine sat down with
Bain’s newly minted leader of the America’s
Retail Practice to discuss her new role, the
market and the future of retail.
Consulting: What will some of your big
priorities will be starting on day one?
Serow: We have had several record years
of growth in our retail practice. We have
strongholds in a couple of sectors of retail
we’d like to expand, and we have the next
generation of retail customers to grow. We
have a lot to do and it’s an exciting time in
retail to be taking the reins.
Consulting: With the advent of the Internet
and mobile taking over, how do you see that
changing the landscape going forward?
Serow: We talk about what’s happening in
retail right now as the next evolution in a
cycle that runs approximately 50 years. If
you look at what’s happening now, it’s on the
scale of magnitude with what happened in the
60s with Big Box retail when the Wal-marts
of the world sort of began to take over. Back
in the early 1900s you had shopping malls,
which changed retail. then in the mid-1800s,
department stores. So there’s this evolution
of department store to mall to superstore to
Internet and omni-channel and digital, and
that’s where we are. If you think about how
transformative each of those other elements
have been to retail, we look at the industry
as being at a literally twice-a-century pivot
point in how people think about retail.
Consulting: What are clients demanding?
Serow: Our clients are going into this
with their eyes open. Every great retailer
recognizes the shift in what’s happening and
are looking for ways to keep ahead of a curve.
The expectations and behaviors change
radically from year to year. So retailers are
really looking for ways to stay ahead of
the changing consumer behaviors in terms
of knowing what’s coming next. Also the
ability to build and transform organizations
that have been relatively staid into quick-paced innovators, and trying to attract new
generations of talent needed around really
important omni-topics like digital marketing.
Consulting: In this kind of transformative
environment, who comes out on top?
Bain & Company’s Erika Serow