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Retail: Post-Apocalypse

By Dom O’Connor, Managing Partner for Retail, O2

Why it’s time to stop waiting for a new retail world order

If there’s anything I’ve learned from sci-fi movies, it’s that, after the world turns upside-down, a new order rises from the ashes.

But the aftermath of what newspapers have been calling the ‘retail apocalypse’, and Retail Week MD Chris Brook-Carter less hysterically called the ‘era of creative disruption’, is quite different.

A wave of new technology, new ways of thinking, and new kinds of customers turned the industry on its head, but no one seems to expect the dust to settle and reveal a new world order.

Instead, retailers seem to have realised an essential truth about their sector: when technology evolves this fast, there is no order anymore. Technology arrives, changes everything, and then changes again before we’ve had a second to catch our breath.

In retail, the only constant is change

Trouva’s CEO, Mandeep Singh, summed up the situation perfectly at Retail Week Live: in 10 years’ time, claiming that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a differentiation point for your business will be just as unimpressive as bragging that your business has its very own website today.

In short, whatever the latest, most exciting technology might be today, it’ll soon be obsolete, irrelevant, or so ingrained in the way we work that we no longer notice it or consider it a competitive advantage.

And retailers seem highly aware of this fact. The topic that dominated Retail Week Live wasn’t how to spot the Next Big Thing, it was how we can prepare ourselves so that, whatever the Next Big Thing is, we’re ready to ride the wave.

So how do we make sure that employees have the skills required to adapt to new developments? How do we make sure that we’re investing in tech that supports our core values, and not getting carried away by the hype? How do we find partners that are going to stand the test of time, and not sell us a solution that’ll be all but useless in five years?

Sarah Willett, Group People Director of Shop Direct, acknowledged that, six years ago, the company was caught short by a lack of data scientists on-staff. Suddenly, it was challenged to regain its competitive advantage.

Now, it’s abandoning its old, function-led structure in favour of something that’s agile enough to respond rapidly to change. According to Sarah, the former catalogue giant is structuring itself around ‘customer outcome’ and avoiding pigeonholing employees into certain departments or skillsets.

Similarly, Judith McKenna, President and CEO of Walmart International, announced at Retail Week Live that the company has just pledged to offer 15,000 apprenticeships in software development, data, and similar roles.

It’s time to go back to basics

Retail success is still dependent on the same pillars that have propped up the industry for half a century: data, customers, and communication.

Even the most complex and exciting technology over the horizon will strengthen those pillars, and proper connectivity enables them all.

That’s why, when I work with retailers, I focus on giving them the tools they need to take advantage of the latest technology now, so they can improve work for employees and serve customers better for the foreseeable future.

We’re always looking at the best way to serve customers. When the tablets on the tables and touchscreen-ordering tools that are currently delighting customers at O2 wifi-enabled McDonalds need updating, we’ll adapt and work with them to ensure that they always have the connectivity they need to adapt too.

 

To find out more about what O2 can do for you and your people, drop me an email at dom.oconnor@businesso2.co.uk or give me a call on 01235 433 507.



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