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Sunday Soundbite

Saving retail’s future from the past

Chris Field
Chris Field

Saving the future from the past? No, I don’t entirely understand it either, but I do get the idea that most retailers need to fix the business they already have before worrying about what technologies they need to reposition it for the future.

At Future Stores this week, where almost the entire audience was made up of retailers from all over Europe, there was no shortage of interest in virtual reality, magic mirrors and mobile apps, but in the tracks I moderated, there was a recognition that many could still not manage the basics well.

Stock view across channels, returns, in-store task compliance, customer service – all still need fixing, and retailers know full well that if they can get their costs down by being more efficient as well as improving the customer experience, then that will be a massive win.

Retail requires total immersion in the minutiae of the everyday, so the delegates were at least grateful to get their heads up for two days. This had two effects. First, an existential discussion about who are we, why are we in retail and where we are going. This last question was followed by a deep silence, because there are as yet no answers to that (unless the retailer decides to live inside Amazon, as one speaker mooted).

Second, a more upbeat discussion about where retailers need to focus their efforts as they contemplate their future. It was generally agreed that slavish devotion to product innovation and the experience around them is not only a differentiator but also the only way to ensure that customers would still want to come into the store.

As to what the store will look like and exactly what function it will have? This question drew quite a few blanks. The concept of the multi-function store that includes showroom, warehouse, playroom, cafe and experience hub sounds like the perfect compromise, but there was no enthusiasm for it.

All of which sounds like the event was a downer; far from it. Everyone reported that they had done what they so rarely do – talk at length about their problems. This time they went away not just full of ideas, but plans as well.

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