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Retail Week Live 2019: Four Emerging Themes to Watch

By Dan Melki, Senior Vice President, Europe

This year at Retail Week Live, leaders in global retail will cover the impact of AI and the return of retail brand activism as a core differentiator. How can brand purpose lead to more consumer pounds being spent in your stores?

Billing itself as U.K. retail's "greatest think tank," Retail Week Live is how industry leaders take stock, find inspiration and reconnect with the sector. With 150 speakers and 48 hours of content, there's a lot to absorb at the event this week — but several key themes are bound to prove relevant across a number of sessions.

Drawing from experience working with leading retailers worldwide, we believe these four themes will lead this year's discussions.

Retail Week Live 2019: Four Emerging Themes to Watch

1. Thriving and Surviving in 2019

Given the political and economic uncertainty of recent months, it's no wonder U.K. retail is thinking about how to survive and thrive in 2019. Across both days of Retail Week Live, you'll find sessions that discuss what's next for big retailers, how heritage brands can keep up with a fast-changing world, and how to market to the next generation of shoppers and consumers. The most successful brands understand the importance of experimentation, rather than diving in headfirst, as a method of surfacing effective solutions, particularly in a world in flux.

In an era of uncertain economics, and with consumer attention being diverted at every turn, it's more important than ever to try new ideas on a small scale first to ensure they're driving the desired business results before rolling them out more broadly. A robust business experimentation process enables retailers to conduct in-market trials of new ideas and experiences, so they can then evaluate results against a control case before deciding on a wider roll-out.

2. What Does Digital Transformation Really Mean?

Industry events such as Retail Week typically include sessions on transformation, particularly of the digital variety. Many attendees grab their tickets for that alone, eager for insights on how others — especially in large organisations — have managed to bring their operations into the modern age.

Digital has transformed retail by lowering barriers to entry for new players in the market and seamlessly connecting consumers with brands and products. New technologies can be both a threat and an opportunity, so it's important that retailers partner with organisations that can help them ideate new solutions and generate prototypes. Then, companies need to fully test the capabilities and potential of these concepts and use data-driven insights to choose the best path forward.

From the impact of artificial intelligence on consumer purchases, to the new digital model for retail and driving ROI through mobile wallets, Retail Week Live features plenty of success stories. It's all about how to turn data insights into revenue, and how to embrace and adapt as digital disruption continues its march.

But the digital transformation isn't just about the consumer-facing world; operations and the back office will be discussed, too. Sessions cover fulfillment, optimising the supply chain and dynamic global trade environments — all of which can be improved by paying attention to the data and driving insight-led transformation.

3. How Consumer Interactions Are Changing

Aligned to digital transformation is the changing shape of retail in the U.K. At the conference, top voices in the space will look at omnichannel opportunities across different sectors.

The big theme this year is the customer: how their demands are changing, the need for instant gratification, and how experiences are the order of the day. How do you unlock the journey to customer centrality and keep up with consumers' ever-changing demands?

Retailers are harnessing behavioural data insights to understand how customers needs and desires are evolving in the digital, omnichannel world. The modern consumer demands a more personalised approach to retail, expecting online shopping to be just for them and in-store visits to be a true experience. Accordingly, 80% of respondents in a recent Mastercard-sponsored Harvard Business Review survey said personalisation is important to their strategy, with more than half calling it a critical driver of revenue and profits.

The same survey found customers expect retailers to know their interests and anticipate their needs, so retailers need to use customer data insights to get to the heart of personalisation. Could a loyalty scheme increase sales? What sort of promotions bring the most opportunity? What in-store merchandising brings the biggest yield? By employing a test-and-learn approach to developments, retailers can get a head start on capturing these shoppers. Rich customer insights and advanced data analytics equip retailers to offer a more personalised experience that keeps customers coming back for more.

4. The High Street, Rebooted

The core question in U.K. retail in recent years has been what's happening to the high street. Last year saw some of the high street's biggest names face closures, and the uncertainty around the country's future isn't getting people to the shops.

Retail Week Live will explore the future of the high street through a variety of sessions — from how to turn e-commerce dominance into an opportunity for bricks-and-mortar shops, to the (re-)emergence of retail activism as a way to drive real business change. Discussions about sustainability and purpose-driven brands dominate, as do conversations on retail partnerships and employee well-being. The U.K. high street is thinking well beyond clicks and bricks and looking at how to truly make a difference.

The retailers surviving the high street today are those that seize this opportunity to differentiate. Whether it's by taking a stand on social responsibility or by knowing their niche and sticking to it, these brands test their approaches with a small group and learn from the results before going wide. The dominance of e-retailers doesn't have to mean the end of the high street, but high-street retailers do need to get smarter and more data-driven to thrive in a changing industry.

See You There?

The team from Mastercard Data & Services team is at Retail Week Live this yweek. Get in touch if you'd like to catch up and hear more about how data-driven insights can help your business thrive in 2019.