Martin Newman: Predictions for retail in 2030
by Martin Newman, The Consumer Experience Champion
At the end of May, I spoke at the British Retail Consortium’s “Reinvention Retail” event in London. It was an enjoyable event with some fascinating speakers: Katy Clark, a client partner at Facebook; Andrew Fowkes, director of SAS Retail Solutions; Sezin Tumer of Vodafone; and a host of others. Attending forward-facing events like this is one of the things I find most exciting in my industry. Looking to the future, gaming it, trying to think of problems and solutions, dusting off the crystal ball.
Credit from your local community
One of the main themes to pull out was of brand creation and development. Frances Bishop of the Pud Store talked about the company’s close links to local charities in the North of England; these community-minded connections can spread your reputation by word of mouth, and drive both increased footfall and a positive brand image. She also described the impact of Facebook Stories on her business. The message was clear: Make an authentic, positive and personal connection with the community in which you’re based, and your brand will pick up a lot of credit and goodwill.
Transparency is clearly important
Another issue which came up, and this is connected to the kind of reputational framework that Frances mentioned, is authenticity and transparency. Consumers are becoming more and more sophisticated, and, unfortunately, more cynical. We live in a world of ‘fake news’. So the public won’t necessarily take a press release or brand story at face value; they’ll almost assume that the company is lying or dissimulating. So the feeling at the conference was that brands need to go that extra mile to be transparent. The example we discussed was redundancies. The future promises great efficiencies to retailers, but we all know that ‘efficiency’ or ‘streamlining’ can be masks for pure and simple job losses. Experts from DLA Piper, an employment law firm, urged honesty. Say there will be redundancies, and explain why, when communicating with employees and customers alike. Take ownership of the narrative, and preserve your authenticity.
Future-gazing to 2030
For my presentation, I turned to a favourite topic, the future of the high street. I (reluctantly!) imagined myself in my sixties to envisage the state of shopping in 2030, and the changes that will have taken place. My talk was entitled “The Future is the Customer”, reflecting my passionate belief that retailers are going to have to become much more customer centric than they are now if they’re going to survive, let alone prosper, in the cut-throat world of 2030 retail. They will need to understand what consumers really want, and, ideally, be able to anticipate that desire.
Obviously, a lot of this customer-driven focus will come through increasing use and sophistication of technology. But there’s a strange conundrum, and it seems to be much more widespread than simply the retail sector: we almost always overestimate the short-term impact of technology, while underestimating the change it will bring in the longer term. I suppose it’s because we instinctively imagine the future through the prism of the present; we don’t change the lens when we change what we’re looking at.
Brands with purpose will win
What are customers going to expect from their retailers 10 years from now? One thing we can be sure of, it’s going to be a lot more than a simple transactional exchange of money for goods or services. Shoppers are going to want a brand with purpose, with genuine identity, which means not simply a slick marketing campaign, but a convincing narrative, an authentic voice, and a social conscience. Some retailers and brands are beginning to understand this in pockets, but the glittering prizes will go to those who see the whole picture and are able to paint one for themselves, not merely in broad brush strokes but in pointilliste detail.
Everything to play for
I don’t need to say, but I will anyway, that I’m enthusiastic and positive about the future of the high street. It not dead, it’s not dying, and it’s not facing insurmountable challenges which will lead inevitably to decay and decomposition. But it needs to be reinvigorated, and that process is going to require empathy, imagination and a taste for the disruptive. Dream differently, and dream better.
It was a pleasure to share my thoughts with such an attentive audience at the BRC. I hope they were receptive to what I was saying, and will take away the key messages and digest them. And one day, I’ll deliver this talk about the high street in 2030 for real.