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RSR Celebrates 12 Years: The Changes We Have Seen

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RSR turned 12 years old this week. If anyone could have told the RSR partners in 2007 that the world was about to crash into a Great Recession, our little company might never have existed. We might have been naïve in retrospect, but we expected a stable business environment, and we were certainly not alone; the 18 months spanning 2006-07 saw the highest numbers of startups in the U.S. since the 1970’s. But the business environment wasn’t stable, and the number of startups plummeted in the next two years. It wasn’t until 2015 that the economy saw the same number of startups as in at the start of 2008.

RSR survived the Great Recession, just like the retail industry as a whole – albeit with some big adjustments in the process.

Aside from the Great Recession, something arguably even more significant happened in the timeframe around 2007-08: Apple launched the iPhone. It’s difficult to overstate what a massive change that one innovation triggered throughout society. The timing of the iPhone launch was prescient; consumers suddenly were thrust into an environment where their most precious commodities were time and money; people no longer had enough of either, and so they had to make every decision count. Smart mobile phones were a new and powerful tool to help people get to the answers they needed.

Smart mobile devices opened up the world of the Internet to a far greater number of humans than desktop computers had (from Google: “As of April 2019, 56.1% of the world's population has internet access, and 81% of the developed world”). And guess what? Consumers used that access to better their daily lives!

Something else happened in tandem with the newly pervasive consumer access to information. Two of the biggest beneficiaries of the trend were post-Millennial startups Facebook and Twitter. The combination of smart mobile plus social media fundamentally changed how people and businesses consume information. And so it was that always-on-anytime-anywhere technology had an effect on how RSR and others like us conduct our business.

RSR is in the information business. Our particular form of information comes in the form of insights into retail business “care-abouts”, gleaned from our experiences as practitioners and reinforced by what retail decision makers tell us in the 10-12 attitudinal surveys we execute every year. RSR’s innovation in 2007 was to bring forward the ways the over-performers were actually addressing the challenges and seizing the opportunities that all retailers face. From the very start, those insights have been consolidated into benchmark reports that are pragmatic, insightful, and able to be consumed in 10 or 15 minutes. We expected people to read our 25 page reports.

But there’s the rub! People don’t have time to read, but instead increasingly consume information in 280 character chunks – and that’s an overstatement (again, from Google: “The most common length of a tweet back when Twitter only allowed 140 characters was 34 characters. Now that the limit is 280 characters, the most common length of a tweet is 33 characters”). People may have more money than in 2010 – and that’s debatable – but they continue to be more-and-more pressed for time, and so they consumer information in smaller and smaller chunks.

The same is true for business decision makers. In more ways than can be neatly summarized, the business world is following how individuals make decisions in their personal lives. People consume information in shorter and shorter bursts; now businesses do that too. And so information providers like RSR are offering their insights in shorter bursts than ever before. It’s all good (check out our LinkedIn and Twitter feeds).

Of course, this new reality is not particular to RSR or the retail world that we serve. To a greater extent than ever before, governments and businesses alike need to respond to the changes in the environment that they operate in, even while those changes are happening. It’s a sense-and-respond world we’re living in. This is the unintended consequence of something as seemingly simple as an Internet-connected mobile phone.

So, RSR continues to evolve, just like any survivor business needs to do nowadays. Will we see changes in the next 12 years like we’ve seen in the last 12? That’s hard to imagine. But unlike our first days in 2007, we expect it.

So now, let’s have some birthday cake and get back to work. As Sherlock Holmes might have said, the game is afoot!

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Articles & Opinions June 18, 2019
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