World Retail Congress 2018: Innovate to Win

Apr 30, 2018 | Events, Featured

Thrilled and proud to be part of a UK Department of International Trade delegation at this year’s World Retail Congress (WRC) in Madrid, what did Creative Director Helen Shelley see and learn atthis annual 3-day event that brings together today’s global retail industry leaders?

This year’s overall theme was “Innovate to Win”, and plenty of familiar buzzwords/topics were bandied about: doing well is not enough; speed; connect with your customer; harmonisation of one brand in many channels; Instagrammable; malls are now entertainment destinations; experience; digital; carbon footprint; and many more.

What was different was hearing how retailers are actively and creatively doing these things, often with pretty dramatic results. Like L’Occitane’s collaboration with iconic pastry chef Pierre Hermé to bring macaroons and massage to their “immersive sensory experience” concept stores in London and Paris. Or fast-food chain Leon removing all plastic straws and cutlery from their stores over just 10 days!

We’re in an age of disruption, but a strong, optimistic view that retail environments aren’t dying was all-pervasive at WRC. However, be prepared to change quickly, challenge, be agile, understand that experience is king, and take risks – or your days are numbered!

Seamless digital experience

Of course digital was top on mind with everyone. But let’s be very clear – this isn’t about in-store digital screens. We’ve all got that on our smartphones, so don’t waste your money! It’s about ensuring all our devices, whether at home or on-the-go, work seamlessly with the store experience.

Stacey Cartwright, Deputy Chairman at Harvey Nichols, explained how they rebooted their entire on and offline customer service experience around their new app. Shunning the traditional loyalty card, this app lets customers book experiences, and partner brands offer ‘surprise treats’. Moreover, through the app all Harvey Nichols staff (now called stylists) follow up customer store visits with online conversations, provide fashion and beauty recommendations (and reserve items for them), and then give in-store one-to-one shopping sessions and consultations to complete the circle (and start all over again). This customer first, personalised approach to customer loyalty throughout the customer journey has led to increased sales.

Chief Brand Officer at Tommy Hilfiger Avery Baker compared solving their challenges to jumping out of an airplane into the unknown. This 30-year-old brand was losing huge amounts of money. Radical changes were needed fast, else risk disappearing in 10 years time. Adopting a startup mentality, they built a new “what you sell is what you stand for” vision forthis increasingly fast-paced world, where young customers expect brands to be part of their lives beyond just products. Enter the ‘Tommy NOW’experience. Inspired by the catwalk, this ‘see now, buy now’ roadshow (and much more) goes around the world to meet its customers. There’s also a TED@Tommy partnership– a platform for the best ideas coming out of the Tommy Hilfiger ecosystem. The result? Online sales trebled!

Space isn’t the final frontier

Space, how it’s used, redundant spaces, scale, and more are all current challenges faced across retail. It’s critical to understand what type of physical and digital environments work for your brand and your customers, and how they complement is other. For example, the Tommy NOW roadshows lead customers back to the Tommy Hilfiger shops. They still focus on flagships, but these have a more personalised hospitality philosophy, with carefully curated selected products.

Williams-Sonoma, on the other hand, has ditched the big store format. For them, flagships lose money, don’t reflect the brand’s DNA, and aren’t how their customers shop. Laura Alber, President and CEO at Williams-Sonoma, said they focus on smaller, approachable, friendly neighbourhood stores that are all about the home, cooking, comfort, and lifestyle. Their Design Crew of stylists and decorators work with customers in-store or in their own homes to provide a free design consultation service, their online offer is an extension of the store experience, and they’ve established a reputation as being the best in supply chain delivery. Since taking this approach, they found that multichannel customers spend significantly more than single channel customers and store spend grew by 21%.

I was initially surprised at the small scale of the event: just two small halls with various lecture spaces. But the calibre of attendees, and the programme of talks with leading stars of the industry, were second to none. Plus the intimacy of the venue meant I spoke directly to so many more people than I normally would at a trade show event. Were there any negatives? Like so many other events, women were seriously under-represented on the speaker platform, though the ones I heard were really good – so good that they’re the only ones highlighted in this piece. And whilst this year’s theme was “Innovate to Win”, it was somewhat ironic that the conference centre itself was in no way innovative.

And finally… M Worldwide’s phenomenally successful customer journey and brand experience work with Icelandic retailer Hagkaup was a finalist at the event’s World Retail Awards. It’s won quite few other effectiveness awardsbut was pipped to the post this time.

More reading:

Check it Out: Rethinking In-Store Payments

Retail Consumers of the Future: Power to the People

In-Store Digital Tech: Sometimes Sticky Stuff is Good For You

Shoptalk Europe: Stop Thinking in Silos