Futurist Doug Stephens on What Art Dealers Can Learn From the Retail Revolution


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In a July 2020 article published in the Business of Fashion, Canadian futurist Doug Stephens opined on the likely realities of the commercial ecosystem that will emerge from the Great Shutdown. He predicted an economy in which behemoths like Amazon will reign supreme even in sectors like education and banking; robotics and other high-functioning technologies wielded by the largest corporations will put many smaller players at perhaps the starkest disadvantage in history; and ultimately "only the fittest will survive."

It's a disturbing vision, but one that Stephens unfurled in no small part to awaken entrepreneurs to the urgent need for change in the present moment, regardless of their sales niche—and that includes art dealers. While many artists and gallerists prefer to think of their work as a unique public service that enriches the world with insights and beauty, the buying and selling of art also remains a business (and a big one at that). This cold, hard accounting means that, from what to do with their brick-and-mortar outposts to how to leverage their digital platforms, the art industry faces some of the same challenges as general retailers in our crisis-riddled era.

The goods news is that it also means that dealers might be able to take a few cues from other sellers about how to evolve. And who better to consult in this scenario than the Retail Prophet?

On this week's episode of the Art Angle, Doug Stephens joins Andrew Goldstein for a frank and fascinating conversation about what art galleries can learn from leaders in retail around the world, how the traditional relationship between media and sales has inverted courtesy of the internet, and why the changes dealers implement during the shutdown will determine their odds of surviving and thriving long after it ends.

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