The third annual Circle LIVE! Summit took place in London at The Soho Hotel on Thursday, September 28. Attendees included representatives from known brands and retailers like Harrods, Fraser Group, Tapestry, Pret A Manger, The Entertainer, Ted Baker and more.  Presentations and panel discussions kicked-off the day with focused conversations on customer-centricity, data and sustainability. In addition to these topics, Columbus Consulting’s CEO, Jon Beck shared his list of key retailer focal areas. 

As an industry leader, Columbus Consulting has served over 300 global brands and maintains its market relevancy by being comprised of actual retail practitioners who have all held senior level positions at brands within the industries they serve. It is this unique vantage point that has given Columbus a strong edge in identifying key issues within retail and how they are being solved. Among the key topics elevated last year were:

  • Customer acquisition and retention
  • Digital Transformation
  • The New Retail Organization
  • Inventory Visibility & Agility       

2022/23 marked a retail pivot overshadowed by post pandemic recovery initiatives and a heightened focus on data privacy. As such, retailers were managing through residual supply chain issues, inventory bottle necks and off-season deliveries and the challenges with ushering in a cookie-less world and a new reliance on first-party data. Layer on the new work from home workforce and unified commerce demands and it is easy to see why retailers were refocusing on their people, processes, partners and platforms. This overall reinvention of the industry required businesses to embrace a digital transformation and develop stronger efficiencies, speed and accuracy. 

2023/24 is adding to the list of areas dominating retailer focus. In addition to the continuation of the above 4 themes, Columbus Consulting is seeing heightened investments/time/resources being applied to:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Data
  • End-to End Inventory Management
  • Transformation Amidst a Hybrid Work Environment 

Artificial Intelligence has been featured in the media, conferences and boardrooms for the last few years but is finally gaining traction in day-to-day operations. Retailers are applying AI to their retail systems to alleviate human engagement and shift from responsive to predictive thought leadership. Coupled with AI is the on-going data conversation. What used to be focused on accumulation and warehousing has now turned to structure, security, monetization, governance and accuracy/consistency of data use and measures. In addition to these two elevated areas, retailers are facing a more heightened need to manage their businesses from source to shelf with cross-functional visibility and exception-based logic. This type of end-to-end management is primarily focused on inventory—where it is, where it is needed and how to divert/adapt it as scenarios surface.  The last key area of newer retailer focus  is the organizational restructuring around the remote workforce. The availability of video conferencing technologies helped but did not solve for the complexities of the new workforce. Businesses are realizing the unforeseen issues  now surfacing with physical/virtual teams. From real estate and facility right-sizing to the redefinition of budgets to account for travel increases and technology improvements, along with a more expanded employee base and  time zone accommodations, hybrid teams are shining a new light on the organization at large.  

Given all of these considerations and trends it can be overwhelming for retailers to not just strive for success, but to thrive in an ever changing, fast-paced, consumer and technology-driven market. Building and maintaining a brand mission and company vision must now corral all areas of the business and allow for an agile path forward. No longer is it sufficient to have a best-in-class approach with functional expertise, retailers in the new era must think cross-functionally and employ a mentality of continuous evolution. 

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