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2017 Retail Roundtable

In April 2017, The Barton Partnership hosted a roundtable dinner for senior strategy stakeholders within the Retail space. Those in attendance included Heads of Strategy at Burberry, Mothercare, Ocado, Tesco, Maplin and M&S amongst other. The event was a great success, giving the attendees the opportunity to network amongst their peers and discuss the topics and issues facing the Retail industry whilst wining and dining at one of London's finest restaurants.

Below is an overview of the main topics covered at the discussion;


Customer Experience 


This seemed to be, unequivocally the most important factor affecting Retail at this time. Consumers are used to a quick service with the likes of Amazon and customers’ ability to browse online before coming in store means that the whole shopping experience has changed and expert knowledge in products is not the only way to go.

Segmentation of services seemed to be a potential solution that fitted across all the parties represented. But this in itself is reliant upon the candidate themselves knowing what they want their experience to be. One thing everyone agreed with however, is that in store assistance is moving away from experts and more towards friendly and welcoming staff who can expedite the process of shopping.


Is Strategy still important to Retail and is it still a desired industry to work in?


Strategy as a silo’d group function and as a business unit function is still useful because it remains the hub of the most interesting changes:

- Innovation (away from Amazon)
- Change
- Helps companies see the wood from the trees

It is also an area of the business where things can still work at speed which is essential to win marginal gains and react effectively to the changes in the market.

Candidates looking at exiting consultancies still highly rate retailers and are interested in working for them; however due to tighter margins these days, retail is not going to be able to compete with other industries from a remuneration perspective.

Therefore, hiring managers are placing much more emphasis on hiring those that have a real love for the sector and will turn those away who can’t demonstrate any level of affinity.


International 


Growing businesses internationally is still very much an important part of being a global retailer in the 21st century, however growth across different businesses is not following the same model.

While there is huge potential the issue with quality control and brand consistency is particularly hard, specifically within Grocery where designing a supply chain for fresh produce that is consistent, is King.

On the other hand, and looking at luxury and non-perishables, a new market should be celebrated for its difference from the UK and the ability to grow your audience and demographic.

One thing that is consistent is that current International growth is more around bricks and mortar as e-commerce is spreading internationally at a slower rate, with many developed countries less inclined to use it.


Future Stores


What then does the store of the future look like? It was interesting to note that no one thought the market would become dominated by e-commerce platforms with retail space being sold. Instead it seemed that the next iteration of consumers will want a heavy interaction between the tangible and technological like at Apple where everyone has the ability to buy products

This interaction and symbiosis is one that we are starting to see as the store becomes more of an exhibition space, with sales then occurring online in a sphere of influence surrounding the store. This style of shopping is both true for luxury goods, where consumers think they might be able to find a deal once knowing the size and style of the product they want to buy as well as big bulk goods, where optional extras such as installation/shipping is all done in one easy transaction.

Speaking of transactions; the biggest challenge that is seemingly facing retailers is how to remove payments from a transaction, like Uber. Queuing in-store, or having to type in details online is frustrating and time consuming and a real agony point for customers – continuing to innovate in this space seems to be the major focus moving forward.


Is Data Important?


The final topic of discussion we posed was one that had the most surprising responses. The panel’s discussion was unequivocal in its thoughts on the importance of data insights and using customer information correctly, however, unanimously that in an age where technology seems to be permeating every facet of our lives, data was considered a secondary concern behind that of the customers experience.

Putting a friendly, knowledgeable and trustworthy face on your brand or product was deemed the most important way of growing your company. With all the interesting and advanced innovation that the market is looking at, it is somewhat comforting that a return to basics might dictate a brands future.


Thoughts from attendees:


“Main takeaway for me is how a more uncertain environment is causing retailers to (positively) revert to the
practical, pragmatic and commercial – quantity and use of space, sensible trials of one initiative at a time, circumspection
about international expansion. Creating a robust and defensible future means you have to question and challenge everything
you do, and the solution often lies in getting the basics right, not creating the flashy new digital thing.”

Gary Crotaz, Director of Group Strategy, Mothercare. 


“Impressed by the caliber of the panel and the topics discussed and insights proferred, specifically - Gary
(pragmatic wisdom) and Nathan (very seasoned retail player).”

Rimal Patel, Head of Online Strategy and Planning, Tesco. 


“It was interesting to hear how strategic priorities differ, from “fixing the basics” when you are in a
turnaround mode, like I felt was the case in mothercare, to rethinking about the business model, like in conviviality. Also
interesting to hear that online is perceived more as an opportunity than a threat. And it felt that, possibly because of the
variety in challenges, there is always a role to play for strategy.”

Sebastiano Macchi, Head of Strategy, Ocado. 


“The main takeaway was to some extent relief - that the pressures of Amazon and general high street / Brexit
/ Living Wage etc pain are being felt pretty broadly. One faces into these issues every day, and talks about ‘the market’, but it
is rare to be able to get a gang of people of a similar level in a room, and share thoughts and concerns.”

Alexander Allen, Head of Strategy, Maplin