retailweek Fashion, News / May 7th, 2016

Retail… what the future holds

It’s that time of year when we’ve popped our heads out of our lovely offices in Shoreditch and headed out to the key industry annual conferences (BRC, Retail Week Live). It’s a great opportunity for us to take a little time out and look into the wider retail world and listen, see and think about the key strategic and business issues concerning our clients – as well as prospects for the year ahead.

There was plenty of inspiration and insight around – plus a few lessons to bring us back down to earth and remind us of the importance of doing the basics brilliantly.

The main themes were: leadership; brand and customer experience; people and culture. And it was all about digital transformation.

It was clear that ‘doing the same old stuff’ is no longer good enough to compete in today’s digital retail world. Retailers have to reimagine retail, ensuring their core purpose and proposition is still relevant and compelling. No one can afford to stand still – retailers (and their partners) must innovate to constantly surprise and delight their customers.

And with all this new digital disruption everywhere, retailers must remember to be creative and ‘think the unthinkable’ as the next new concept may well be from an Uber or Airbnb-type retail start-up. Just think of Amazon in 1996 and think about it now!

In a sea of too much ‘me too’ stuff and change at the top, there were some great examples of retailers who have recently re-evaluated their core purpose to effect a major turnaround and transformation.

None of this is possible without great, inspirational leadership and clarity from the top.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen and heard the challenges the bigger supermarkets have faced, but with outstanding leadership and focus, there were some fascinating stories about how Tesco and the Co-op have started to respond to the threats from the discounters and win back the hearts and minds of their customers and people.

On the high street there were some very creative and different fashion stories.

The brilliant storytelling and creativity of Ray Kelvin inspired and delighted a packed audience at Retail Week Live 2016, as he told of his unique journey from ‘doing stuff in their own way’ more than 20 years ago to becoming the fabulous global brand and commercial success Ted Baker is today. That was the perfect demonstration of the true power of original creative thinking and being true, authentic and real to your brand.

Jigsaw – another premium fashion brand – is enjoying success under the leadership of Peter Ruis. The brand has been repositioned and has avoided the discounting frenzy around Black Friday and seasonal offers, opting instead for timeless designs. They are very clear what they stand for – cherishing the opportunity to make something beautiful, meaningful and lasting that you can wear for years, and having no two stores the same. And what they do not – slavishly following fashion trends.

We all know that without a clear and differentiated proposition, any brand will ultimately fail. As will any marketing or customer communications.

Another big theme has been the ‘power of your people’ and the ‘human touch’. In all the business transformation and turnaround stories, a key pillar in the strategy was people and culture. The BRC reckon there will be up to 900,000 fewer jobs in retail within a decade (a third of the current workforce), but those that remain will be more productive and higher earning. Again, another reason to ‘think the unthinkable’ and work out how you are going to keep your brand fresh and relevant for your customers tomorrow without compromising on great customer experience or service in our digital world. And in the Axon world of creativity, the human touch is still the magic that differentiates the good from the great and the pure genius!

At Axon we are looking forward to a bright future helping our retail clients find new and exciting ways to communicate and engage with their customers across all channels.