Retail & Racing

A Tale of Two Passions


The author with his BMW M3 at Brands Hatch


It was Brands Hatch, the famous motor racing circuit in Kent, a few years ago and I had qualified my BMW M3 on the front row of the grid. Behind me were 30 other hooligans all chomping at the bit to go as soon as the lights went out.

And out they went but whilst everyone else floored it and accelerated off the grid, I went nowhere. A clutch problem meant I couldn’t get it in gear and whilst frantically trying to rectify this I was swamped by everyone. I’ve never been so scared in all my life, the chances of being hit – and hit very hard – were extremely high. Those at the back of the grid would be doing close on 100mph by the time they reached me and the result of contact would be one very second hand car not to mention the driver (I’ve never liked hospital food).

Thankfully, miraculously, they all somehow managed to avoid me but the experience is not one I’d ever wish to repeat!

So this got me thinking about my twin passions – retail and motorsport – and the similarities between the two. Perhaps not obvious at first glance but nevertheless take a closer look and they become all too apparent.


Competition Improves the Breed

Never more has this been the case than in motorsport where competition and competitiveness are often at the outer limits of the scale. Quite sane, seemingly normal people can grow horns when they get behind the wheel of a racing car. And will equally spend completely crazy amounts of money just to go that little bit quicker. It’s in the blood you see.

But what of retail?

Observing the High Street of today, the competition between retailers is fierce and cut throat – not an inch given to their rivals and all fiercely protective of their territory.

It’s survival of the fittest – just like on the track where a moment’s hesitation can cost you a place or worse.


Wanted – Team Players

Teamwork – synonymous with motorsport as personified in the picture below, perhaps motorsport is the ultimate team sport. A dropped catch in cricket or a missed penalty in football carry a certain level of consequence however if a mechanic fails to tighten the wheel nuts properly the results can be disastrous.

Trust in one’s fellow team members is absolute and paramount.

Ferrari pitstop

Ferrari Formula One team pitstop


Never more so than in retail where, in today’s world every aspect of the organisation is linked in a way never before realised. From supply chain to merchandising to eCommerce to marketing each part must operate together in perfect harmony as opposed to working in silo’s, each focused on their own individual goals and targets.

This is a real challenge for many retailers today – to maintain good retail discipline and KPI’s whilst embracing the modern era of retailing where the whole organisation must work together with a collective focus on the customer in order to deliver an amazing experience time and time again.

I fear it will be a step too far for some.


A Year Old Racecar is Just Scrapmetal

This quote is attributed to the late Carroll Shelby, he of the iconic Shelby AC Cobra fame, echoed by Enzo Ferrari in his early days – which is why there are so few of the early Cobras and Ferrari race cars still in existence – they were broken up once they had passed their sell by date.

Not quite the scenario in retail but the similarity in terms of the pace of development and change holds true. Nothing stands still and in retail, just as in motor racing; standstill and you go backwards.

Never before has the pace of change, driven by technology, been so relentless. It is mind blowing. And with cognitive computing this is only set to accelerate. And those who do not adopt the latest technology in order to drive deep, insightful and relevant personalisation, will find themselves without a business before very long.

Over the years many Formula One teams have withered and died, caught out by the pace of development and left behind, the same is true for retail brands.


I have a profound respect and admiration for anyone who, out of choice, would wish to be the CEO of a retail brand these days. Personally I think they must in some way be slightly unhinged, caught as they are between the twin pressures of keeping the business on track whilst at the same time constantly having to develop new parts for the business and bring them onstream faster than the competition.

But just like in motorsport – where it is said, if you want to be a millionaire just start out with £2million, it is the passion for retail which drives these CEO’s on.

And that is why, just like my motor racing heroes, I admire them so much for they operate in a rarefied place where just one slip, one lapse in concentration can have disastrous consequences.


Andrew Busby is CEO & Founder of Retail Reflections, The Retail Advisory Board, an IBM Futurist and a regular contributor to Retail Week.


Retail Tomorrow……Yesterday!



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.

NRF Reflections

Reflections From Retail’s BIG Show

NRF 2017 – Retail’s BIG Show – took place last week in New York, Andrew Busby went along to learn more about the biggest technology disruptor to impact retail for years to come.


Retail is on the very edge of a complete revolution; technology is driving change never before seen. The scale of this is enormous and the consequences of it far reaching.

Retailers are no longer solely in the business of retail, they must rapidly evolve and reinvent themselves as technology organisations. Why? To find the answer I travelled to New York to attend the National Retail Federation’s annual retail conference – otherwise known as Retail’s BIG Show.

And from the very beginning one thing was clear; retail and technology are now intrinsically interwoven, the huge expectations and demands placed on retailers by tech savvy consumers are driving an era of change which is unprecedented. And right at the heart of this is something which perhaps some of us have never even heard of: cognitive computing.

But what exactly is cognitive computing and how is it any different from computing as we know it today?

IBM describes cognitive computing as ““systems that learn at scale, reason with purpose and interact with humans naturally”. But what does that mean?

