3 Key Takeaways from World Retail Congress

On May 14-16, Amsterdam played host to World Retail Congress (WRC) 2019. The retail industry is of vital importance to the Dutch economy being the biggest employer in the Netherlands. Major retailers Walmart, Tommy Hilfiger, Made.com, Ahold Delhaize and Zalando all participated in the event.

Below are three key themes discussed at the conference that summarise the mindset of retailers.

The importance of partnerships and data in ever- faster pace changing retail environment

The theme of the congress was High-Velocity Retail with many of the speakers explaining what the ever- faster pace of change of retail meant for them, what were the key challenges their organisations face today and what the trajectory of successful tomorrow looks like for them.

Barbara Martin Coppola, Chief Digital Officer at Ingka Group said that agility and velocity had never been more important in operating a company. “The velocity [within businesses] needs to be higher than the rate of transformation around them, so leading companies need to adapt faster, to ensure that they continue to lead. To do this, data is the new gold. It does not only help us make decisions quickly but connect in real time with our customers.”

Another emerging theme was that of partnerships that are mutually beneficial. In an environment with such high speed of technological and operational advances, retailers have come to realise they are stronger together. Partnerships are growing in importance to help retailers expand operations, tackle different sectors, add services, bring analytical capabilities or scale faster.

From Carrefour’s partnership with Google to escalate its e-commerce capabilities to Kroger’s aim to become the number one player in the U.S. e-commerce grocery through its partnership with Ocado, retail is confirming that the future is in pairs.

Rodney McMullen, Chairman and CEO of Kroger explained “Everything starts with the customer. The customer increasingly wants to engage with you in multiple ways. We decided we couldn’t do it all alone, which is why we partnered with Ocado and why we now look at collaborations.”

Shopping needs to bring excitement

To understand, connect and engage with consumers retailers must ensure they communicate their brand message and their values as a business clearly, but also bring excitement to the act of shopping and become storytellers.

Chenkai Ling, Vice President of Corporate Strategy and Investment at JD.com said “The value of product will decrease [in the future], but the value of content and experience will increase. And whatever the consumer chooses, as a retailer, we will follow that choice.”

Retailers today are increasingly obsessing with what their consumers want and try to engage with them and bring excitement in their stores or with their products.

Christopher De Lapuente, CEO at Sephora explained: “Boring stores are dead, people love coming to exciting stores, so we have to stay interesting.”

Consumers want not only to engage in- store, but to become an active part in the product decisions and design and see themselves more as becoming consultants to the brands rather than passive buyers of their products.

Sustainability needs to become priority number one

Consumers are increasingly asking what brands, as well as retailers, are doing socially and environmentally before making a purchase. More importantly, consumers keep brands and retailers accountable on social media for using too much plastic and paying lip service to environmental issues.

In his talk Michael Love, Group CEO at Netto noted that a challenge for the grocery segments, in particular, was to delivery sustainability initiatives that really make a difference.

“On sustainability, there is a race between what consumers believe should happen and what should really happen”. Mr. Love also explained “We partner with the World Wildlife Fund to make responsible decisions. What is very clear is that biodegradable plastic is a terrible solution, for example, but customers are calling for it and we have to explain the reasons for our strategies.”