The question for today’s retailers: What business are you in?

Retailers are in danger of losing their identities. My latest Retail Wire weigh-in:

Retailers have been rightfully worried about defining themselves by category for a while. At first, Walmart was the competitive concern - which categories would it go after next at crazy low margins? Those days now seem quaint with Amazon on the scene, picking off categories one by one, at massive scale, and with algorithmic alacrity.

Now an over-correction is at work in retail that is even more perilous. The concern is (or should be) complete loss of identity as retailers offer store space to competitors and expand online marketplaces into oblivion. This is diluting brand equity (hence many brands’ pull-back on wholesale distribution). The answer to “What business are you in?” can’t be a reactionary “Selling all kinds of stuff everywhere.”

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Carol Spieckerman