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Does Digital Retail Make Street Shopping Irrelevant? Panelists Debate

The hottest topics from the STORE SHAKEUP panel, Drapers 2018

Following the success of the STORE SHAKEUP panel at Drapers’ 2018, I decided to document some of the key themes from myself and fellow panelists. The following theme was proposed; how can brick-and-mortar retail fair in a progressively digital and omni-channel world? This article is both a summary and an expansion of what turned out to be not a debate, but a fierce collaboration of a single cause.

I would be accosted for plagiarism if I didn’t recognise the bright minds beside me: Cathy McCabe (CEO) Proximity Insight, Claudia Nappo (Retail Director) LK Bennett, and Mary Homer (CEO) The White Company – three senior figureheads of retail. In reflection, our message can be summed up by Mary Homer’s comment: “It should be about how customers want to shop.” Although the ways to go about achieving that can be endlessly differentiated, that should be the starting mantra.

Drapers Retail Panel Roger Bannister Timico

Ordered from the left: Interviewer, Roger Bannister, Cathy McCabe, Claudia Nappo, Mary Homer

In-Store Experience

As I spoke about in my previous blog, differentiation brings retail visibility. On a shelf of a hundred blue hats, it’s the single red hat that stands out. The red hat is differentiation. As Claudia Nappo put it “With stores you really have to make the experience come to life. Just offering 20% discount or drinks aren’t going to draw them in any more. They want something different.” This can be seen with in-store tech and embracing digital strategies, for example, creating augmented reality games, opening a café, implementing (as the new Amazon Go) a queue-less and checkout-less shopping experience, whatever it is, it is imperative retail creates an experience. The attraction to brick and mortar retail cannot be subsidised by e-commerce, they must complement each other. In-store retail can remain relevant so long as retailers stay creative and enticing in their use of space and tech.

Staying Agile

The one greatest asset to successful retail is agility. The ability to adapt and respond to change. As shoppers, our attention span has gone down dramatically. It’s the tinder syndrome. There’s always an alternative option a click away. So, retailers need to stop that bounce rate, and focus on accessibility, ease-of-access and exposure.

“Retailers should focus on the ability to adapt in an agile and innovative way. But it’s important to pick what you prioritise. You need to get to know your customer and really understand what they want, and how you build that into the store experience.” Cathy McCabe

Tech as an enabler

That means utilizing digital platforms, but it also means changing the way business is run from the inside. This includes utilizing connectivity solutions like SD WAN, workplace automation and robots, securing and responding to metrics and data, and implementing in-store tech. Tech should be an enabler, to bring something to life. Tech as Claudia Nappo reminds, needs to “focus on what it does for the customer and go back to what value it is adding. Is it speeding something up or saving costs, or helping the customer in some way?”

In Conclusion

A full house at the STORE SHAKEUP panel is encouraging. It means that retail is trending, and that retailers are also curious. It’s a turbulent time for any business, but also a time of fantastic opportunity so long as businesses are agile and customer-centric in their approach.

To read more from the STORE SHAKEUP panel and other events of the day, visit Drapers.