‘Reinvention Retail’ proved to be a day of stimulating discussion around the future of retail, well attended by British Retail Consortium members and partners. Technology companies including True Fit, Qlik, YR Store and Hero were on hand in the Future Zone to demonstrate how technology is helping retailers realign to customer needs.
Here are just some of the key points we picked up on:
Placing stores at the heart of the community can be incredibly powerful for retail brands. Frances Bishop (pictured below), founder of The Pud Store spoke passionately about how her four stores in the North of England have close ties to local groups, charities, and loyal customers and their families. Community-spirited retailers tend to generate word-of-mouth recommendations, which can help with new customer acquisition.
Social media can drive store traffic and sales if you build on community links and proceed with passion, authenticity and sincerity said Bishop of The Pud Store. She revealed the power of Facebook Stories videos as a sales driver for her business.
Corporate mind set
To innovate and thrive in the new retail landscape, companies must have the right mind set at the top of the business, with a flexible organisation underneath. This was agreed by an industry panel discussing ‘Smart Retail’ that included representatives from Vodafone, Google and Furniture Village.
Changing retail workforce
100,000 people are now in retail roles that didn’t exist 5 years ago. But by 2025 there will be 900,000 fewer roles in retail than today – BRC figures.
Transparency about job losses
With the rise of robotics and AI, retailers will want to embrace the efficiencies promised, and this will inevitably mean change management, and the loss of jobs. Experts from employment law firm DLA Piper (pictured left) urged retailers to be transparent when “realigning” their businesses. They recommended honesty when communicating with employees, along the lines of: “We are struggling. We have to be competitive and this is how we have to do it.”
Retailers are sceptical about ‘low to no’ checkout stores becoming the norm. Vodafone’s Sezin Tumer, Global Principal for Retail Innovation said: “We can use automation for some simple interactions but not everything. We try and blend technology with the human touch.”
Moving beyond fear of failure
“Retailers can no longer rely on the tech guys to do it all,” said Mike Broughton, Director of Digital Innovation and IT at Furniture Village, speaking on the ‘Smart Retailing’ panel. He said everyone in the business must be committed to a learning culture around new tech, and trying new things. “Have a Plan A, but also have a Plan B and even a Plan C. Move fast and don’t be afraid to fail.”
Data analytics skills shortage
When it comes to deployment of AI and data analytics, lack of availability of skills remains the greatest challenge for CIOs in retail, said SAS Retail Solutions Director, Andrew Fowkes.
Removing friction for the customer
Facebook is working hard to remove ‘friction’ in the Facebook and Instagram buying channels, and can already facilitate customers placing an order with a retailer in 3 taps in their apps, explained Katy Clark, Client Partner at Facebook (pictured left).
Content consumption on social media is off the scale, said Clark, making the point that product posts and adverts must inspire in milliseconds. She reminded the audience that each week users scroll more content on their Facebook feed than the height of Big Ben. That’s 96 meters of content in a feed.
Retailers may be obsessed with Return on Investment, but now and in the future consumers want to see more purpose in brands, a reason to engage, said Martin Newman CEO of The Customer First Group (pictured left) in his presentation ‘The Future is the Customer’ which looked ahead to retail in 2030. “It will pay to turn your attention to ‘Return on Involvement’.
Belief in technology
“We always overestimate the impact of technology in the short term, and underestimate its impact in the long term,” said Martin Newman.