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Retail reunites at Olympia: solving the phygital conundrum

The RETAIL TECHNOLOGY SHOW* at London Olympia was rammed this month. Perhaps it was because one of the speakers was the Rapper and Entrepreneur Tinie Tempah! More likely, it reflects the emerging post pandemic mood of the retail sector.

There were long queues throughout the 2-day conference for a wide range of case study talks and panel discussions. These included topics such as Predicting what the store of the future will look like, Understanding the role of the store in today’s omnichannel market, and Evaluating how customer expectations have changed - all critical subjects for retailers as they build back their businesses.

This hunger for knowledge and expertise about how to adapt to the ‘new retail’ world is, of course, understandable. The dramatic shift to shopping online during the pandemic forced many retailers to invest in e-commerce and digital innovations – a move that some had been neglecting, despite the rising tide of retail store closures pre-COVID. So, it’s good to see that even late digital adopters like Primark are finally launching new websites.

However, despite this increase in digital investment, for many traditional bricks and mortar retailers the challenge still remains - how to seamlessly blend the new shopping experience for customers? The physical/digital conundrum is a live and urgent issue that needs retail leaders to not just think differently but to be creative and take risks.

The unexpected ‘gift’ that the pandemic offered retailers was the opportunity to experiment. This was evidenced in a presentation from M&S Snr. Digital Transformation Programme Manager, Clive Hudson, who generously shared the lessons learned on their journey to deliver online services during COVID store closures. There were many noteworthy take-outs from his case study, including:

a) an understanding that ‘nothing will ever be the same again’,

b) permission from the M&S CEO to ‘take risks’, and

c) the challenge of evidencing incremental ROI from such trials.

The M&S case study shows that through experimentation – in this instance to resolve an urgent service issue during lockdown – breakthroughs can happen. For M&S it has led to the development of an ongoing, successful omnichannel sales culture for products as diverse as bra fitting to sofa buying.

In the high energy Keynote presentation from Mike Logue, Former CEO of Dreams, he discussed his turnaround of a failing company. Mike did touch on the importance of omnichannel retail but his message was actually more about change management.

Aside from his winning charismatic leadership style and his clear love of retail, he summed up his success strategy at Dreams with the acronym CARE:

Customer – listen to them and put them right at the centre of your business vision.

Attitude – create a business culture of positive interactions with staff and customers.

Results – stay close the data and build an ongoing cycle of change, review, change.

Everyone – regularly communicate with and listen to staff to keep everyone on side.

Though very different case studies, both the M&S and Mike Logue presentations shared a common message - that of embracing change. They showed how to avoid a ‘battle’ between online and offline in terms of investment, and instead to explore new ways of putting customers first through effective collaboration across their physical and digital teams. It’s clear that improving the ‘phygital’ experience for customers will continue to drive the ‘new retail’ route map for some time to come.

No doubt the RETAIL TECHNOLOGY SHOW will have been a success for the organisers, with high footfall and lots of new leads for the exhibitors. As delegates, we certainly came away re-energised and reassured that building on pandemic investment and improving the omnichannel experience is most definitely where the focus needs to be right now.

Working with innovative retail leaders and collaborating with in-house design and operational teams, we will continue to assess the impact of retail digital transformation for clients and explore the opportunities for integration across their physical estates.

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