Retail Tomorrow……Yesterday!

 

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I was fortunate enough to be asked to speak at the McDonald Butler retail conference ‘Retail Tomorrow’ which was held earlier this week in the wonderful surroundings of the Four Seasons Hotel in Hampshire. Here’s what I took away from a great 24 hours of talking all things retail.

 

Take one great venue, five fantastic keynote speakers, 40 wonderful retailers and 40 passionate retail vendors; mix for 24 hours and what do you get?

“Every discussion seemed positively crackling with energy, enthusiasm and anticipation”

The headline says it all – a heady and intoxicating mix of retail thoughts, ideas, knowledge and experience – all essential fuel for the retail mind.

But let’s consider something for a moment; shopping – what exactly is it? The dictionary definition describes it thus: “the action or activity of buying goods from shops”. Who’d have thought that there was so much to discuss and debate around such a straightforward and seemingly simple subject?

As it turned out there was plenty! From the consumer to artificial intelligence to Brexit to personalisation to brands & loyalty to the future, every discussion seemed positively crackling with energy, enthusiasm and anticipation of what the future might hold for everyone involved in this most wonderful, exciting and downright scary of sectors.

Here are my personal three key takeaways from 24 hours of intense and exhilarating retail discussion.

 

  1. The Landscape is Changing……Fast!

The retail landscape is currently changing so rapidly that if you blink just for a second, you’re almost immediately left behind. The relentless march of technology in the retail sector is raising expectations and driving change. Artificial Intelligence coupled with advanced robotics is automating many retail jobs and not just in the back office / supply chain.

Front office staff such as checkout assistants are not immune and will soon be totally automated and this is having a profound effect on retail as a career option. But it’s not all doom and gloom, as one job is automated another different type of role emerges and I for one feel optimistic that in this 4th industrial revolution we will see many new retail jobs emerge, many of which we have yet to imagine.

 

  1. Experiential Retail

The concept of ownership is rapidly diminishing, whether it be your car, your music, your clothes and even your pet – yes, you can now have fractional ownership of a pet (faintly ridiculous but there you go). The idea that you own all your things – your ‘assets’ – is becoming a thing of the past, what people are seeking more and more is an experience.

And in the social (media) world in which we all now inhabit, we love to share that experience with others. This has deep implications for brands.

Deliberately, I have avoided describing this within the context of online and offline and especially, lest I be struck down, haven’t used that dreaded word, omnichannel. As an aside, I am on a personal crusade to wipe the term from the face of retail. But that’s another story!

It’s all one, it’s shopping, it’s about having a great experience  – as consumers we don’t care, we don’t differentiate. Which brings me nicely to the 3rd………..

 

  1. Consumer Driven Retail

Today’s consumer thinking in a nutshell: I am me, the world revolves around me and it’s me first. I shall decide when and where I want the product delivered and not only that but I expect to have an influence on it too.

The relationship between brand and consumer hasn’t just shifted, it has seismically transformed into one where the consumer now owns the brand. Peer to peer recommendations far outweigh brand messaging and marketing in their effectiveness on conversion rates. It’s powerful, it’s scary and it’s making retail brands rethink their relationship with their customers.

And finally, we heard that the real disruptor in retail is not technology but the consumer, to which I would agree except to add that the only reason why this statement holds true is that we have put the technology in the hands of the consumer and this is driving ever greater demands and expectations. In other words, the genie is out of the bottle – and there’s no going back.

Billed as “Igniting Ideas & Accelerating Innovation” it certainly lived up to its promise – my only hope is that typical retail corporate inertia and its attitude to risk won’t stymie all those great ideas.

Never has JFDI been more appropriate for retail Boardrooms up and down the country.

 

Andrew Busby is founder of Retail Reflections & The Retail Advisory Board and an IBM Futurist. He is also a regular contributor to Retail Week and one of the UK’s most influential retail analysts.