Amazon.com and Costco are considered some of the most innovative retailers.
75 + years ago, the retailer innovator was Sears. You can make various arguments why Sears isn't the retail giant. Amazon has Jeff Bezos. Costco had Jim Sinegal who just retired. Sears had General Robert E. Wood.
Aren't data centers part of the retailing of bits?
Who is Robert Wood. Here is paper on what he did at Sears.
Sears Roebuck: General Robert E. Wood's Retail Strategy
James C. Worthy
This paper presents an account of the manner in which a well-
established-mail order enterprise serving exclusively a rural and
small-town market was brought into the mainstream of rapidly ur-
banizing America to serve a broad national market concentrated in
but not restricted to the great metropolitan centers. This far-
reaching transformation, which resulted in creation of the world's
largest merchandising organization, was conceived and largely ac-
complished by one man, General Robert E. Wood, a brash newcomer to
the company with no proper grounding in the accepted ways of how
things ought to be done.
Robert was driven by data.
In his drive to expand the retail system, General Wood gave
special attention to the South, the Southwest, and the West where
the census figures with which he was so familiar told him the
principal increases in population were occurring. He was well
aware that growth had levelled off or was actually declining in
New England, the Middle Atlantic states, and the upper Midwest,
and took this phenomenon into account in selecting the cities in
which he placed his stores.
The following totally sounds like inside amazon.com offices and Costco.
Falling back on his Canal and wartime experiences, General
Wood wanted stores without frills. He conceived of Sears serving
as the commissary (his term) of the nation, supplying merchandise
of such values that fancy and expensive surroundings would not
be necessary to bring people into his stores. In keeping with
this spirit, the early Sears stores were austere. Fixtures
bought for the stores during the first few years were as inexpen-
sive as could be found, many picked up locally at second hand.
There was no such thing as merchandise displays in the modern
sense of the term; goods were simply stacked on wooden tables
and customers rummaged to find what they wanted. Because men
were expected to be a large part of store clientele and men were
presumed to be not as finicky as women, housekeeping suffered
and the stores were often less than neat and orderly. The
early Sears stores were functional but drab; they resembled
warehouses, which in fact they were: warehouses open to the
And, here is another part that sounds like Jeff Bezon and Jim Sinegal.
There was much to learn. A salient characteristic of the
Sears organization at this stage of internal evolution was an
openness to learning in the light of experience unhampered by
too many preconceptions of how things "ought" to be done.
General Wood himself did much to set this learning mode.
He did not leave the learning to subordinates. Much of the most
7O useful learning was his own, acquired in direct contact with the
men and women at the scene of action.
During the early retail years, a large part of Wood's time
was spent in the stores working with store managers, department
heads, salespeople, unit control clerks -- anyone in a position
to tell him how things were actually working and what needed to
be done to make them work better.
Doesn't this sound like a description of Costco and Amazon.
By 1935, the Sears retail system was solidly established.
Its mission was clear, its leadership confident, and its machinery
running smoothly. It had taken 10 years to reach this state.
They had been 10 hard years, but they were years of achievement
in which Wood and the men around him forged a new and highly
effective means for serving the changing needs of a changing