The only thing fake about Retail Week Live were the trees!
That retail extravaganza, otherwise known as Retail Week Live, once again took place at the Intercontinental O2 in London last week.
From the main Flagship stage to the Pop-Up to the Launchpad where young start-ups got to showcase their offerings, the only frustration was that there was so much content, it was impossible to get around to cover it all!
So what were the five stand-out topics which we picked out from two solid days of retail immersion?
If you're getting a little jaded by all the references to Artificial Intelligence (AI) - don't. It wouldn't be an understatement to say that AI is the future of retail. And for those who don't yet have it as part of their strategy; act now else be left behind.
Chatbots and voice are only the tip of an ever-growing AI iceberg where the potential is almost limitless.
Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch referred to it as the "biggest game-changer" whilst Ocado CTO Paul Clarke claimed that they would not have a business without it.
Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch discussing the impact of AI with Cathy Newman
However there are still those who are yet to appreciate not only the immense potential of AI but of the absolute necessity to embrace it as part of their strategy.
"Chatbots and voice are only the tip of an ever-growing AI iceberg where the potential is almost limitless"
Those brands who don't will doubtless not be around in the near future.
A New Dawn?
A sense of deja vu may have prevailed when Government Minister for Retail, Andrew Griffiths spoke about a new alliance with retail (remember Portas and Grimsey Reviews - stakeholder apathy killed both).
But with the announcement of the creation of a new Retail Sector Council chaired by Richard Pennycook, a sense of optimism prevailed.
Griffiths said: “It’s time for the retail sector and the Government to work together to understand the issues, and come up with solutions to tackle productivity, the skills shortage and the challenges of new technology.”
No, it wasn't the alcoholic gummies on offer, but the topic of stores and in particular, better ways to create wonderful spaces for people to enjoy.
Whilst there are notable exceptions to the rule (think Asos, Boohoo etc) in the main, it is understood that stores have been, are and always will be a vital part of any retailer's armoury.
It's just that they now need to be so much better than before. In the week when Toys R Us finally succumbed to the inevitable - largely owing to the sorry look of their store estate - the retail industry can learn lessons from other closely related cousins.
In an excellent session, Dishoom Founder, Shamil Thakrar discussed the amazing story which is Dishoom; modelling their restaurants on the Irani cafes of 1950's Bombay.
Dishoom Founder Shamil Thakrar
Shamil asserted that "discovery & transportation are more important than prominence" and aping the Backyard Cinema philosophy he added that "stories allow you to layer things".
And in a separate session, Trevor Hardy, CEO of The Future Laboratory talked about creating 'sanctuary spaces' where people can go to unwind, relax - free from the stresses and strains of modern living.
Maybe the future of retail is all about how we manage and create inspiring spaces? Retail would do well to take note.
Data: The New Currency
With GDPR just around the corner, it felt appropriate that data and the critical importance of being able to not only manage it but analyse it, interpret it and then act upon it fell into sharp relief at the conference.
In a keynote interview with Retail Week Editor in Chief, George MacDonald, M&S CEO Steve Rowe admitted that M&S is "drowning" in data and that "we can't join it together".
He wasn't alone; but help is at hand if retailers care to seek it out
M&S CEO Steve Rowe: "I know where the skeletons are, I buried many of them myself"
Throw Away The Rulebook
"Sales per square foot is not a key indicator for us....if we started from scratch tomorrow we wouldn't build a business like most retailers are today"
So said Lee Woodard, Global Chief Experience Officer at Crabtree & Evelyn. And his views echoed many at the conference.
What worked for decades just doesn't any longer and this is proving to be a tough pill to swallow for many.
The retail KPI comfort blanket is slowly being stripped away and this is proving to be an uncomfortable journey; one which won't be for all, but for those retailers who survive, a vital and inevitable one.
Discarding not only those traditional KPI's but the entire organisational structure which supports them in favour of something entirely new is a fundamental challenge which must be overcome.
The sun sets on another great Retail Week Live
We hope you've enjoyed this roundup of Retail Week Live, there were many more topics discussed so do go over to Retail Week.
Andrew Busby is Founder of Retail Reflections, a leading retail influencer and an IBM Futurist.