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Retail Week Live 2023: Stores hold key to profitability

By Miya Knights, Publisher | Tuesday March 28 2023 | UPDATED 28.03.23

Store-based innovation and efficiency will prove a vital differentiator for post-pandemic success through a recession, reports Retail Technology from major UK industry conference

Retailers were out in force in London today, eager to discuss the latest tech and digital store, workforce and consumer-facing trends and innovations.

Hosted by its UK parent publication, Retail Week Live 2023, the event attracted a high-profile roster of industry leaders. The consensus view among them was that the importance of stores had risen up profitability agendas.

Ken Murphy, Tesco CEO, said the industry has the potential to accelerate positive change. He highlighted food security, innovation in the race to net-zero emissions and fostering economic growth as the three main areas where grocers, in particular, have a role to play.

“As retailers, our stores are in the heart of our community across the country, in our customer’s homes and, increasingly, in the palms of their hands,” Murphy told attendees.

Manifesto for change

The grocery chief issued a manifesto focused on stores, skills and regulatory compliance, with a call to action for policy change and government action on apprenticeships, business rates and recycling deposit schemes.

Murphy called for, “sustainable, scalable and simple systemic change,” going so far as to say that current business rate regulations were “undermining brick and mortar retail”.

Seb James, Boots CEO, urged retail leaders to keep their finger on the pulse. “Try to know what’s going on,” he said, citing store visits and operational data as vital indicators.

“Boots has 62,000 people at Boots. There’s no way I can know all of them. There’s no way I can know how the team in the Sunderland store is treating our customers, nor how they’re feeling about working for Boots as you could do in a small business.”

In response, James said he started hosting twice-daily meetings during the pandemic. These quick round-ups were invaluable in helping Boots’ management team stay agile, up-to-date and flexible in their decision-making.
Composing exceptional customer experience

As the leaders of some of the UK’s biggest players revealed that they are focused on store-based challenges as physical retail takes up a post-pandemic role in shopping journeys, others were on hand to discuss key, emerging and enabling technologies.

Ian Mahoney, New Look Technology and Engineering Director, said it was important for retailers to adopt technology that was closely aligned to customer intent.

“You have to be very careful not to go after new and cool tech just because it’s new and cool,” he continued. “It’s vital to deliver tech to make the customer experience more seamless and quick, whether that’s at the checkout or for customer questions and queries.”

Mahoney added that a new point-of-sale (POS) rollout this year would speed up innovation by enabling New Look stores to benefit from more flexible and composable tech tools.

In store staff we trust

Mark Thomson, Zebra Technologies EMEA Retail and Hospitality Solutions Director, agreed with Mahoney’s need for technical speed and flexibility. stressed that two-to-three year store tech rollouts were no longer sustainable given the pace of digital innovation.

“Two years is too long,” Thomson explained. “If the rollout is legacy by the time the rollout is complete, then you may have to rip and replace. So, providers need to support that need for greater agility.”

Hannah Barnes, BP Operational Excellence VP in Europe, said the fuel and forecourt retail business had invested in store systems that help free up colleagues’ time, such as auto-scheduling and digital task management applications.

Barnes also said the most important factor in the successful rollout of these applications was getting staff buy-in and adoption. “We have a wide range of staff, who are both young and elderly. So, we really had to become more agile in our training needs,” she added.

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