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10 Takeaways From The 2019 World Retail Congress

Lorelei Marfil Contributor

Lorelei Marfil Contributor Retail I cover fashion, beauty and business.

Judith McKenna, President, and chief executive of Walmart International

Judith McKenna, President, and chief executive of Walmart International Courtesy Photo

Partnerships, innovation, and personalization were among the key topics discussed earlier this month at the 2019 World Retail Congress. Held in Amsterdam, e xecutives from various companies including Yoox-Net-a-porter, Kroger, Ocado, and Walmart met to discuss various ways to adapt to consumer needs. Launched in 2007, the World Retail Congress is an annual retail event where attendees meet and speak about issues affecting retailers globally.  

From personalization to product innovation here’s a roundup of key issues discussed during the summit.

1. Retailers must adapt and innovate as a matter of survival.

Ian McGarrigle, World Retail Congress founder, and chairman said “The global retail landscape is in a state of evolution and retailers must adapt and innovate as a matter of survival. We’ve seen significant disruption in recent years, but rapidly changing consumer demands and expectations means that we have far more disruption to come. It’s exciting to have such an impressive collection of world-class retailers in one place at the World Retail Congress to tackle the industry’s most pressing challenges.”

2. The pace of change is accelerating, literally daily.

Lord Stuart Rose, who was the chairman of Marks & Spencer and now holds the same position at Ocado said “If David Beckham goes to a party tonight in Los Angeles, wearing a white tie you’ll know about it 45 seconds later and probably, half an hour later somebody will pop into a shop somewhere asking if they sell white ties. If you’re slow at picking up these nuances, these trends and things that are happening all around us all the time, you’re going to be a loser.”

3. The winners would be businesses that put customers at the heart of everything they do.

Lord Stuart Rose said “The world has changed. The customer is no longer king, the customer is now master of the universe. They want what they want when they want it, how they want it, and in any channel that suits them. And one other critical factor has changed as well – it’s no longer at the price we choose to charge them, it’s at the price they’re willing to pay. The thing has turned on its head, it’s become a demand-led economy and if we don’t understand that customers have plenty of opportunities to go elsewhere then we are lost.”

4. Businesses need to keep reinventing themselves and seeking ways to improve and capture the imaginations of shoppers.

Lord Stuart Rose said “Retail is like theater and every day we have to put on a show. We must examine what happened last night, was the lighting good enough, was the make-up good enough, did everyone remember their lines. If not, we must recognize our failures and do it better the next day, keep regenerating ourselves. Change is a great thing and we should all embrace it.”

5. Time is of the essence and people value convenience.

Judith McKenna, president, and chief executive of Walmart International said “Every-day low prices have always been one of the things that set us apart and customers will always want value. But today, value is an equation which is not just about price and quality but also about time. One of the biggest retail trends around the world is the way people are valuing convenience. People are busier than ever, and, with the way technology is developing and innovation is developing, their expectations are increasing and the way they want to shop is changing. The challenge for businesses like ours is to find the best way that we can serve you in the way that you want to be served.”

6. Retailers are struggling to cope with the pace of evolution in the industry.

James George, international managing partner at OC&C, said “For retailers, a good business model is no longer enough: being great achieves enviable success, but being average is punished hard. Retailers are recognizing this: three quarters said they need to change their business models in order to be relevant in the future.”

7. Look for new ways to help your customer such as partnerships.

Rodney McMullen, president, and chief operating officer of Kroger said “A customer can fire us at any time they want. You have to make sure the customer has a great experience. The customer increasingly wants to engage with you in multiple ways. The customer thinks about ‘I have this problem and I’m trying to solve this problem.’ One of the things we are doing is how do we make sure we solve this customer’s problem. One of the things we decided several years ago is that we couldn’t do it all on our own so we are doing a lot of partnerships. Ocado is an incredibly important partner in that process. The things that we know by partnering is that we can accelerate our journey.”

8. Innovation led to new product ranges and offerings.

Rodney McMullen, president, and chief operating officer of Kroger said “Several years ago we hired someone from the outside to look at our brand as a brand versus trying to knock off someone else’s product. If you look at Simple Truth as an example, it’s a natural organic line that we created five years ago. Last year it did 2.3 billion dollars. It’s the largest natural organic brand in the U.S. I always tell people, I’m not sure that the retailer would have been person that I guess would have created the largest natural organic brand in the U.S. It really was our team looking at where the trends were headed and making sure to keep innovation in the product. We continually introduce new products and most of them are products that didn’t exist before. Some worked and some didn’t. One product we came up with was unicorn ice cream because the unicorn is a huge trend. And how long is it going to be? I don’t know. It was a couple of women at Xavier University that came up with the idea and came up with the flavors. Our manufacturing team and our brand comms team figured how it would work. And it’s been a huge success. It’s multiple partnerships. It’s a product that you can’t get anywhere else.”

9. Personalization is key to giving consumers a luxurious experience.

Yoox-Net-a-porter chairman and chief executive officer Federico Marchetti said “Today, the homepage teaches us that sometimes only technology can make the customer experience more personal, more customized. No more will you see one page for three million customers. Instead, you’ll see three million pages created instantaneously for each customer.”

10. Create a consistent brand experience across every channel.

Yoox-Net-a-porter chairman and chief executive officer Federico Marchetti said “I believe the physical boutique and the human touch will always play a role in luxury. We are creating a totally seamless experience between online and offline that will revolutionize how we shop for luxury.” Lorelei Marfil Contributor

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