Strategy. Curation. Transformation. Stores. Testing. These were central concepts for keynote speakers at InternetRetailing Conference 2015 as they considered the directions in which retail has travelled and will travel over coming years. Emma Herrod reports.
Peter Williams, Chairman of Boohoo.com and Mister Spex and a former Selfridges Chief Executive, opened the keynote session at the InternetRetailing 2015 Conference by considering how retail had developed up to this point, while Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, member of the board and Executive Director Marketing and International, Marks & Spencer and Dan Rubel, Strategy Director at Shop Direct told of current transformations and expectations for the future.
Williams – who appears on the cover of this issue of InternetRetailing – reminded the audience of how retail had evolved from market stalls to department stores to the internet. “There’s been a generational shift in behaviour: members of the younger generation always research online before buying. We don’t know where this is going to end: younger generations all use the web for everything – but it’s not the end of the physical stores,” he said.
Bousquet-Chavanne explained how M&S, an Elite trader in InternetRetailing’s IRUK research, was changing in line with customer behaviour. “Over the last 4-5 years M&S has probably been on one of the most transformative journeys it has ever been on,” he said. “Consumers are shifting, quickly and they are smarter, faster, empowered and we have to respond to it. As a retailer, you have to move at scale, at speed every day.”
He said being a brand with “meaning in life” and the effective use of content was now essential in commerce as retailers look to differentiate themselves in a saturated market. “Curation is essential,” he said, adding: “If something is trending on social and online, we’ll be ready to have the right content for the consumer. Brands need to have that capability.”
Asked about M&S’s approach to innovation in a large business, he said: “We bring in new ideas, and we see the customer response. It is about being very flexible, try them now, fail fast, try at a small scale and move on.”
Rubel told delegates how Shop Direct has gone about transforming itself from an unprofitable catalogue company with hundreds of stores to a profitable digital-only business. The decision to sell the stores to Primark in 2005, he said, had been a “liberating” one, creating a company that is able to obsess about the digital experience. But, he said, the work was not yet finished. “We don’t view ourselves as successful in terms of the finished article,” he said. “We very much think that we’re a work in progress and that there’s a huge amount to do. Nice list of what we’re good at – much longer list of future opportunities, things we’d like to improve.”
He singled out learnings from that ‘work in progress’, explaining how it was important to define a clear strategy, something that is “about choosing where to focus and where not to focus: if there aren’t some smart things that you’re choosing not to do, then it’s not a proper strategy in my mind.”
Investing in people, testing, personalisation and discipline had all been important, he said. Transformation could be tough, especially when investment is taken away from some areas and channelled to others in the light of changing customer behaviour. But above all, he said, “People are the rocket fuel behind our success and, of all our learnings, they’re the underlying reason why our transformation has been a success.”
The Conference later split into three, intense parallel streams that investigated, analysed and debated the learnings, experiences, ideas and strategic directions in the three focus areas of multichannel – the customer, the product and the order. Speakers included Tariq Slim, Head of Telco and Tech, Twitter UK; Jack Smith, Group Digital Director, New Look; Paul Coby, CIO, John Lewis; Sarah Baillie, Head of Multichannel Business Development, House of Fraser; Andrew Towers, Head of Mobile, eBay and Martin Harbech, Head of Ecommerce & Retail, Facebook.
Data, innovation and talent investment were at the forefront of the presentations highlighting the importance of understanding and listening to the customer to deliver a seamless multichannel experience.
In her presentation, Sarah Baillie gave insight into how the product teams at House of Fraser have been reorganised to reflect the customer journey of find/inspire, decide and purchase.
Robin Phillips, Multichannel Director at Boots, showed delegates how the company is transforming to become shoppers first call for both health and beauty. He told delegates that Boots UK is “a crucible for innovation in retail” which will be available to other companies within the wider group and by its partners Apple and IBM.
The company is also investing in easing the Click & Collect process for customers and staff, expanding the collection tie-in with Asos and freeing up its pharmacists’ time: “Appointment booking, electronic stock management, automatic prescriptions, mobile text reminders, refill by mobile scan, patient health record. To me this is truly fundamental change in the way we run the business. Innovation allows it to come to life really quickly,” said Phillips.
When asked about innovation, Andrew Towers, Head of Mobile at eBay, told delegates that if eBay can’t do the things that are pushing the edges, he doesn’t know who can – except perhaps leaving it to the start ups. “There are some things that will never see the light of day,” he said.
Helen Colclough, Ecommerce Development Manager at River Island confessed that the company breaks stuff every day. “Technology is not always the solution it’s an enabler,” she said. “As a fast fashion retailer your customers are on the edge of what’s happening. You have to be an innovator, try things out and have that culture,” she said.
She also commented that site speed and performance would be key success factors for mobile commerce in the coming year. Phillips also told delegates that Click & Collect would be a key investment focus for Boots next year. He commented that it is an important channel, which because of the proximity to people’s homes, sees three quarters of online orders collected in store.
Away from the conference, 6 workshops were run for visitors wanting to go more in depth into a number of subjects and 50 exhibitors were on hand to discuss how their solution could benefit retail delegates. Mobify launched onsite its new Web Engagement Messaging in partnership with Google which allows push messages to be sent direct to Android mobile phones without the need for a separate app to be downloaded, while Azoya presented its solutions to trade in China and InRiver spoke to visitors about its product information management solution.
IRC 2015, has proven once again to be the hotspot for retailers to share their achievements and consider the direction that retail has travelled to drive results. Retailers, delegates and visitors buzzed on the conference’s Twitter with excitement and were pleased to see how the conference continues to provide edgy angles, showcase innovations and identify new trends.
Justin Lodge, Head of Developing Markets at Wiggle.com, shared his enjoyment: “Every time I come here I learn something, either from an exhibitor or colleagues in the industry so it’s always a great occasion to get together and talk about the challenges we are facing, share good ideas and see what else is out there in the market that may help to improve our business”.
The videos from the presentations as well as the slides used by the speakers will be shared at internetretailingconference.com where visitors can also register their interest for the eleventh Internet Retailing Conference on 12 October 2016.