Live from the UK: Retail Week Day One

by | Mar 14, 2013

On my walk back to my hotel from the first day of Retail Week Live held at London Hilton Metropole, I walked through both rain and snow even though the skies were blue.

The weather reminded me of retail in UK today where you tend to get a little bit of everything. Despite – or maybe because of – a gloomy economic picture, there is serious innovation and great success stories going on in UK retail and the first day of Retail Week Live did a great job capturing the good and the bad, the sun and the clouds, or in the case of my walk home, the wet and the dry.

So, with that in mind, let me share the five things today that I took away from Retail Week Live:

1. It’s a fact: Engaged Associates = Loyal Customers = Higher Profit. UK retailers are proving that your workforce is your brand. Homebase Managing Director Paul Loft and Pets at Home People Director Ryan Cheyne presented very compelling data that linked associates engagement to customer loyalty and, ultimately, higher profits. What was particularly interesting was the idea that, from a customer satisfaction perspective, only 6 percent (!) of UK retail customers are Neutral or worse about their customer experience. That means 92 percent of UK retail customers are Satisfied or Very Satisfied (with most being simply Satisfied). What is impressive is that when a customer moves from Satisfied to Very Satisfied they spend more with a retailer! Homebase showed that when a customer moved from Satisfied to Very Satisfied due on one metric (associate availability) they would spend 41 percent more than those that just stayed Satisfied. Pets at Home told a great story about it realizing that its lowest satisfaction scores came during peak times. They raised awareness of the problem with their stores, worked on getting the and best teams in at peak times, and surprise, service scores increased and sales increased.

2. The Associate is important in an omnichannel world. While much of today’s conversation revolved around customer loyalty modeling, omnichannel, and cool new store technology, virtually every retail executive that spoke stressed the importance of the associate in the value chain. While mobile and online retail will grow at incredible rates, the vast majority of transactions will still occur in the stores and your associates are a catalyst to maximize the value of those transactions. For all the dollars that are invested in a consistent brand experience across all channels, retailers must make sure that they invest some of it in their associates so that they are empowered and enabled to deliver the experience that your customers want. Along these lines, Cheyne from Pets at Home had a great quote (which I am paraphrasing), “The one thing that all retail brands that we admire have in common is that they have a great culture.” Culture doesn’t happen by accident. Invest in it.

3. New omnichannel technology will help eliminate down time in your stores. Every retailer has stores that associates have idle time even when operating with minimum staff. Some retailers are looking to fill this idle time with in-store fulfillment tasks. The problem is that packing boxes is outside of the sales associates’ area of expertise. However, Kate Ancketill, CEO and Founder of GDR Creative Intelligence, showed a different solution this morning. There is a new technology which allow online customers to consult with store associates via video conference. The associate can use a tablet or other internet-connected camera to provide product information, show merchandise, and answer customer questions. While the technology has not yet been brought to market (and I cannot find the name of the company that is developing it), it was cool and I can definitely see retailers making good use of it when it comes out. I’ll try to find out more and share that information with you when I do.

4. Retail is the UK’s 21st Century Royal Navy. Ok, I may be pushing my analogy but hang with me. Great Britain grew to become the world’s first superpower because of the dominance of the Royal Navy and its ability to import raw materials and export goods to its colonies. Today, the UK’s Secretary of State of Business Vince Cable, described retail’s importance in to the nation. Retail represents 5 percent of the economy and 10 percent of its employment. This employment level has not shrunk and even grown during the recession. The UK e-commerce market is the most mature in Europe behind Finland and larger than Germany and France combined. Given all this, it should not be surprising that, as the UK thinks about its future, the government views retail as an export industry. This includes UK retailers who open shops abroad and ecommerce purchases conducted with UK business from international buyers. Therefore, I cannot help but think about UK packages flying Union flags as they land on foreign shores just as the Royal Navy ships did in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

5. Nobody likes whiners…and that includes prospective job applicants. The last session of the day was a panel discussion featuring Nick Robertson from, Scott Weavers-Wright from Kiddicare and, and Richard Pennycock from Morrisons Supermarkets. The topic was “Bright Young Things: Winning the Digital Race by Attracting, Inspiring and Nurturing Tomorrow’s Retail Talent.” Great topic, I thought. That is, until it began. The panel spent the last 40 minutes of the day bemoaning the problems that they have attracting IT talent to the retail industry while slaying British culture and saying that the young talent just didn’t see retail as a credible career path. All I have to say is “Are you kidding me?!?” Between omnichannel, big data, mobile, tablet, and the gamifaction and consumerization of store systems, it should be easy to position retail as a great place for young people to be creative with technology. If a retail executive cannot sell that story to a prospective job candidate, I’d worry that they are in the wrong business.

Tomorrow, I wrap-up both Retail Week Live and my time in the UK. Follow me on twitter @robert_clements to get real-time reports as to what is going on or to simply get more detail than I’m putting in my end-of-day wrap-ups.


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