It’s time to stop talking about the future: 10 takeaways from Retail Week Live

Following two days at this year’s Retail Week Live in London, after a gap of two years, several pennies finally dropped, as follows :

  1. We need to stop talking about the future because it has already arrived and is busy slapping some people in the face. Hard. Most retailers want to talk about what to do now. Those still only in the early stages of their digital transformation are already in trouble, because the Covid bounce they got from online will not last.
  2. Strategy has given way to tactics, and it easy to see why – a unique bag full of troubles comprising Brexit, supply chain disruptions, a lack of staff and the continued need for health and safety – are making a mockery of most strategies, leaving retailers no choice but do what they can to rescue Christmas.
  3. Brexit is a thing and everyone who voted for it either tells flat out lies or makes something up based on complete ignorance.
  4. Those retailers who had systems that were already obsolete two years ago are really in trouble, because they are incapable of enabling seamless shopping journeys across channels. In fact, no one can really do that yet, but some are heading in the right direction. Most in-store POS systems with a few bolt-ons to keep them going are wholly inadequate to what’s coming and what the consumer wants.
  5. The store has no future in isolation from all other channels to market. It only works because of and not in spite of online, live streaming, video store tours, TikTok events and apps.
  6. Fail fast is just a polite term for screwing up, but it should nonetheless be embraced. Too many good ideas are simply not being trialled. Retailers need to shift people away from the distractions of daily operations and start playing with new tech. That’s what labs were for.
  7. Inclusivity, diversity and sustainability are becoming woven into the culture of the retail business and that’s a change from even a year ago. But there is still some way to go in communicating this to customers who care about these things but don’t really know how their favourite brands act. It does not help that the media has them focusing on Boohoo rather than Jigsaw.
  8. Artificial Intelligence is not an experiment, it is an everyday tool and there is no excuse for retailers not to dive in. Hiring data scientists has turned out to be a slow start with very mediocre returns. The tech industry already has the tools so retailers should stop trying to build in house; there isn’t enough time, and there isn’t enough money,
  9. Too many retailers are focused on the UK, when the online boost is a once in a lifetime opportunity for them to get into cross border in countries where the real growth is, notably Asia.
  10. How many more years will we have to wait to find out if some of the crazy stuff retailers are trying will transform their business or destroy it? You can fill in the names here but diversification has two heads.

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