Hundreds of retail experts shared ideas and personal experiences during Day One of London’s Retail Technology Show. Five key themes emerged:
The world will stay uncertain – but that’s no reason to delay decisions, seemed to be the sentiments of Mike Coupe, former CEO of Sainsbury’s. The New Look Chairman quoted Einstein, Lenin and Colin Powell as he implied leaders needed to be bold and decisive. Mr Coupe said decision-makers should be able to act in ambiguity rather than requiring certainty, as we are “always dealing with shades of grey.” Citing Powell, he said leaders should only need between 30 and 70% of the total information to decide on a course of action. However, they should also build ‘Optionality’ into their leadership and decision-making, alongside ‘Agility’ and ‘Delegation’. Dealing with ambiguity, staying resilient and having courage are all key to effective leadership. The message was clear: leaders should be prepared to act now, based on limited information, rather than wait for the perfect conditions.
“There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks when decades happen.”
2) Continual learning
Many speakers emphasized the importance of continual learning through listening to customers and employees, and empowering individuals within the organization. Marni Allen, Director, Consumer Healthcare Futures, Walgreens Boots Alliance, said her business was using AI and Machine Learning to learn from customer conversations, with one topic being: “what does personalization mean to people?” Talking about innovation, she stated: “You have got to fail small and often,” and said innovators should be prepared to shake things up: “I spend a lot of time challenging the status quo… people who are in innovation roles… need to feel they can go out on a limb.” Other speakers emphasized the importance of feedback loops and listening more to frontline shop floor employees to learn how to better serve the customer, while Mike Coupe suggested retailers should spend time in self-reflection, asking themselves hard questions about their purpose and what they should focus on.
“Ask yourself, what do we stand for?”
Sam Jones, Founder of Gener8 Ads, was adamant there would be a fundamental shift in attitudes toward data. He said: “Everything you are doing online is being tracked… tens and often hundreds of different companies are aggregating this data and selling it.” But a sea change was coming: “It’s inevitable that five years from now we will all be earning from our data passively…. The individual should have a very simple ability to say yes or no,” to being tracked. Rapper and Entrepreneur Tinie, an investor in Gener8, said: “For me privacy is integral to society… to live… to exist.” As retailers try to balance personalization through data and privacy concerns, they may also wish to heed Dave Kohn, former Customer and eCommerce Director at Heal’s, who said: “Personalization is tremendously overrated,” and is only relevant when the customer ‘gets something out of it’ or the purchase journey is more complicated than a single visit.
“We are shifting into more of a reality where we are going to be online more than we are offline.”
4) Return to store
The post-pandemic mass return to stores is accelerating store reinvention programmes and even additional store openings. Tablet-enabled mobility for in-store payments was referenced by many retailers, as was freeing staff from more mundane tasks so they could concentrate on service. Mid-Covid learnings have also revealed new ways for store-based staff to engage – for example via Live Chat in the case of Heal’s. Camilla Tress, Connected Commerce Lead at Oliver Bonas, said she was particularly interested in what the Gymshark shop in Regent Street would look like, as it would be built without legacy technology.
“The primary thing for us is the magic of face-to-face interaction.”
As always, the customer experience remained at the forefront of the conversation. Matthew Price, Retail Director of Sky, said Sky had opened 12 stores in addition to its kiosk estate, and was using tactics like exhibiting the Premier League trophy in stores as part of an ‘Attract – Engage – Immerse’ plan for its physical retail destinations. Dave Kohn, formerly of Heal’s, added: “Forget the obsession of removing friction — think about where you might introduce it where it might add to the customer experience.”
“In the future of retail, whether the products are physical or digital, the fundamentals are the same. Never lose sight of the retail basics.”
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