Retail Week Live brings together retail’s brightest minds from across the globe to connect, inspire and advance the retail industry. Think of it much like our very own advertising festivals featuring a broad range of speakers, exhibitions, networking opportunities and awards (granted ours are in sunny Cannes and this is hosted in a slightly less sunny Greenwich). I’m sure a lot of you may think this is where the similarities between our own world of media and communications and the retail vertical end; over the course of attending the event I’ve come to realise that this isn’t the case at all.
There are, of course, big discussion points that don’t carry relevance between industries (Brexit’s impact on the costs of imported goods, how the chancellor’s budget tax is affecting the grocers market etc.). We are, however, entwined through data, technology and consumer experience. Throughout the event these three key themes clearly had the biggest cross-industry link but also made me realise the responsibility we have as a marketing performance agency, not to only transform retail brands’ communications, but their business strategy and infrastructure.
Here’s a brief snapshot of key things that were discussed around these themes and how I think we can help retail brands earn a greater share of life and influence their business beyond communications.
One thing that became so apparent to me was the luxury of flexibility and starting a fresh that start-ups enjoy over larger, less agile established retail and high street institutions. There is a big movement around data within the retail sector mentioned repeatedly, of which the key factors include:
- Centralising Data
- Automating Data
- Accessible & Digestible Data (in a way shop assistance and CEO’s can understand and action the same information).
Sound familiar? It should – in my opinion, these challenges are much like the journey we’re on with implementing programmatic and addressable media. These are key challenges and conversations that we’re having daily with clients as we look to make their marketing communications smarter, but I think we can help them further. This isn’t new within the retail sector, but unlike flexible start-ups and innovative media agencies, the shift and transition is tough for large, established retailers. The opportunity for brands to leverage their agencies as partners in this transition seems clear to me, not only in giving confidence and guidance in the transition but also integrating communications and marketing implications at the beginning of this process to impact and grow a business. As Martin Glenn from the Football Association claimed, ‘Marketers not only spend all our money, they are fundamental to creating our profit’.
I estimate that around 80% of exhibitions, talks and guests were there for Tech – it was the one concept which seemed to glue everything together and had the greatest volume of conversation. Tech for retailers ranged from making financial transfers between markets more efficient, automating warehouse staff, to creating bespoke personalised clothing on demand in front of consumers’ eyes (such as this cool London start-up Unmade).
It struck me that for a lot of tech companies present, and those that have been discussed are ones we talk to on a regular basis, we don’t refer to them as alien tech giants – we call them media owners. Whether this is Snapchat, JCDecaux, Microsoft, Google, TFL, Staiq or a plethora of hardware and software start-ups, we’re the ones using these partners and testing their technologies before other industries. Take VR for example, this technology was being tested and formed part of media campaigns before news publishers began producing content in VR, and certainly before retailers have started using it to enhance customer experiences. Think how valuable our insight and learnings into consumer engagement with this tech could be for our clients. This puts us in a position to not only buffer the good from the bad but offer experience, advice and insight into how these technologies can be applied to brands beyond their marketing campaigns and into everyday use.
‘Everything is rooted in customer experience’ – I heard iterations of this often walking around the exhibition and within the talks. This may seem obvious but it’s proving a big challenge within the retail space as new technologies, consumer behaviours and expectations are changing and constantly evolving in unique ways. Here’s a stat for you from the mornings Alibaba talk – in the UK about 30% of all online retail transactions are on mobile device. In China, that number rises to a staggering 85% and we’re predicted to catch them up over the coming years. As we know Mobile isn’t a second consumer experience any longer – it’s growing at a shocking rate, and soon a large segment of retailers’ audiences will only ever experience online mobile interaction with brands. Meaning discovery, transactions and brand experiences will all need to happen in the palm of our hands. The implications are mind-boggling.
However, I don’t want this theme to be mistaken for technology advances only – consumer experience can change through the lens of business structure via simple insights too. Take BirchBox, for example, changing the way women all over the U.S and UK experience beauty brands by turning the trial revenue model on its head and making an entire business out of the insight that “80% of women don’t care that much about cosmetics and want beauty to fit around their lifestyle not the other way round”. This has changed the way they approach and communicate with this huge market, moving the industry from exclusive to inclusive. Changes in expectations of consumer experience is a game changer for a lot of retailers and, let’s face it, we’re in an industry that battles for attention, consumer engagement and creating stand out brand experiences that consumers want to engage with for our clients every single day.
In summary, so many of the topics discussed today are central to the progression of the retail sector causing waves and innovations within the industry. These are conversations that we’ve been having within our industry months, if not years, ago. Media, advertising and the communications industry is at the forefront of new technologies and thinking – we’re the testing ground and often the initiator of brand to consumer engagements, developing relationships and using data to generate e-commerce sales. We are in a unique position for our clients, with the ability not to only help innovate communications but also their product, business strategy and beyond.