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‘It’s tougher than ever for retailers. Now is the time for radical change’

A series of ‘existential headwinds’ such as spiraling inflation, the cost of living crisis, supply chain disruption and labour shortages, is making it a tougher than ever environment for retailers.

This was just one of the messages to come out of Retail Week Live this week, a two-day conference that shines a spotlight on the people, projects and partnerships currently defining the sector.

Across 24-25 May, more than 800 visitors heard and learnt from over 120 speakers, met 20 of the latest start-ups in Retail Week Live’s Discovery Zone and networked with attendees from across the ecosystem and of varying levels within the business.

Launching the event, Retail Week editor, Luke Tugby, commented: “Winning customer loyalty, growing sales, attracting a skilled and diverse workforce, and doing good for the planet has always been tough in our brilliantly competitive UK market – but doing so has never been more difficult, nor more important, than it is today.

“Businesses must constantly evolve if they are to achieve those goals and retain relevance. If ever there was time for radical change, it’s now.”

The opening keynote was delivered by Boohoo chief information officer, Jo Graham (pictured), who echoed the need for radical change. However, she also warned that retailers were at risk of looking for innovation in the wrong places, with too many prioritising data over actionable, first-person insight.

“Think about when you are shopping and your own experiences, and what you liked and didn’t like,” she said. “We often just shop, note it and move on. But just imagine how radical it would be if you honed in on those experiences that really made you feel valued as a shopper, and really tried to understand what it was about it that made you feel valued as a customer.”

Meanwhile, retail champion Mary Portas called on retail businesses to work harder to find ‘meaningful philosophies’ that connect with customers.

“This is a new world we’re entering. Covid was a catalyst for many cultural changes that were bubbling under for such a long time and now the way we live and shop has fundamentally changed,” she commented. “We know we’re killing our planet, so people are thinking much more carefully about where they’re buying from. And we’re seeing so many social injustices in the world and people with much less, leveraged by the war in Ukraine and prices going up. The heart of great retail is always understanding those changes that are happening and being able to serve them and give the best response to people.”

Mary continued: “We’ve seen so many retailers fail because they were operationally brilliant but lacked this creative heart. What they were missing is the big piece in the middle which is about how you connect through your behaviours to your customers.

“To succeed, businesses need a philosophy that is the way they truly behave. Not just a purpose or the vision of what they stand for but a real belief system that connects to what people actually now believe in.”

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