Times are tough now in retail. But even in tough times, some companies are making a name for themselves because they are able to see opportunities for development and growth. They see the potential of getting into a market which is looking for something new, something different and ideally something with a smarter solution than what we are used to as customers. These are what we call disruptive retailers.

In many ways, the market has opened up for these players in a perfect storm of conditions. The industry is affected by a range of different factors, some of the most important drivers are the significant changes we are seeing in consumer behaviour, in which there is a new generation with new demands for digital solutions, and digital developments are shrinking the world into a single marketplace. And it is in times like this that we need companies to challenge the status quo, companies which dare to think innovatively and companies which are prepared to try something entirely new. Not just because we as an industry only want new companies, but also because the retail disruptors shake up the established retailers. Quite simply, they stimulate innovation across the entire industry. This does not mean that all of them will automatically survive – neither the retail disruptors nor the established companies.

A case of retail industry disruption in health care

In Norway, a small company is currently growing exponentially. It is called Askeladden & Co, which is named after the hero in a Norwegian folk tale about Espen Askeladden. He is the one who always wins the princess and half the kingdom. Well, this folk tale started when they challenged two well-established industries – health and well-being. With the concept Dr. Dropin, which is already established in several shopping centres, they want to make health care better, more affordable and available for everyone seeking medical attention.

At Dr. Dropin, they have acknowledged that in public health care, the opening hours are sometimes too short and queues too long, and so it might be difficult to get immediate medical attention when in need. Dr. Dropin promises same-day appointments at a fixed price, and you decide whether you want to go to the clinic or book an online appointment. In other words, they have done everything to make seeing the doctor more convenient and customer-centred – or patient-centred in this case.

A retail disruptor poaching the hairdressing industry

Askeladden & Co has applied the same philosophy when they challenged the hairdressing industry with the Cutters concept. They went into a market which had a lot of well-established salons, and their ambition was simple. They wanted to make it easier to get a haircut. Or as Cutters says in their marketing: Cut time. Cut hair. Cut cost.

In a short period of time, Cutters has expanded and now has almost 40 salons, many of which are in shopping centres. The concept has been met with criticism from the hairdressing industry, partly because their strategy is not to wash the customer’s hair. But so far, plenty of customers seem to prefer a straightforward haircut over getting their hair thoroughly washed.

Retail has always been a tough industry with fierce competition and it always will be. But now the rules of the game are changing, and it is the customer who is the winner because the world has never been smaller or the opportunities any greater.