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Strategy and Innovation

The focus of the latest IRUK Top500 Dimension Report, as sponsored by Barclaycard, is Strategy & Innovation. The InternetRetailing research team set out to understand what retail good practice looks like in 2017 and in this report they have mapped the approaches that leading UK retailers are taking as they work to deliver the highest service levels to their customers.

It’s in this Dimension, more than any other, that InternetRetailing researchers, with support from the Knowledge Partners, take a big-picture view – and it seems an apposite moment for them to do so. That’s because defining effective strategic approaches and new techniques is especially important at a time when there’s more competition within the ecommerce and multichannel retail industry than ever, and more competition for shoppers’ attention. As Paul Skeldon writes in the strategic overview, uncertainty around Brexit has started to hit consumer spending with footfall declining and online growth lacklustre. Falling consumer confidence is affecting sales month on month across the web and in the real world.

Meanwhile, discounting and events such as Amazon Prime Day are seeing any extra sales that do come in via the web not translating into increased revenues. Therefore, it’s never been more critical for retailers to take an innovative and strategic approach but they need to ensure that innovation doesn’t just happen for its own sake, but within a strong strategic context. Different strategies work for different retailers, of course. The suitability and effectiveness of different approaches very much depend on the behaviour and demands of existing and potential customers. By testing new approaches, retailers may well find they can stand out in even the most crowded markets.

Ross Clemmow, Retail Director at Debenhams , spoke to the Report’s authors about the department store’s plans for a social shopping strategy and how that will work in practice. Discussing the retailer’s April strategic review, Clemmow comments: “When we looked at our customer data we found that a third of our customers are shopping with friends and family, and that’s when they spend more. They’re not just looking for product but for leisure and food – and we believe we can be a good host for these activities.” Adding hairdressing salons or restaurants to department stores is nothing new, but Debenhams is looking to integrate these leisure aspects with digital technology to deliver not just convenience but, the “control and best use of their time” that the company’s research suggests shoppers really want. Instead of customers simply collecting a click-and-collect order of half-a-dozen dresses and several pairs of shoes to try on at home and then returning the unwanted items, explains Clemmow, “…mobile can speed up the process”. Not just by streamlining the actual collection, but more importantly by enabling a shopper who has half an hour to spare in a lunch hour to collect the items and “reserve a fitting room and personal stylist, and try on the chosen garments there and then”.

Such personalised service needs plenty of customer-facing staff and Debenhams is making key changes to reduce significantly the kinds of non-customer-facing tasks familiar to any retailer. As Clemmow goes on to explain, Over the next 12 months the retailer expects to free up the equivalent of 2,000 full-time staff by using such tactics as delivering display-ready merchandise direct to the shop floor. The Dimension Report also analyses strategies that work for Argos , Interflora , Mothercare and Superdrug as well as outlining 12 approaches from leading retailers that stand out.

A feature on emerging practice focuses on how British retailers are harnessing machine learning and artificial intelligence in the next big technological leap forward, while separate pages highlight the numbers, data and research that underpin this Dimension Report. The Strategy & Innovation Performance Dimension Report flows from IRUK Top500 2017 research, in which InternetRetailing benefitted from the valued input of its skilled Knowledge Partners. As always, InternetRetailing would like to hear what readers think, whether you have views on the metrics we’ve used, and how they could be improved, or on an innovative approach that’s working for you as a retailer – please do share your thoughts via

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