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IRC 2018 Insights into how the retail industry is adapting to change in challenging times

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How retailers are adapting to change in challenging times was a core focus for keynote speakers at this year’s ReGenerate-themed InternetRetailing Conference 2018.

The event, which brings together retailers from across the ecommerce and multichannel industry, was about how retailers adapt to survive in times that are already challenging as shoppers change the way they buy, and made even more uncertain by Brexit.

Opening the conference, Ian Jindal, editor-in-chief of InternetRetailing Media, publisher of, said that ’regenerate’, the conference theme, felt tame at such a time. “Love Brexit or loathe it, the change and uncertainty that it’s forcing on us is significant,” he said. “Across the pond, our cousins in the US are doing their own bit to destroy every stability we thought we had. In retail, number of formats are starting to fall away and change under the impact of digital. 

“A number of leading retailers are having their actual survival challenged. Everyone loves change when we’re the ones driving it but to see the impact in our sector on hundreds of thousands of colleagues and brands is a sobering moment, one to consider the values that we need in order to be sustainable in what looks like another fun year.”

However, he said, he looked to InternetRetailing’s RetailX research for solace and proof that retailers are meeting the challenge. “What’s pleasing is that in the 2018 edition of the IREU Top500, the whole index has become more capable and better – there’s no metric that hasn’t improved. The best retailers the world are forging ahead in a time of change.” 

How retailers are adapting as retail transforms

Derek Harding, chief finance officer at Shop Direct Group, focused on the importance of knowing the customer as a path to success in such markets. “In order to win in a changing market,” he said, “businesses who understand who their customer is and what that customer values will be successful, regardless of whether they are a multicategory retailer or a single category brand.” He set out how Shop Direct Group got to know its customers better – and to design experiences for those customers – by developing 50 customer personas built around its fifty of its top customers. These customers were questioned and their behaviour analysed in depth as the retailer looked to make its customer experiences much more relevant to those who buy from them. Customers of Shop Direct brands such as Very value the brands it offers, said Harding, as well as its credit proposition. “There are millions of customers out there,” he said, “and the danger is that you try to be a master of everything.” 

Speaking in a keynote panel on what skills ecommerce leaders should focus on in order to regenerate their businesses, Julian Callede, founder of said that retailers that start from scratch, such as his own, benefited by taking a new approach, rather than relying on existing ways of doing things. “If you hire experienced people, they do your job the way they usually do it,” he said, adding: “Every company is digital now but you need to be willing to rethink the way you do things.”

Jonathan Wall, chief digital officer at Missguided, said that the product is what matters, even in digital businesses. “The business is fantastic at having a great brand and a good product, and is now overlaying digital skills with the ambition of making it better through digital,” he said. “Customers come to us because we have great products, not because we have a great website.”

Why stores are the point of retail for Alibaba Group

The importance of the store in a changing retail landscape was the chief emphasis for David Lloyd, managing director of the UK and Nordics, at the Alibaba Group, which includes a string of businesses including Chinese marketplaces, Tmall and Taobao. “The biggest investments we’ve made in the last few years have all been offline, he said, “building and growing an offline presence. We believe the the only way we can truly scale our business and impact a billion people in China is off-line, working in partnership with small retailers.”

It’s doing that through stores including cash-free supermarket Hema, where shoppers buy using the app, either in store, where they can choose and have cooked their own seafood, or buy from home delivery, or buy online for home delivery. Its Ling Shou Tong business, meanwhile, is connecting the retailer with convenience stores in order to better service the 600m people in China who are as yet offline.

This is an overview piece focusing on the keynote session at InternetRetailing Conference 2018. We’ll be focusing on the different presenters in more detail over coming days.

Image courtesy of InternetRetailing Events

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