If one of the keys to retail success is making connections, then there’s no better way to connect than being face to face with someone. Making eye contact with people, bringing people into our circle, ‘reading the room’ – all of these happen naturally when we’re physically in the same space. So while we’re all genuinely grateful for the technologies that have kept us going these last two years, it was nothing less than a delight to be back at a proper retail event – Retail Tomorrow 2022 – in the company of colleagues and friends from across the retail industry.
Many delegates recalled that the last Retail Tomorrow (in 2020) took place literally days before the world was locked down and that looming expectation gave the 2020 event an emotional ‘we’ll-meet-again-don’t-know-when’ vibe. Well, the emotion was back – in fact, it felt like we picked up where we left off, albeit in a much-changed world. Focusing on shared experience is so important right now, and whether it was anecdotal chats or finely-researched presentations, there was plenty for us all to get out teeth into and a hungry appetite to get back to being able to shake hands and clink wine glasses.
Retail Tomorrow is something unique in the retail calendar, a forum dedicated to retail technology insight, inspiration and innovation, a protein-rich 24hrs tailored especially for time-poor senior retailers. We’ll be publishing an event summary very soon so watch this space; but for now, here’s a very quick overview …
Building back stronger
It has been an unprecedented time of challenge and change for retail caught in the headwinds of Covid, supply chain issues, the great resignation, inflation, and skyrocketing fuel prices in particular. The opportunity the sector has right now to focus on strategically resetting and reconnecting – to be able to build back stronger and more future-proof – was a trend that ran through every session.
After welcoming people and opening proceedings I started things rolling with our wrap-up of ten key takeaways from NRF 2022 (you can download our free NRF debrief here). The fact that so few UK retailers had been able to attend NRF only made our getting-together now more meaningful. This segued nicely into our first keynote speaker, retail visionary and futurologist Kate Ancketill who treated us to an updated and expanded version of her own NRF keynote ‘Retail Trends 2022: Innovative Concepts, Alternative Commerce and the Metaverse’.
Kate began with a wake-up call to us all about Gen-Z, who will be the dominant shopping demographic in as little as eight years from now. While retailers and the technology partners may be self-satisfied with how they integrated omnichannel and designed great websites younger shopping generations don’t really recognize the difference and actively seek out innovative and ‘non-linear’ ways to pay. Kate explored what ‘Metacommerce’ (i.e. eCommerce within or aligned to the nascent Metaverse and other AR/VR spinoffs) might begin to look like, alongside the imperative for physical retail to hugely accelerate its fulfilment revolution as it realigns its thinking to see stores now as just one part of the support system for commerce.
Consumer expert and Retail Tomorrow stalwart Ken Hughes provided the other standout keynote, ‘The Big Take Back: The Consumer Psychology of the Recovery’. In Ken’s words,“Survival – if you’ve done it – is the easy part. Recovery is the hard part and the work starts now.” Ken introduced us to the CHIME model of recovery: Connection Hope Identity Meaning Empowerment, in the context of it being the time for retailers to look at leadership, and the fact that the great resignation is thought to be in part because retailer leaders aren’t stepping up and inspiring people right now.
But right now is also a time in which consumers are genuinely hungry for innovation (powered by technology)and Ken talked of resilience: the ability for a material to hold its form regardless of the stresses placed on it. Much of retail has proven its resilience over these past two years but the question remains: how is the new normal are we going to foster better and deeper connections? Ken suggests a very specific take on intimacy – physical, mental, spiritual and emotional – to foster a sense of closeness.
There was so much more at Retail Tomorrow including presentations, hands-on interactive workshops, and Dragon’s Den style sessions where the (very brave) retail suppliers got to pitch to the delegates. Among the other thoughts and themes touched upon:
- eCommerce – given the acceleration of the last two years means the digital-first world is more central than ever, it’s critical to get right. People want to pay in different ways, as both Kate and Mastercard told us, so retailers need to be thinking of non-standard and non-linear ways to capture this
- AI is making great strides forward right now in retail as a fascinating Antuit workshop showcased – it’s time to dive in
- Scale – VMware’s workshop was all about a focus on getting the platform right as the way to build and scale. And, of course, Cloud remains at the heart of everything; the trick today is to be able to manage multi-cloud efficiently and cost-effectively.
- Frictionless Edge – this is the oft-quoted goal today, but while retail customers seek ever-increasing convenience your platforms need to be secure
- Thoughtfulness and ESG – many retail positions are open right now, many area managers stressed. After everything we’ve been through, caring for and supporting the workforce has taken centre stage and technology has such a role to play in making life better instore. Part of this is empowering associates – with enterprise mobility every more important.
- Data Data Data is still the beating heart of so much – get the insight, both for your immediate next best action instore and for your company’s future. Sabio gave us an enthralling example of how intent data capture and analysis can make a measurable difference to the bottom line.
- Immersive retail – whether you’re bought into the Metaverse or not, you need to keep an eye on it so that you’re not suddenly left behind. And with that in mind, why not be one of the ones to dive in? Either way, the future of retail is resoundingly immersive.
- Back to connection – consumers’ hearts are wide open right now, as Ken Hughes said. Retail brands are primed to make such an impact right now – go confidently, but go quickly…
And last but by no means least, be brave: get together with people, face to face. It makes a world of difference and can add untold value, as the Retail Tomorrow event cohort will attest. Thanks again to everyone, from retail attendees to technology partners to showrunners, who made the event such a stimulating one.
You can download our NRF insight report ‘Immersive Retail: 10 Key Trends from NRF 2022’ here. And as I mentioned we’ll publish a concise event summary from Retail Tomorrow in the next week or two so watch this space. In the meantime, it remains all about connection – and if you want to connect with me, or (through me) with any of our technology partners from the event, please don’t hesitate.