Half-wits in Head Office


Half-wits in Head Office

Reassuringly unpredictable; that was what Retail Week Live promised us…..and 48 hours which would change the way we think. Well, that’s a bold statement but history tells us that Retail Week usually delivers and day 1 of the 2014 conference was no different. We had the goliath of the High Street Tesco, pledging to do better, Government promising to review the business rates system….or did they? Conference star turn failing to show – but we all sympathised and understood – and Dragons Den meets Declan nicely rounded off the day!

If we weren’t clear on Tesco’s pedigree and plans for future domination before the conference, Tesco CEO Philip Clarke soon saw to that. Rather than the retail thought leadership and, whisper it, statesmanship we’d perhaps hoped for, the audience was witness to a keynote speech which was low in retail wisdom and high in Tesco branding. But one thing struck a chord; Tesco are going to listen to their customers, refresh their offer and put the customer at the heart of everything they do. Unfortunately, some of their competitors have already done this, so it’s catchup. Time will tell if one of our great retailers can win back our support.

Retail Week were then true to their promise of being “reassuringly unpredictable” as next up was the antithesis of Philip Clarke, Business Secretary Vince Cable. James Hacker lives on as we were left wondering if we’d entered a parallel universe and been transported back to this time last year. The 2 were interchangeable; it’s a skill but not as we know it Jim.

My personal journey following the morning plenary sessions took me in 2 different directions. First a fascinating insight into the relevance and importance of the supply chain in the new age retail environment in which we now find ourselves. Where supply chain and logistics are the foremost custodians of customer service in a multi-channel / omni-channel world.  And at this point I should declare my personal view on this topic. It is only baby boomer retailers who persist in referring to multi-channel and omni-channel. Millennials don’t use this terminology; consumers certainly don’t consider their multi-channel or omni-channel experience! Seems strange that as an industry sector, retail should still cling to these labels as if life depended on it. Always on, brand immersion seems to me to capture the brand engagement experience that consumers, especially the aforementioned millennials, are seeking. And as a theme from day 1 that, forgive the analogy, was omni-present.

And as if to provide an antidote to that, Rapha and Sainsbury’s then offered their thoughts on the customer experience and how they see their journey as it relates to the customer. At once enticing and exciting and at the same time re-assuring and (in Sainsbury’s case) somewhat patriarchal.

The afternoon was something of a curates egg; the CEO leadership panel promised much and didn’t fail to deliver even without our erstwhile mutual CEO. And this was in no small part down to Seb James (clearly having a ball) and Mark Newton-Jones, fresh from sailing forays and back to try to turn around another ship in distress, Mothercare. Anthony Thompson from Fat Face hadn’t read the same script but was no less informative and entertaining. A real insight into a day in the life of…….

And to round off the 1st day a sharp dragon in every sense of the word. Theo Paphitis exudes charisma and did not disappoint. Irreverent, entertaining and forthright but ultimately some serious messages for the retail industry, coming as the interview did after an enlightening panel discussion which explored how young people view the retail industry.

Half-wits in Head Office – we deserved more of Theo!

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