Cutting Edge Retail - Using Philosophy to create Strategy

Don’t run away – but I am going to talk philosophy and how that will help you make money. Specifically I want to describe to you the dialectic process or cycle and how you might use that to your advantage.

The dictionary defines the dialectic’ (process) in many ways, including as:

The Hegelian process of change in which a concept or its realization passes over into and is preserved and fulfilled by its opposite. 

The dialectic process is pattern of thinking that can work to your advantage or disadvantage.

Consider for instance this observation:

The Hegelian dialectic is the framework for guiding our thoughts and actions into conflicts that lead us to a predetermined solution. If we do not understand how the Hegelian dialectic shapes our perceptions of the world, then we do not know how we are helping to implement the vision. When we remain locked into dialectical thinking, we cannot see out of the box.

The other way of looking at it is to use the fact that things are happening ‘in the box’ to your advantage - by predicting how things will play out.

In general terms

The dialectic process is characterised by the presence of three phases:

  1. The status quo is the stage labelled the THESIS. (It is ‘THE’ ‘IS’ – that what ‘is’.)
  2. Gradually, the opposite of the thesis – the ANTITHESIS develops. The anti-thesis is the opposite of thesis and emerges because it presents the natural opportunity – the GAP in the market so to speak.
  3. The thesis and the antithesis SYNTHESISE into a new reality – which is the new status quo or the new THESIS.

In retail business terms

The textbooks (the best one is Levy & Weitz available on Amazon) typically use this graphic to explain it. I think they all copy each other because none of them ever come up with a different example, but I will do that for you.

A few weeks ago, Brian Walker wrote about the rise of fusion retailing. This has been happening for awhile; for example Deus ex Machina on Parramatta Road in Sydney created a Harley Davidson ‘lifestyle’ store probably a decade ago and added a café subsequently; but it is true that there is an increase in the number of concepts. (Some great, some desperate.)

But this trend is entirely predictable if you follow the ‘dialectical process’.

The dialectic process explains the evolution of retail concepts. (It is not the only explanation, but if you read Levy & Weitz or google the bold words, you will see a few more.)



If you have a mechanism that helps you anticipate the next big thing in retail, then you can plan to be part of that future – or even better get one step ahead of the future. You can participate in the natural evolution or you can be creating the next stage of the evolution knowing that you are on the right track.

In the examples mentioned above, you can choose to go ‘fusion’ or you can start figuring out what is the opposite of fusion. More interestingly, you can either go multi-channel or figuring out what it the opposite of multi-channel – and there are already some really interesting concept emerging.



I call this ‘artisanal’ retail.

As sure as I am alive, the opposite of today’s buzzword will become the new ‘thesis’ one day. As with all things strategy and future – the challenge is rarely the ‘what’, but when it will happen. It is a fine line between being on the cutting edge and being on the bleeding edge.