“Each and every customer action creates more and more data that offers brands the information they need to deliver outstanding experiences — if they can connect the data points to predict and prescribe a course of action, and do so quickly before the competition can seize the opportunity” IBM


In simple terms, it means that the machine is able to not only interact with and understand natural language (such as human speech) but whilst doing so is constantly learning, to all intents and purposes, learning just like a human. This allows data analytics on an unprecedented level and scale and most importantly means that context is recognised. Computing as we know it today is limited by the pre-programmed functions we have given it.

As opposed to basic artificial intelligence which must be pre-programmed, cognitive computing learns through human interactions.

It is estimated that 80% of all the data created is unstructured eg. weather forecasts, blogs, social media, local news reports etc, meaning that it cannot be processed by normal computing methods. However using cognitive computing this data can be processed and the results continually learnt.

The implications for retail are huge. With the capability to be constantly learning, these systems have the potential to completely revolutionise many aspects of a retail business, from marketing to merchandising from supply chain to online commerce.

For a closer look I spoke to IBM, who through IBM Watson, are at the forefront of this technology.

According to them, “delivering the right customer experience at the right time and place is the new disruptor”. Meaning that retailers must have a deep understanding and insight into each and every one of their customers in order to be able to deliver unparalleled personalisation and customer experience.

Watson, named after IBM’s first CEO Thomas J Watson was established 5 years ago and is able to process the equivalent of a million books every second. This means that these deep insights into consume behaviour and buying patterns are available in almost real-time.

Whilst NRF 2017 had many more exciting technologies on show, from virtual reality and augmented reality to robotics to artificial intelligence, the potential of cognitive computing to be the key to unlocking a level of personalisation never before dreamt of, should have every retailer sitting up and taking notice.


Andrew Busby is founder of Retail Reflections & The Retail Advisory Board and an IBM Futurist

NRF Day 3 roundup

Retail’s BIG Show – Day Three

IBM’s Watson was undoubtedly the star of the show on day 3. Cognitive computing being set to revolutionise the industry.

Retail Analyst Andrew Busby with a roundup from day 3 at Retail’s BIG Show



Whether it was great keynotes, the Innovation Lab, two floors jammed with exhibitors in the Expo halls or the inspiring sessions – the 3rd and final day at NRF had it all.

And the evidence of change was present throughout the show: reinventing retail, rethinking retail, reimagining retail – it was clear that a revolution in the industry is upon us and whilst this can bring fear and uncertainty it also means that this is the most exciting time to be in retail right now.

Much was discussed in many of the keynotes and sessions, the impact of artificial intelligence and robotics is likely to see a great many jobs in retail become redundant to humans. But encouragingly, as has happened throughout history, new jobs – which we have yet to fully determine – will appear as business models evolve, adapt and change to meet the new normal of retailing.

And one thing from the Show was very apparent; data and technology will revolutionise retailers’ and consumers’ lives alike.

“The undeniable star of NRF 2017 was IBM Watson”

The secret to unlocking the potential of all this data lies not in traditional methods however but in something which is going to revolutionise personalisation and customer experience in retail.

There was plenty of technology on display this year from AI to bots to smart mirrors through augmented and virtual reality however the undeniable star of NRF 2017 was IBM Watson, the IBM booth drawing crowds eager to find out what all the buzz was about.

The significance of Watson is not to be underestimated; having the ability to now be able to tap into the huge amount of unstructured data – think weather forecast, social media, news reports, video, images, speech – will transform the industry.

The excitement around this was palpable and whilst the pace of change is hugely challenging for almost every retail business, it also means that the future is incredibly exciting…..for all of us.

As if to underline this, trending number 3 on twitter in New York today? Watson.

Andrew Busby is founder of Retail Reflections & The Retail Advisory Board and an IBM Futurist

NRF Day 2 roundup

Retail’s BIG Show – Day Two

Data data all around but not a drop to……process. Retail Analyst Andrew Busby with a roundup from day 2 of NRF – Retail’s BIG Show.


Much has been written about the need for data to drive insight and ultimately better customer experience and personalisation but never more was it in evidence than here at NRF.

Every way you turned it seemed that data, engagement, personalisation, experience were all staring back from the walls of the Jacob Javits Convention Centre.


Sir Richard Branson opened the day with a ‘fireside chat’ (never worked that one out) and shared his thoughts and sympathies with every retailer in the audience. How that went down I can only wonder but there’s no denying that he has an impressive portfolio and deserved the airtime.

On the Expo floor one stand (booth) stood out head and shoulders above the rest, indeed it seemed at times as if the entire conference had descended upon IBM – and Watson was the star turn. Everyone wanted to know more about how cognitive computing can help their business. And it was easy to see why.

Elsewhere there were gems to be found provided you sought them out and one such was GDR UK CEO Kate Ancketill ironically discussing the impact which artificial intelligence is likely to have on retail, the potential loss of jobs through automation quite shocking.

But with every downside, there’s always an upside and the vision which Kate eloquently articulated should have given hope to every retailer in the room.

New and different jobs will emerge from the fields of automation and like any revolution the future will no doubt be different but not necessarily any worse.

From AR to VR to AI to robotics, to machine learning to cognitive to Watson; day two at NRF had it all. The only question left remaining; if I am a retailer, how do I make sense of all this?


