Key Takeaways From the World Retail Congress’ Global Conversation

Melissa Gonzalez is CEO and Founder of The Lionesque Group

Last week, just under 1,400 attendees traveled to Amsterdam for the annual World Retail Congress. This year’s theme was “High Velocity Retail”, illustrative of the speed at which changes in technology, consumers, and retail is happening today.

It was far from your ordinary conference as it was geared to challenge key industry leaders from the likes of Adidas, Crate and Barrel, Levi’s, Tommy Hilfiger, Tory Burch, and others to share their knowledge of not only what it means to be a successful brand in today’s world, but also how to survive in the same retail arena as giants such as Amazon.

It’s no secret that expectations are at all time high and retail feels the pressure to be better positioned to deliver a more dynamic model in order to serve today’s customer. Yesterday’s retail model is no longer the answer and senior leaders of direct to consumer brands and mass retailers alike are actively evaluating the needed change to succeed.

Here are five key takeaways from the three-day international conversation:

Online and Offline, Creating a Hyper-Localized Experience is Critical

While we live in a global economy, retailers and brands still need to authentically understand local interests and nuances as they enter new markets. This is everything from the UX experience online to the in-store journey. Payments are a key element here as we brands and retailers look to integrate seamless platforms.

For example, in Asia WeChat is a common form of payment, while in the U.S. mobile payment is still just becoming adopted. According to Cynthia Hollen, President, U.S., of eShopworld, they work closely with clients to ensure everything from local currencies, pricing, payment and delivery options are all inline with the local expectation.

Brands Need to Be Service Specialists, Not Just Sell Products

Brands and retailers are slowly making the shift to deliver more to customers than just curating and producing the right products. They are investing to provide services and support around the promise(s) they sell.

In fashion, this means adding fit support, styling services or tailoring as we have recently witnessed from retailers like Nordstrom with its Local fleet in California or Rent the Runway with its online stylist support functionality.

For the pet care industry, brands like PetSmart are offering grooming services, obedience training and doggy day care. In the food industry, brands are providing resources to support a healthier lifestyle with access to curated recipes and dine-in services such as with Alibaba’s Hema supermarkets.

While these are not immediately monetized in the same way as product sales, they unlock a more loyal relationship with customers through a holistic experience offering.

Retailers Need to Create Customer Relationships Like Brands Do

The core competencies for establishing customer loyalty is not limited to vertical brands. Retailers and multi-brand platforms are investing in the establishment of relationships with their customers through consistency, authenticity and distinctiveness.

During his fireside chat conversation on stage, Christopher De LaPuente, CEO of Sephora, shared, “what matters most is that customer has fantastic experience because our goal is to create the most loved beauty community. We focus on building our trust-mark with our customers.”

Connecting in a genuine and reliable way will position retailers to outperform their peers. For Adidas, as shared by Neelandra Singh on our Think Different session, “Through sports we empower our customers.”

Empowering Customization Creates Superfans

Levi’s Executive Vice President Marc Rosen, adorned in his white hemp jean jacket, shared his company’s upcoming launch plans of a new feature on its website that will allow shoppers to truly customize their own pair of “greener” jeans using proprietary F.L.X (future-led execution) laser finishing technology.

The tool, launching this coming fall, will allow online shoppers to design their own pair of jeans, personalizing everything from color, overdye, and levels of wear and tear. It’s an initiative that takes customization to another level beyond embroidery.

“They want to design their very own product. They want it to be personalized for them and they want to build something unique,” Rosen shared.

It’s also part of a larger movement to tapping into an emotional connection with customers by inspiring them to have an active voice as a co-creator with the company.

Culture is Key Driver to Operational Excellence

An ongoing theme, also prominent earlier this year at Shoptalk 2019, emphasizes that companies invested in dynamic organizations are going to be those best positioned to respond to customer needs across a diverse set of dimensions.

Key trends within organizational change to focus on include: not trying to be all things, but rather honing in on a clear objective and operating with a united purpose; creating internal modularity that allows internal business units be nimble and operate “more like a start up”; reset traditional ROI metrics to represent today’s channel agnostic consumer and invest in building an ecosystem of specialized partners.

The tides of retail are moving with the complexities of the shifting consumer serving as the largest gravitational pull towards change. Brands and retailers are working collectively for the first time, in open dialogues about how to steer in the new direction. What’s unanimous is if the industry better listens to its customers and invests in efforts to better represent them success will follow.

For more content from World Retail Congress, Melissa Gonzalez, and all things retail, head to our industry page!

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