E-commerce sales grew 15.6 percent in 2016 and now accounts for 11.7 percent of all retail sales, according to recent reports. Amazon alone accounts for 43 percent of those ecommerce sales. And it’s no secret that ecommerce has changed not only the way consumers think about their shopping experiences, but also how entrepreneurs think about disruption and innovation.
You don’t need to look far to see a clear example: Last month, Amazon announced it would buy Whole Foods, the upscale supermarket chain that took organic food mainstream. The news had a ripple effect across the industry, and many food companies saw their stocks plunge, according to Bloomberg.
So . . . the original disruptor struck again. Not only did Amazon up-end the entire grocery industry, but also elbowed its way into the brick-and-mortar space.
Still, exactly what is "disruption"?
"Disruption" is defined as an innovation that creates a new market and value network, up-ending an existing market and displacing a company, product or idea. The term “disruption innovation” was first coined by Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen back in 1997. According to Christensen, “Dsruptive innovation occurs when an industrial advancement creates brand new markets via the discovery of new types of customers.”
Basically, all disruptors are innovators, but not all innovators are disruptors.
What does disruption mean for your small business?
A lot, as a matter of fact. Small business owners are actually in a much better position than their larger peers to survive disruptive innovation and come out stronger. The reason is that small businesses can pivot much more easily than large corporations and adapt to the changes of the industry.
Think of your small business as a recreational boat and then think of a larger corporation as a cruise ship. You both can see the storm ahead, but it takes the smaller craft seconds to change course, whereas a cruise ship might need 15 minutes to turn itself around.
The number of zeros here also favors the small business owner. Corporations have invested millions, or billions, of dollars into new technology, employees and training. As a small business, your investment isn’t as large; therefore, you're nimbler and can pivot more seamlessly.
How can businesses, large and small, thrive in disruptive times?
Here are three best practices to implement:
1. Anticipate disruption. We’re all old enough to remember Blockbuster, the video rental chain that we turned to on weekends and that constantly reminded us to "Be kind, rewind" its tapes. At its peak, Blockbuster operated 10,000 stores; and in 2002, the company was valued at $5 billion.
Then came Netflix.
Netflix built a distribution model that relied exclusively in mailing DVDs to subscribers, eliminating fees for not rewinding a VHS tape and giving customers the added convenience of not having to drive to a store. Not to mention that Netflix eliminated late rental fees. It didn’t take a Ph.D economist to see that Blockbuster was in for a rude awakening. That company failed to adapt to the industry changes and eventually went bankrupt.
According to findings from Pew Research Center, 67 percent of Americans have broadband at home, so Netflix hasn't suffered the same fate; it's evolved from mailing DVDs, to streaming movies straight to your TV, to creating its own programming. At Blockbuster, no one anticipated the industry’s next move.
How can companies learn to anticipate? There are a few ways to do that:
- Talk to your younger staffers. Do what’s known as “reverse mentoring.” Pay attention to those who have a different view of the world than you do. They can alert you to any new trends, or threats, that you might not be able to see.
- Meet with your team on a quarterly, or yearly, basis and have everyone pitch an idea -- no matter how far-fetched it seems. Bring the team together to ponder what disruptions your industry might face. Thinking about the future is part of being a good leader.
Help consumers deal with change. Change isn’t easy for anyone. However, it is necessary to embrace change if you’re to survive in a fast-paced environment. One way to help customers embrace change is by developing a clear connection between a product and the value it brings to their lives.
Clearly communicate how your product simplifies their life. Also stress the convenience factor and how it will help streamline a tedious process.
The trick is to ease the inaction of customer behavior and assuage fears when it comes to existing products or services.
Think of Uber, for example. As a father, I never would’ve thought I’d let my daughter get into a total stranger’s car. Yet, here we all are, jumping into a stranger’s car! Uber earned its number 19 perch on CNBC’s list of the 2017 Disruptor 50 companies by offering a service that’s easy, cheaper and more modern.
From ease with tipping, to lower fares, to the ability to pay with a credit card -- all at the press of a button -- Uber has made things more convenient and affordable for consumers. And, convenience and simplicity, more often than not, trump the trepidation people feel trying to keep up with modernization.
Plan for the unexpected. This should be a staple in any business. I know it’s hard to plan for something you can’t see, but you must go up against that way of thinking and plan for the unexpected. In crisis communications, that kind of planning is a "best practice." No matter how far-fetched a scenario seems, you still have to include it as part of your plan.
In order to successfully plan for the unexpected, businesses need to commit to thinking outside the box, to seeing things from a different perspective. However, they must also keep it real. Your company culture needs to accept that failure will likely be involved in its efforts to innovate.
Innovation, after all, is a process -- a journey that will take you to your destination. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and, similarly, innovation and disruption are not things that happen immediately. Give it time, but don’t be afraid to commit to being different.
In the end, disruption is all about trial and error. It’s how disruptive innovations are born and how they can teach businesses a lesson in survival. Adapt, change or die is a way of life. Change is constant, so everyone must learn how to pivot in order to survive. Keep your ear to the ground, think outside the box and embrace change (to list a few old chestnuts). That’s how you become a disruptor. Being different is the new normal.