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People, Passion And AI - Retail Strikes Back!

March 30, 2019

 

We might not always associate humanity with artificial intelligence (AI) however, Retail Week Live managed to combine this somewhat paradoxical concept to stunning effect.

 

Truly this year was the year that it felt like the conference not only came of age but put its mark on the retail scene; demonstrating a will and desire to recognise not only the shift in the retail landscape but especially that of the consumer.

 

It was truly a landmark event.

"There is an increased consciousness of where things come from..... there is more of a focus on humanity"Julian Burnett

Because in retail 2019, life has never been tougher, but far from inwardly gazing and bemoaning the state of the (sometimes rotten) nation, the conference this year seemed not only more defiant but ready to stand up and lead the sector into a brave new world.

 

 

Technology Drives Retail

 

More of the humanity and compassion in a moment because it is a truth that retail and technology are now intrinsically linked.

 

Retailers more than ever before are having to become technology companies and this was reflected in the content of the conference.

"We can be bullish about the future of multi-channel retail - if we do it right" Alex Baldock

Judith Mckenna (Walmart), Henry Birch (Shop Direct), Alex Baldock (Dixons Carphone) and Seb James (Boots) all believe that AI, data and personalisation are not only key but that they are central to the success of their businesses in the coming five to ten years.

 

 

 Welcome bravery when many of the creators of this were in the audience

 

 

Humanity And Compassion

 

But of course, all the technology in the world means nothing if it isn't deployed in a human fashion. Retail is, first and foremost, a human business. 

 

In the wake of a number of high profile cases of inappropriate behaviour across retail, it was refreshing to listen to so many speakers discussing the role that people and especially their store colleagues play in the success of retail businesses.

 

CEO's such as Alex Baldock from Dixons Carphone, describing the vital role that his store associates play "we have tens of thousands of brand ambassadors" and the multi-million pound investment he plans to make in them.

 

And compassion and humanity was never exemplified quite as much as when, not for the first time in the two days, the audience was transfixed, this time when listening to Joshua Coombes who started #dosomethingfornothing a number of years ago.

 

With a background as a barber, he now travels the world delivering small but significant acts of kindness to homeless people by giving them a haircut. It was humbling to see what such a seemingly insignificant thing can do to a person's sense of self worth.

 

This dovetailed beautifully with a session from Timpsons chief executive, James Timpson. The retailer is famous for hiring ex-criminals but hearing first hand how this began and the recruitment process ("we don't look at CVs") and the care which goes into looking after their people was truly inspiring.  

 

Whilst retail is rapidly embracing AI and realising that it is not just optional but essential for survival, it is heartwarming to be reminded that the fundamental pillars of retail are and always will be rooted in compassion and humanity.

 

 

 The sun sets on a landmark Retail Week Live

 

 

Andrew Busby is Founder of Retail Reflections, Forbes contributor, global top retail influencer and IBM Futurist

 

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