A British supermarket boss recently confessed to me that his greatest nightmare was not a domestic peer outperforming him but the prospect of ecommerce titan Amazon moving wholeheartedly into fresh groceries in the UK. As he spoke, what was evident was his lack of a plan. The tsunami was coming and it seemed he was not going to be doing much to prepare for it.
It was depressing hearing him, not least because Amazon’s rise was hardly news. If anything, food is simply among the last targets to fall. Surely, when Amazon first appeared, this seasoned UK industry chief and his executives should have asked where it could lead. Judging by his hesitant demeanour, they had not. Rather, they’d watched and waited as, one by one, markets fell. And now it was their turn.
This story is being repeated in sector after sector. As any artisanal coffee shop customer in San Francisco, Shanghai or Shoreditch will tell you, we live in the age of the disruptor. What Amazon has done to the high street, Google and Facebook have done to advertising, Netflix to film and TV distribution, Uber to minicabs, Airbnb to hotels – and that’s just the start.