We recently attended Retail Week Live – the annual collection of the biggest and brightest retail minds. We were there to hear more about the future of retail from the movers and shakers who make it happen.
And what a week we had.
A diverse and eclectic mix of speakers made for a very thought provoking couple of days. We noticed a number of themes emerging over the few days too. And here they are:
AI dominated much of the conversation, as businesses acknowledged it’s far-reaching and diverse implications. In fact, if you were playing buzz-word bingo, AI has now ousted “omni-channel” as the concept du jour.
Is it all a bit Black Mirror or is it massively exciting? Only time will tell us. But one thing that is clear… the pace of change is unprecedented and was referred to as a phenomenon that is both “overhyped and underestimated at the same time”.
In his keynote interview with Channel 4 News, presenter Cathy Newman and Sky CEO, Jeremy Darroch, described AI as “the biggest game-changer” and emphasised the importance of understanding what AI will mean for each business and industry.
Other Retailers expressed caution at getting distracted by shiny new technology without thinking long and hard about the implications. PureGym boss, Humphry Cobbold, concurred: “Lord knows what artificial intelligence has in mind for us”.
Bricks and clicks
The role of the store has been put under a harsh spotlight in the last two weeks, as retailers Toys R Us and Maplin fell into administration. New Look also revealed plans to shed 10% of its store estate.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for those still tied into a huge physical presence. The CEO of Sainsburys Argos talked about the competitive advantages that the size and geographical reach of their portfolio gives them. Convenience was a key theme, and this was discussed widely.
Others spoke of the role of physical retail space to play in the retail business, but of the importance of rethinking how this space will be combined with the digital proposition.
Vitabiotics CEO and Dragons’ Den star, Tej Lalvani, talked about a great in-store customer experience, one that’s educational, interesting, fun, hassle-free and is going to get people coming back.
We heard digital dreams of smart mirrors with facial recognition, that could offer recommendations, remember your exact sizing and preference, allow you to check stock and reviews and send photos to your friends, and then ultimately pay using an app without ever needing to queue at a till.
Coinciding with International Women’s day, the event supported the progression of women in business and retail. M&S CEO, Steve Rowe, highlighted the importance of diversity in the boardroom: “A room full of grey-haired men in blue suits is never a good thing”.
This coincides with the government’s recent gender pay gap campaign, “Closing the Gap”, along with the new reporting requirements for companies which employ over 250 people. If your company needs to report, and you’d like more information and guidance on this, have a read of our recent article on the subject.
The issue of disruption was a huge talking point, with speakers from Pentland Brands, PureGym and Gymshark all speaking about how they act and think like a disrupter, rather than a business that gets disrupted.
PureGym boss, Humprey Cobbold, said: “Be prepared to place proper bets… you have to be prepared to be radical in every element of your model and be prepared for the fight”.
This echoes the sentiment of PureGym’s Founder, Peter Roberts, who, just a couple of weeks ago at our latest CP Talks event, said: “Disruptors are everywhere. People come up with amazingly simple ideas and make them happen. I always think, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’. With PureGym, we disrupted big time.”
A deluge of data
In his keynote speach, M&S CEO, Steve Rowe confessed that the retailer was “drowning” in data. Using data to its full potential was a key talking point amongst many of the retailers during the conference.
Asos Director, James Saxton, talked about how Asos approached their data, and how it’s changed with GDPR: “GDPR is the rocket we needed to talk to customers about privacy and give an even better customer experience. We want our customers to know that we have their back”.
GDPR is going to change the way you market your business.