Author: Andy Stringer, 03 October 2017

FSP’s Andy Stringer and Kate Bickerton enjoyed a thought-provoking day at Loughborough University last week, which was celebrating 25 years of its Retail Management Course.

Highlights included seeing a number of sheepish faces around the room as various shopping habits were exposed. According to James Farnham of Dunelm, 43% of us shop in bed, 20% of us shop on the road, the same amount shop in the bathroom (yes, we all know what that means), 23% of us shop at work and 10% of us shop under the influence. Guilty?

Dr Fiona Ellis Chadwick and Dr Cathy Hart, who lead the university course, highlighted threats facing the high street and possible solutions via their excellent town centre research. 

The changing face of internet retailing

The graph on the changing face of internet retail 1997-2013 was enlightening; showing slow uptake plus the loss of so many retailers over that period. For Kate, for whom online shopping has been commonplace since earning and spending her own money, this was a stark lesson in just how fast the retail landscape has changed.

While reviewing the past 20 years, we saw how Sainsbury’s Tu has grown and reinvented itself; now the UK’s 6th largest clothing brand. This month’s drastically different advertising campaign focuses on lifestyle, living and fun rather than the clothing which speaks for itself.

Key anticipated developments for the next decade include subscription surprises (see Birchbox or Bloom & Wild), robot sales assistants and even mobile stores on wheels [https://www.themobymart.com/]. Generation Z shoppers are likely to drive changes over the next few years, with their ‘click-happy’ habits and very public feedback driving innovation.

There was consensus that stores will continue to be at the heart of retail, presenting an opportunity to interact with and ‘showcase’ brands. Store design is increasingly important as a means to communicate a brand’s ethos, particularly so for Generation Z . F&B is likely to be an increasingly important component within stores, from Grocery (e.g. SourcedMarket) to Clothing (e.g. Artket).

Despite these sophisticated ideas, representatives of Boots and Dunelm reminded us how crucial it is to have a consistent theme through all channels – both the multitude of online platforms and offline – and the need to transfer across them seamlessly. Prioritising and nailing basic processes, such as supply chain, is key at a time when potentially ‘gimmicky’ technology risks being style over substance.

It’s not glamorous but it should not be underestimated – consumers certainly want an experience but they also want practical and functional stores which have products in stock and/or efficient procedures to get them delivered quickly and on time. Fiona and Cathy’s research highlighted the ongoing importance of such services within local centres, particularly for consumers who lack sophisticated knowledge of the interplay between online and offline channels.

DHL’s talk echoed these ideas as they detailed changes over the last year which have seen them place attitude above practical skills in recruitment; willing to teach people how to drive if they are good communicators. It must be working – they won the Retail Week supply chain awards for their work with Argos that evening [Supply Chain Awards 2017].

Dunelm rounded off the retail presentations and the summary resonated with Andy – big data is there to be used to do a better job of retailing, not the other way round. This left us with 5 key Dunelm  themes emerging from the day:

  • The digital landscape continues to evolve, with sales shifting online
  • The role of the physical store is as important as ever as a brand ‘showroom’
  • Retailers need to offer a seamless experience across channels
  • Retailers must also focus resources on putting the customer first
  • They should use data selectively to do a more effective job retailing

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