Retail Reflections

RetailEXPO 2019: Why We Are The Lucky Ones

RetailEXPO 2019: Why We Are The Lucky Ones

This week I had the pleasure of chairing the stage at RetailEXPO 2019, held once again at London’s Olympia.

The list of speakers was like a who’s who of the industry, from Justin King to Kate Hardcastle to Andy Murray to Helen Dickinson to Michel Roux Jr.

From packed sessions to inspirational speakers, the event goes from strength to strength and has now firmly established itself on the retail calendar.

Here are some retail reflections from this years’ show.

Day One: Store Design & Experience Stage

Stores are dead right? The High Street is dying right? Wrong!

On the evidence of my day hosting the store stage, they are anything but dead. And what’s more, the store of the future is going to be more exciting, more inspiring and more engaging than ever before.

It seems that we’re going beyond ‘experiential’ retail and that can only be good because I never liked that hackneyed term anyway.

And whilst Harry Selfridge spoke of his store being a social hub and a place to gather and commune – and that was over a hundred years ago – it’s taken the rest of retail all this time to cotton on to the idea.

From David Dalziel (Dalziel & Pow) discussing store design to Howard Saunders (22nd & 5th) discussing the new era of stores to Greg Klingaman (Diageo) explaining how Johnnie Walker is using the power of the store experience to drive the brand, it was clear that rather than being a drag on profitability, more than ever, stores are the means by which brands and retailers can reach for the stars.

Yes, the future is going to be different, yes it will be challenging and yes, there will be many more store closures. 

But the way we approach this is determined by whether our cup is half empty or half full.

In the words of Howard Saunders, the Retail Futurist, stores should no longer be selling ‘stuff’ they should be regarded as playgrounds for us all.

Day Two: Headline Stage

I was salivating at the prospect of the first speaker, after all, it’s not every day that you welcome Michel Roux Jr to the stage.

Amongst many anecdotes and observations was the underlying message: always strive for excellence. 

Disrupt or be disrupted is a message that we’ve heard for many moons now but the most striking thing which Ronan Tighe from Moonpig revealed was that they fairly quickly realised that in order to do so they would have to reorganise their teams around customer goals as opposed to corporate goals.

How many retailers could benefit from doing likewise I wonder?

If you’ve ever considered the technology which is going to shape our future shopping experiences, Martin Wild of German electronics consumer group MediaMarktSaturn provided a fascinating glimpse.

There were many examples of in store robotics, augmented reality, virtual reality and use cases for artificial intelligence.

But the primary question remains; are we as consumers ready for this and will we adopt it? After all, retail is the most human of industries.

It’s often referred to as the 600lb gorilla and its CEO said last November that ultimately it would go bankrupt. There have been many books written about Amazon but none better than ‘Amazon: How The World’s Most Relentless Retailer Will Continue To Revolutionise Commerce’ co-authored by Natalie Berg and Miya Knights.

And it was Miya who provided a great overview of what retailers can learn from Amazon and in particular what they should be focusing on doing which Amazon can’t. It’s not quite the David and Goliath encounter that many seem to suggest.

Unless you’ve been on the moon these past weeks, you can’t have failed to notice the climate change agenda which has seemingly been in the news more than Brexit.

And sustainability is becoming a key issue for retailers, being so much in the forefront and in the public eye. It’s very difficult for them to hide from the issue, whether it’s plastic waste, the amount of water needed to grow cotton or working conditions in factories in Bangladesh and the like.

A panel session featuring H&M, Kingfisher, Farfetch and the British Retail Consortium, explored the role retail has in tackling these issues. It isn’t easy but needs to be part of the DNA of every retailer.

Simon Calver of BGF Investments provided some insightful guidance as a way of closing the stage for this year. Moral of the story? Don’t try (yet another) ‘have I got a great AI solution for you’ pitch, focus on data and personalisation.

Customers are integrated, so should you be.

What a great way to bring RetailEXPO 2019 to a close. We truly are the lucky ones.

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