Andrew Jennings OBE, Global Senior Retail Advisor-Columbus Consulting

Brands from across the globe met for three days this Spring to discuss the industry, consumer trends and the future of retail. 

Few conferences bring together a more powerful list of the who’s who of retail than the Global Retail Congress. The 2024 event touted 850 attendees, 450 businesses and 30 countries headlining current and former executives from brands like Carrefour Group, Walmart, Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, Sephora and others. 

Key themes shared:

  • Purpose-driven business
  • Digital transformation
  • Driving top line sales
  • Generative AI
  • Circular retail
  • Data and analytics
  • The retail workforce

Post global pandemic practices have led businesses into a new era of retail. And, while data and AI were common points of discussion, the community was more focused on the customer of tomorrow. New emphasis has shifted from online growth to stores and the need to optimise the right channels to attract and retain customers. Leaders agree that CHANGE is the new norm and that continuous adaptation is the key to staying relevant. In fact, it has been quoted that 50% of retail executives expect significant change to their business models. But which 50% should be addressed? Brands are assessing what they stand for and how they can reinforce a belief system with a strong point of view that reflects the customer. Unleashing the power of technology to personalise experiences and build stronger relationships with core customers is a shared initiative. With the influx of data and the ability to process data with predictive intelligence, retailers are more prepared than ever to be more accurate, efficient and adaptive to change and opportunity.

While retailers are more optimistic about the global industry, concern was expressed over fluxuating inflation, tension in the Middle East, the ongoing conflict in the Ukraine and the uncertainty of China policies—particularly as it pertains to supply chain. Brands are advised to focus on the controllables: building strong teams, balancing people and technology, streamlining brand portfolios, optimising pricing/promotions and embracing sustainable retail practices.   With second-hand apparel set to reach 350 billion by 2027, and social shopping anticipated to be 8.5 trillion by 20230, retailers have even more options to expand their reach and audience. 

With so much newness, speed and uncertainty before us, global leaders agree on three things:

  1. Make sure your data is ready to utilise
  2. Embrace change
  3. Leverage technology but stay focused on the workforce

So much shared knowledge was expressed at the conference, but the most important learnings came from shared experiences and the acknowledgement of how retailers from around the world are facing similar challenges and opportunities. What used to be regional market concerns have since been elevated to world-wide common perspectives. The good news is that the industry can learn from one another, align to make significant change and unify consumers in a way that was unachievable in the past.

 About Andrew Jennings

In addition to his business credentials, Andrew serves as Chair of The Prince’s Trust Corporate Advisory Board – a charity which has changed the lives of disadvantaged young people in the UK. He was awarded the ‘Grande Officiale al Merito’ by the President of Italy – the highest Italian civilian honour.  In 2021 he was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List as Global Retail Advisor for services to International Trade, Fashion and Retail.  In July 2022 Andrew was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of the University of Surrey [DUniv] Honoris Causa in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the retail sector and his input and continued support at the Surrey Business School. Andrew’s book “Almost Is Not Good Enough – How to Win and Lose in Retail” published in 2017. For more on Andrew visit: LINKEDIN.COM/IN/ANDREWJENNINGSRETAIL

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