Retail and banking: do they care?

retail brand ownershipLast week at CCE2013, I was surprised to hear that Pandora Jewelry have no direct insight into sales or inventory at their retail stores. Why? Many of the stores are franchised with their own systems of record that are not tied to the mothership. How can that be in 2013? But hey – they’ve got a great magazine app that provides for customer wish lists. That app is good for the customer experience but that’s only one dimension of running a business.

Similarly, Walgreens came up with the revelation that the number one customer complaint comes from having to wait in line for refill prescriptions (no shit Sherlock!) but at least they’re doing something about it. They have a mobile app that scans the bottle and ‘knows’ when it needs replenishing.

All good you might think and at least two examples of how retail is responding to the 21st century digital world. But there’s a problem – isn’t there always? Consider retail banking.

We constantly hear how banks want to get closer to the customer and be more responsive although you’d often be hard pressed to know that much of the time. How about this from HSBC, the ‘world’s local bank.’ “Yes sir we can replace your credit card. No, we can only deliver to your home address.” Not much good when you’re in another country and then have to negotiate where cards can be delivered and under what terms. And oh yes, this doesn’t apply to your debit card or device…blah…blah.

Is this ‘close to customer’ routine just a joke or are there other issues in play?

Over the weekend, I stumbled across the graphic at the top of this post. The post title from which it came says it all: 10 Corporations Control Almost Everything You Buy — This Chart Shows How. Consolidation is nothing new. As the same article points out:

In recent decades, the very news and information that you get has bundled together: 90% of the media is now controlled by just six companies, down from 50 in 1983, according to a Frugal Dad infographic from last year.

and…

37 banks have merged to become just four — JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and CitiGroup in a little over two decades.

Far from expanding choice, the number of corporations that control the brands we love and hate is diminishing. They of course will argue that they still have to operate in a highly competitive market and that there are always new threats etc. Even if you slap the big foot of WalMart over all the brands then you still have to wonder whether competition represents a real threat.

Some will argue about the rise of ‘own’ brands as a price alternative but that didn’t stop Nestlé from earning CHF 10.6 billion ($11.6 bn) profit in 2012, up 11.8 percent on the previous year.

The corner shop has all but vanished. Consumers constantly complain about bank fees and poor service. If anything, it seems like the desire to get on the now dead ‘social business‘ (was it ever alive?) bandwagon is really all about selling more ‘stuff.’ And when you think about it, that makes perfect sense in a world of shrinking ownership and consolidation.

Agree?

Den Howlett
Following 20+ years in finance and IT related roles, Den Howlett became a freelance writer/analyst/commenter specialising in enterprise IT. I co-launched Information Week in the UK (1996-7) and was a contributor to numerous UK based trade magazines. Most recently, he was a long term columnist on ZDNet. Today, Howlett provides strategic product direction support to a variety of enterprise vendors along with delivering M&A due diligence services. The raw idea for diginomica came to him at a time when enterprise topics in media were being crushed by consumer stories. There had to be a better way. diginomica is that better way.
Den Howlett

@dahowlett

Disruptor, enterprise applications drama critic, BS cleaner, buyer champion and foodie trying to suck less every day.
Den Howlett

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