The Business Canary in the Coal Mine – By Sean Yoon McDevitt

by Jenae Reid on October 24, 2017

What does the saying ‘the canary in the coal mine’ mean to you? Historically, ‘Tweety Bird’s’ namesake was used as an analog warning system for coal miners: if the canary was still alive, so were they, deep below the earth’s surface. This ‘early warning system’ was so effective, the sci-fi movie Arrival even suggested that humans may still use the small yellow bird in the future for similar means, albeit away from the coal mines.FeedFront issue 40 cover

The adage of the canary in the coal mine can be applied to business; for those fans of the movie The Big Short, recall a small group of investors who saw the housing bubble coming before the rest of the world. These were the proverbial canaries.

With the closing of many big-box national retail chains and malls across the country over recent years, coupled with brands like Nike selling direct through Amazon, could this be the retail version of the canary in the coal mine? Could these new trends be the harbinger of the death of in-store retail as we know it?

It may be too early to tell. However, the main driver behind this potential canary for the retail industry is easy to point to: online shopping.

How can traditional retail outlets survive in an increasingly e-commerce friendly world? Follow the trends and lean on what’s still working to drive sales:

Leverage Affiliate Marketing

We call it “performance marketing” for a reason – publishers and referral sites are only paid on performance. Traditional retailers don’t need to budget for the channel, because it pays for itself; it costs much less to host a link on a trusted affiliate site then it does to continue to maintain a bloated brick and mortar presence. Plus, overall costs are much less than in-store.

Connect Search Teams

Traditionally, in-house/agency search teams have been kept separate from affiliate search teams. In a changing retail environment, online teams should work together, instead of against each other. Consumers will continue to direct their buying searches on a computer, meaning search teams will have to work together to grab the attention of an increasingly educated and savvy consumer.

Upgrade In-Store Experience

Just like movie theaters and sporting events before them, retailers will have to prove that going in-store is worth more for consumers than shopping in their pajamas in front of their laptop at home. Granted, online marketers can’t control the actual, physical in-store experience a customer has. However, what they can control are in-store offers. Brands can host in-store offers with affiliates that may be better than what they offer online, giving the customer an incentive to get off the couch, change, get in their car, get gas, drive to the store, and find parking. I’m already exhausted typing that all out, so the deal better be worth the hassle.

By implementing these practices, advertisers will continue to ‘breathe’ in a growing online world. Just like the canary.


Sean is a Senior Partner Manager for & Ziff Davis Commerce.

This article appeared in issue 40 of FeedFront Magazine, which was published in October 2017.


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