3 Takeaways from Future Stores London 2018

Our recap from last month's event

Future Stores London wrapped up at the Tower Bridge Hilton late last month, where, for two days, European and UK retailers of much renown convened to share success, exchange stories, inspire peers, and defiantly challenge the myth of the endangered brick and mortar location. Unquestionably on parade in the showroom were in-store technologies offering best-in-class operations, while the agenda focused on the future of the physical store and rebirth of retail. The recurring theme on panels, in sessions, presentations and cases studies, however, was much less about the above and much more about something else: customer retention, experience and loyalty. Fittingly so. Below are three takeaways from this year’s Future Stores London for retailers and marketers alike.

1. Turn your operational pyramid upside down.

“Customer centricity” is one of those conference buzz phrases that elicits a sea of approving nods in the audience. It feels good to hear it and perhaps even better to say it — but what does it mean? For retailers, it can mean a multitude of things, depending on what kind of retailer you are and where your customers live/shop. And in a way, it has become an over-used phrase, reminding organizations to go back to the basics on their approach to doing business in this age of quarter-over-quarter growth, comp sales, and the Street. One of the first panel discussions featured a healthy array of different players, ranging from O2 (telco) and Adidas (fitness/clothing) to B&Q (big box/home goods). While the conversation meandered from the oft-heard mobile-first mentality to removing friction from the customer journey, Adidas proffered a simple solution to the panel: Customer-centric means starting with your customer, not just talking about it. His suggestion? To take those organization and operational pyramids and put the customers at the top. In other words, start with the customer and allow the lens of the customer be the North Star that informs everything else.

2. Physical stores are still powerful. But expectations have changed.

In the UK, ecommerce accounts for only 9% of retail sales, which means that brick and mortar locations are still taking a very healthy lion’s share as the sales channel. Despite this overwhelmingly large statistic, what’s clear is customer expectations are evolving faster than most retailers can react. As a result, their longevity and business growth rely not only on addressing but capitalizing on these expectations. Take, for example, Argos, UK and Ireland’s largest catalogue retailer. In their case study, Nigel Blunt, Argos’ Head of Operations Development, shared how, while they dominated this category with an unmatched footprint in the country and maintained an aggressive expansion strategy, they weren’t positioned to compete with the digital shifts and stood to lose market share by not appealing to a broader base of more affluent, digitally savvy customers. Jettisoning their traditional retail ‘Pac Man’ approach, they minimized their footprint, reduced store size, streamlined logistics, and took their anagram catalogue experience to digital while leveraging their frontline associates as a key part of their transformational success, resulting in record growth and customer satisfaction.

3. May the Store be with you.

When Alibaba takes the stage, you listen. When Alibaba goes fifteen minutes over their presentation time, you let them. Joking aside, Alibaba is a retail and ecommerce organization of megalithic proportions. In 2017, on China’s growingly popular Singles’ Day alone, Alibaba generated over $25 billion in revenue, more than five times that of Black Friday in the same year. What’s more, nearly 90% of that revenue was attributed to mobile platforms, eclipsing the U.S.’ mobile revenue numbers by a staggering amount. And not surprisingly, the focus of Alibaba’s keynote at Future Stores London 2018 was presenting their vision of what Mei Chen, Head of International Business, Luxury and Fashion, called “New Retail,” which had very little do with the concept of stores at all. To say that China is a mobile-first country is nothing if not an acute understatement. This is a country where 92% of all fashion and luxury purchases are via mobile devices and where city sidewalks have mobile-only lanes for smartphone zombies (Rejoice.). Alibaba envisions a future where all of your retail needs can be fulfilled in the palm of your hands — from product information, popularity, selection, purchase and checkout in your local market to AR-enabled search, measurement and delivery of that new lamp for your child’s bedroom. For them, the future of the store experience isn’t confined to a single location at all. It’s wherever you happen to be.