Our annual client conference is a great way to gauge the mood of retailers and find out what they really think about what’s happening in the sector. This year’s event was no different. We’d set out to discuss themes around bringing web and store closer together and we were delighted by how receptive retailers are to this idea. And the great thing is that they’re all doing it, or planning to do it, in their own ways.
Geoff Barraclough, BT Expedite’s director, strategy, marketing & propositions, opened the conference by declaring that: “Retail is not dead. But it’s changing. Fast.”
And how! A few years ago everyone seemed fairly sure that physical stores were on the way out. We then had a period of trying to replicate the store online. But now we’re bringing the best of the online experience in-store and it’s giving bricks and mortar retailing a whole new lease of life. So, for example, we’ve got the phenomenon of ‘showrooming’, where customers visit stores while shopping around on their mobiles.
The buzzword of the conference was omni-channel – which describes a seamless experience where you essentially make everything available everywhere and manage it all from one stock pool. Of course, like e-, multi- and cross-channel the name may have changed by the time you read this…
Mobile technology is the driving force behind all of this. As people become more and more comfortable browsing and buying on their phones, retailers will have to respond. Most retailers are already looking at how best to tackle this, which meant the conference briefings on mobile payments were standing room only.
We heard from PayPal about its in-store payment initiative and learned how Aurora Fashions’ hugely successful in-store iPad project got up and running – and discovered that one of the biggest challenges was how they should be held: satchel, neckband or wristband!
Best of all, nothing at the conference was sugar-coated. David Kohn, of Snow+Rock said: “You sometimes come to company events and hear a party political broadcast. But here, you get the real story – warts and all.”
Nadine Sharara, head of e-commerce at Thomas Pink summed it up: “It’s really good to mingle with other customers that are doing different things with the same technology and share ideas.”
We work in an intensely competitive sector which changes at an insane pace. That’s why we love it. And it’s why having the chance to get together, share problems openly, discuss solutions frankly and have a beer together at the end of it all is so important.
For a flavour of this year’s client conference, check out our conference page, with tons of videos, retailer comments and photos from the event.
By Justine Arthur, head of communications & campaigns, BT Expedite
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.
We’ve uploaded pdf versions of the presentations made at our recent client conference for you to download. Just click the link below to download the pdf you’d like to view. Please note that these are the ones we’ve been authorised to share.