Andrew Busby is founder of Retail Reflections & The Retail Advisory Board and an IBM Futurist

NRF Day 1

I happen to speak English – you may not. Retail Analyst Andrew Busby takes a look at what the 1st day from NRF 2017 had in store.



Much has been written in the lead up to this year’s BIG Show about the impact technology is poised to make on the retail industry and so one of the most eagerly anticipated NRF conferences in years opened today.

Of course, there are many different languages, English being just one of those and which happens to be my native tongue, yours might be different but of one thing I’m absolutely sure, it won’t be the language traditionally used by computers: binary. Bits & bytes 1 or 0; it has been the same for decades and can be traced all the way back to Alan Turing and the Turing machine in the 1940’s.

That is until now.

“Fundamentally, retail has remained unaltered for over 100 years; that, however is all about to change”

The retail industry is on the brink of a revolution, the like of which has never been seen before: ever.

Fundamentally, retail has remained unaltered for over 100 years; that, however is all about to change. The era of artificial intelligence has been upon us for a few years but at NRF 2017 we saw AI on steroids: cognitive computing. And leading the revolution is IBM with its Watson initiative (more of that to come on day 2). So what exactly is cognitive computing?

Put simply, it is a means by which a computer can become an extension of human expertise at huge scale. And that is because cognitive learns – 24×7. Up until now, computers, including those driving current analytics, can only process what they are pre-programmed to do. Not cognitive.

Cognitive learns by having the ability to process (just like you and I) unstructured data such as video, images, articles, news clips, social media etc

So what does all this mean for retail?

Two E’s emerged from the first day at NRF: engagement and experience. Retailers are anxiously seeking both in abundance. Better more intimate engagement with their customers in order to be able to deliver a more immersive experience which will encourage their customers to keep coming back for more.

But without deep understanding of the customer, levels of engagement and customer experience will always remain at an embryonic stage.

Elsewhere at NRF, as expected, robotics, AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) were strongly in evidence but the pattern had been set and underlined by two young forward thinking organisations at the end of the day.

Both Indochino and Shoes of Prey make custom fashion (suits and shoes respectively). Both see offline and online as one and significantly, both see data as the key to driving better personalisation. Really understanding their customers’ lifestyles and preferences, clearly forefront in their plans and in doing so perhaps they are both showing us the model for the future.


Andrew Busby is founder of Retail Reflections & The Retail Advisory Board and an IBM Futurist

NRF2017: The Must See Sessions

Curated by Retail Reflections

If, like us, you find yourself with the festive season and New Year celebrations a rapidly fading memory, you may now be turning your thoughts to NRF 2017 – Retail’s BIG Show. But hang on, there’s so much to see and do, where do I even begin to start planning for the greatest retail show on earth?

Fear not, because here at Retail Reflections we’ve done the legwork for you. Having reviewed all the sessions, we bring you our top picks for 2017, in chronological order so all you have to do is copy and paste!


Sunday 15th

What:   From Data to Delight: An Insight Driven Revolution of the In-Store Experience

Where: 10.15 – North Hall, Level 2

Why:     Leading nicely from the previous and you don’t even have to leave your seat! We’re expecting that data, insight, analytics, predictive will all dominate NRF 2017 and that the shopping experience of the future will be an all-encompassing and wonderful part of our lives. And it starts here.

“We’re expecting that data, insight, analytics, predictive will all dominate NRF 2017”

What:   Prescriptive Analytics, Machine Learning and IoT

Where: 14.00 – EXPO Hall, Room 3, Level 3

Why:     Retail is on the cusp of a revolution the like of which no-one could possibly have predicted and it will revolve around far greater insights into our lives allowing for a level of personalisation and customer experience we could only have dreamt of just a few years ago.


Monday 16th

What:   Undying Brand Engagement: A Fireside Chat With Sir Richard Branson

Where: 09.00 – North Hall, Level 2

Why:     Because keynotes don’t get much better than this


What:   Innovation Lab Quick Fire Presentations: Robotics & AI

Where: 12.25 – River Pavilion, Level 4

Why:     We predict that whilst AR and VR will feature front of house in the next few years, the real game changer will be robotics and AI which will pack a punch right across the retail landscape from call centres to supply chain to in-store experience.


What:   Omnichannel Analytics – Unlocking the Optimal Customer Experience

Where: 16.00 – EXPO Hall, Room 3, Level 3

Why:     Customer experience in all its guises will be the new battleground and in order to unlock the vast potential, big data and analytics will be required.


Tuesday 17th

What:   Trends 2017: Retail Opportunity for the Fast Changing World & the Human Mind

Where: 10.15 – EXPO Hall, EXPO Stage, Level 1

Why:     GDR CEO Kate Ancketill always delivers great insight and will put much of the conference into a wonderful perspective; after all we all need takeaways!


What:   Learning From Leaders of Digital Transformation

Where: 11.30 – EXPO Hall, Room 3, Level 3

Why:     If there’s one topic on everyone’s lips right now, it’s digital transformation. But what exactly does it mean? How do I achieve it? Where do I start? This session will help to answer those questions and more.


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.