What do you want, difficult challenges or beautiful problems?
If your answer is “neither, I’d prefer an easy life”, you’re probably not cut out for retail.
At last week’s BT Expedite and Fresca Retail Client Conference we had over 80 delegates from some of the UK’s (and the world’s) leading retailers lock themselves away for two days to get down to the real nitty-gritty of retail IT. It wasn’t for the faint-hearted.
This annual event is getting bigger – and better – every year. This year there were more retailer-led sessions, more technology demos and more user groups than ever before. We even had Kryten from Red Dwarf.
And there seems to be a little more optimism around again. We’re not completely out of the woods – it is retail we’re talking about here – but things are looking up.
Last year we gathered together like post-apocalyptic survivors, guiltily checking off the names of those who had gone under in the previous six months. We were in the midst of a massive economic downturn and all thought revolved around survival. So what’s changed?
Two things stood out: Social media and international expansion. It seems, like life, retail will always find a way.
The 40+ retailers who crammed into the first, steamy breakout session of the day highlighted this. During the session, Lyle & Scott’s Will Dymott outlined the brand’s website refresh and mobile focus, and ran through its social media strategy and successes. He presented himself as a bit out of touch with it all – drawing inspiration from the derision of his nieces – but it’s clear the success is no happy accident. Lyle & Scott has developed a ferociously loyal following – and there’s no great secret to it, as Will pointed out. If you’re going to get involved, get involved properly. So Lyle & Scott takes a very active part in their customers’ social networking. This takes in everything from organising Twitter races and underground music events to launching a Facebook commerce page.
In the afternoon, another standing-room only session explored international expansion – with two retailers offering a different take on it. One, Aurora Fashions, has gone down the e-commerce route. The other, Aldo Group, is working through franchisees. Both have had successful years. Both have made mistakes – and have learned from them.
And it was in this session that I heard about “a beautiful problem”. It summed up the whole mood at this year’s conference. And the nice thing is, we’re talking about the same old problems, but we’re looking at them in a different way. The world is no longer lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce out and crush you. We’re not automatically taking defensive measures. There’s a whole world of opportunity out there now – with no more difficult challenges, just lots of beautiful problems.