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EDITORIAL Retail renaissance or last gasp?

Retail renaissance? Retailers can't afford to stand still

Has the fight back by traditional retailers finally begun? Tesco, M&S and Co-op are all this week turning corners in their own sweet ways and each are doing so thanks to technology. And all in the same week that the humble barcode turns 40.

Tesco, which hit the skids in 2014, is now back to rude health, turning in annual growth of 0.4%, with profits up 6.7% and sales nearing £40 billion. All this has been down to the radical reshaping of the business by CEO Dave Lewis – who unexpectedly announced his departure from the company as he announced the results – who closed stores, retrenched the business back to its core (more or less) and grew the online side.

Going forward, the retailer is focussing more heavily on its now profitable online business and growing its mobile loyalty app.

Meanwhile, M&S is introducing ‘Buy now, pay later’ on fashion items, as the company’s CEO, Steve Rowe, admitted that the company has been woefully lagging behind the competition when it comes to technology investment and keeping up with consumer habits. In fact, he rather candidly told an analysts call that M&S had “lost 18 months” in keeping up with the competition.

The move to offering flexible payments is a small step, but a defiant one and one that is certainly taking the retailer in the right direction. Now it just needs to push for more radical shaking up of what it means to shop in-store and online with the retailer.

Early ’Buy now, pay later’ proponent H&M – which has eaten its fair share of M&S’s fashion business – has also turned a corner thanks in part to investing in new tech and adapting to consumer mores: it just logged 11% net sales increase and a 6% rise in profits – it’s first for two years.

Co-op – which to be fair has long been quite forward thinking and, thanks to being smaller than the rest, quite an agile technology user – is edging ever-closer to being totally mobile first. This week it has officially launched it new app, which it previewed in April, with the aim of mobilising and digitising its loyalty scheme and driving its shoppers – in-store and out – to be more mobile centric.

In fact, the company says that mobile is now central to its retail strategy.

These three leading, old school retailers are all, finally, taking bold steps in the real world. The penny has finally dropped that the changes in retail levelled by new technology are here to stay – well they are here to evolve, but you know what I mean – and that they need to get on board. You snooze, you not only loose, but you get boarded up, knocked down and turned into flats for hipsters and their beard oils.

It is perhaps too much to think that the retail industry has turned a corner , but the fact that such exciting developments are gracing the pages of does possibly mean that things are starting to change. Is it a retail renaissance? Hopefully. It would be a shame if it was just a last gasp.

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