News & Views

Event Debrief / Future of Retail at the World Retail Congress

by Contagious Contributor
Sean Pillot de Chenecey, independent research consultant Captain Crikey, shares some of the key ideas and challenges for retail, based on the seminars, panels and reports at the World Retail Congress in Dubai

If it’s police driving Lamborghinis, blazing sun, vast shopping malls and some of the most outrageous hotels in the world that you’re after, then Dubai’s your place.

This year, for its 10th anniversary, the World Retail Congress moved outside Europe for the first time to this bastion of all things ‘retail extreme’ and attracted over 1,500 delegates from around the world for an event focused on engaging with tomorrow’s consumers. A suitably spectacular affair, the event was held at the Madinat Jumeirah, next door to the landmark Burj Al Arab.

The speakers included a seemingly endless list of senior personnel from brands including Saks, Al Futtaim, Swarovski, Pandora, Abercrombie & Fitch, Otto Group, Magrabi, Coca-Cola, Li & Fung, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Retail Arabia, Alessi, Yetang, plus Dansk, IBM and Google etc. To cap it all, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and VP/PM of the UAE also made an appearance, roaring up in a cavalcade of white Range Rovers to meet some of the CEOs attending the event. (The CEOs were polled by the ACRS before congress and selected their ‘Top 5 issues impacting retail’ as being Customer loyalty/Online channel growth, Product development, Mobile channel growth and Expansion – local & international).

There were a series of excellent talks this year, with David Caygill of Iris giving a speech on ‘Exploring the Connected Consumer’ which included some great insights on Influencer Marketing, Dynamic Targeting, Participatory Consumption and Brand Purpose. Elsewhere, Rob Mosley from Nonsense absolutely nailed it with a talk on ‘The Power of Content Marketing’ and who stressed brands that will survive and thrive will be those who commit to consistently telling their stories in authentic, meaningful and fresh ways. He then went on to illustrate what retailers can learn from hip-hop artists about marketing themselves…

I ran a trend research CEO Leadership Programme focusing on disruptive research, social integration and micro data; and also chaired a couple of sessions including an amazing ‘Retail/Tech/Millennials’ panel with young Arab and Asian entrepreneurs. This seriously impressive group included Jihad Kawas from Saily (a peer to peer mobile marketplace that allows neighbours and communities to negotiate on second-hand goods), Abdallah Absi from the crowdfunding platform Zoomaal which focuses on funding creativity in the Arab world (a college dropout and serial social entrepreneur he’s been named ‘One of the 100 most powerful Arabs under 40’) and Rachel Lim who started out selling unwanted clothes, before establishing her online fashion retail business ‘Love Bonito’ which is now a go-to fast-fashion label in Asia; winning numerous awards along the way. Elsewhere, it was great to hear from Alexia Macheras of AB Vassilopoulos in Greece about its ‘Love Food’ CSR activity (rightly nominated for a major award) re: their food-aid donation activities for refugees.

Meanwhile, the management consultancies and corporate advisors were in full attendance; with Deloitte, McKinsey, BCG, Nomura et al all having major input. Following on from previous reports that retail is perhaps the industry most visibly disrupted by the new wave of digital technologies (with Cloud, Mobility, Analytics, Social and Connected Devices forever changing the consumer) the latest Consumer Review from Deloitte focused on how six digital technology trends will accelerate disruption in the consumer market in 2016 via:

• Cognitive technology
• Gigabit internet
• Virtual reality
• Post-PC generation
• Touch-commerce
• Photo sharing

In their excellent report, Nigel Wixcey, lead partner, kicked things off by stating that ‘the consumer market continues to be disrupted by consumers usage of an expanding range of ever more powerful, faster connected and better specified digital devices. The rate of disruption is still accelerating, as wave after wave of new technologies emerge and begin to impact and transform consumer behaviour’. They also released their ‘Global Powers of Retailing’ report which highlights that customers around the world are using digital access to tailor the way that they shop. The data they analysed also reinforces the reality that retailers are underestimating – or at least under-delivering on – the consumer’s evolving desire and ability to incorporate digital into their in-store shopping journeys. The trends Deloitte identified related to the impact digital is having on in-store shopping around the globe coalesced into three core hypotheses:

• The is no single path toward digital adoption or optimization
• One digital size does not fit all customers within a given market.
• Across the world, consumers are demanding digital tools and features to execute their own shopping journeys.

Other reports released to coincide with the event included ‘the DNA of the Future Retail CEO’ by Green Park, which examined the skills of current and next generation retail leaders and questioned whether they have all the skills needed to drive retail forwards. (A common theme from the interviews for the report was that the experience of aspiring retail CEOs is still not broad enough, meaning they may have problems acting as change agents for their businesses). The new skill sets they identified that are needed to lead in retail are:

• Be agile and intuitive (Retail leaders will have to be increasingly agile, and possess the capacity to read the tone of the market, to spot trends and stay relevant from a product and consumer perspective).
• Customer centricity (The best retail leaders recognize that consumers want to access brands at their convenience).
• Omni-Channel and Tech Savvy Leaders (Already highly prized, is the ability of retail leaders to remove organisational silos; most significantly physical stores and e-commerce operations).
• Engage and Connect Emotionally (In an increasingly competitive world, retailers will place an additional premium on executives who can communicate simply and effectively with both customers and employees).
• Develop Intrapreneurs (Because of the uncertainty and pace of change in most retailing environments, it is increasingly useful for retail leaders to think of their business units as a series of tech start-ups).
• International Mindset (Retail leaders who are poised for future success demonstrate even greater levels of cultural sensitivity and a global mindset).

As ever, major industry figures were inducted into the ‘Retail Hall of Fame’ at the event, with Tommy Hilfiger being the prime example. According to him “I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to build a brand of clothing around my own attitude and my own lifestyle.” Joining him as ‘2016 Inductees’ were Jo Malone who was pointed out that “retail is no longer just about the product, its about the experience, the customer services. It really must be immersive.” The final person appointed was Soloman Lew who stated that “at its core, retail is a very simple proposition – to know your customer and provide the products that they want, at the time that they want it, and at a price they are prepared to pay. Good retailers are not defined when times are good. In retail the test is to deliver a credible result in a difficult retail environment.”

And re: the ‘difficult environment’ currently facing brands and marketers, to summarise the key trends impacting on retail in 2016 it’s probably worth quoting Boris Planer (Chief Economist of Planet Retail) in identifying the following issues as those to watch for the remainder of the year:

• Market instability remaining deeply embedded.
• Ageing and middle class erosion driving change.
• US recovery looking fragile.
• Challenges pulling on Europe from all sides.
• Emerging markets landscape fragmenting.

To see the above reports in full, checkout the links below or via the WRC site. Meanwhile, the World Retail Congress returns to Dubai in 2017…

Sources: Deloitte – Digital Predictions / Global Powers of Retailing 2016
Green Park – The DNA of the Future Retail CEO

Planet Retail – Top Economic Trends to Impact Retail END