Answers aren't blowing in the wind, nor
are they in crystal balls or tea leaves. But futurists can
narrow the universe of business choices and spark some
creative thinking about which course to follow.
WHAT COULD POSSIBLY BE FUTURISTIC about selling Slurpees,
Big Gulps, and doughnuts? Everything to Keith Morrow, vice
president of information systems for 7-Eleven, Inc., operator of
some 5,800 convenience stores in North America. The success of
7-Eleven hinges on its ability to let consumers buy what they want,
the way they want, when they want, and these desires are
constantly, continually changing in unexpected ways. Anticipate
those changes, sell more. Miss them, and products gather dust.
"At the right point - not too soon, not too late - we want to be
able to jump into technology just when consumers and our store
managers will benefit," Morrow explains. "That's why we
consistently think about the future."
And that's why he hires futurists from Electronic Data Systems to
help the company see past today's business and into tomorrow's.
Says Jeff Wacker, an EDS futurist who guides 7-Eleven, "We help the
company make sure it will continue to have the right products on
the shelves when a customer walks in. We also help them make sure
they are in the right locations and that they are anticipating
changing customer tastes."
Keeping pace with those tastes these days has 7-Eleven delving into
payment cards "loaded" with electronic cash, which customers can
use to buy cigarettes, soft drinks, and newspapers without hunting
in their pockets for change. It's also looking at micropayment
technologies that could let customers buy Slurpees with a wave of
their cellphones. And it's continually tinkering with its
merchandise. For instance, the stores are now selling more fresh
foods; "we believe there's a real opportunity," Morrow says.