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Retail is changing and so are retail partnerships

By Dom O’Connor – Managing Partner Retail, Sports and Leisure Practice, O2

I’ve been to a few retail conferences recently, and the feeling in the air is starting to change. It’s no longer about the challenges retailers are facing, but instead about how there’s a sense of optimism. There’s a kind of giddy sense that, now the old has been swept away, the field is clear for new ideas and approaches to come to the fore.

Things are changing, including the way retailers look for partnerships. They’re looking for soulmates that they can work with and thrive with. It’s all about finding someone you can create new opportunities with.

Power through partnerships

Retailers are increasingly seeing partnerships as an opportunity to grow.

Amazon is the obvious example; instead of exclusively seeing the retail giant as a threat, retailers are creating strategic partnerships with the company that allow them to distribute products to a wider network, without losing their brand identity.

Retailers are forging less-traditional partnerships, too. I’ve spoken to retailers who were considering addressing the digital skills shortage in retail by partnering with governments to build new educational curricula. They could never hope to equal a government’s reach across the general public, so this is a handy opportunity to increase a retailer’s influence and awareness, while ensuring that new hires have the tech skills the retailer needs to compete.

Sharing the knowledge

In the old days, a successful retailer typically did everything in-house. Taking on new capabilities used to be a sign you were doing well, so retailers focused on developing their own banking, logistics, marketing and data departments.

There’s value in that approach, but it’s inherently focused on creating breadth of knowledge, not depth of knowledge. Your app development department, for example, might not develop the same expertise as a company whose entire workforce is passionately interested in researching, developing, and tinkering with apps.

Instead, retailers are starting to expand their capability by partnering with specialists who know their fields inside-out and top-to-bottom.

Farfetch have become experts at working with companies that know how to create branded experiences, or build customer loyalty, but lack the know-how needed to bring that experience to life with technology. Partners get access to hundreds of skilled engineers who spend all day thinking about retail technology, instead of having to hire and retain those engineers in-house.

What makes a soulmate?

Any relationship guru will tell you that soulmates push you when you need pushing, reassure you when you’re uncertain, and support your growth.

When you’re looking for a partner, you want to be asking a few important questions:

  • Will they tell you the truth? Make sure your partner is strong enough to keep you on the right path – and let you know when you’re about to make a mistake.
  • Will they adapt to your needs? That can mean anything from building an entirely bespoke solution around your goals and challenges, to being on the end of the phone when you need them.
  • Are they in it for the long term? If the last five years of retail technology have taught us anything, it’s that solutions come and go. The best partners aren’t only interested in selling you what’s hot right now; they’re invested in fostering your success in the years to come.

These questions have served us well in choosing our own partners at O2, but they’ve also been crucial in shaping the service we offer our customers.

We’re not about just helping our partners survive today. Every day, my team and I develop our vision for the future of the retail industry, and do our best to help our partners, their employees, and their customers achieve that vision. We do it by building our solutions around the way the people on the frontlines, from the shop floor to the boardroom, work every day.

You can read more about how we prepare our customers and their employees for the future of retail here.

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