Recent global events have brought the unpredictability of retail into sharp focus. 

With no time to recover from the disruption from Covid-19, retailers have faced challenges brought about by geopolitical instability including the war in Ukraine and the Middle East, high inflation and the cost-of-living crisis.  

“We live in an interconnected global society where disruption can appear quickly from anywhere,” says Retail Week data and insights director Lisa Byfield-Green.  

“Whether that’s this year’s US presidential election, new legislation, the upcoming UK general election, advancement in Gen-AI, or ongoing political tension affecting shipping in the Red Sea, there is a lot that can potentially throw a curveball and disrupt businesses.

“Of course, retailers must focus on detailed plans to improve the shopping experience for customers, but every business also needs to keep one eye on the bigger picture and prepare to adjust plans when needed.” 

Often the role of big-picture contingency planning falls to retail’s legal leadership teams as they take on an increasingly broad remit and expanded role in setting the strategic direction of businesses with other board members.  

Retail Week will be turning the spotlight on just what this elevated role means for GCs and the challenges they’ll be facing in the year ahead at our General Counsel Summit on June 25.  

Read on for a sneak preview and don’t forget to register for your free ticket to this unmissable event. 

Sustainability milestones on the horizon

Polluting factory

Environmental legislation is evolving. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has put a tight window of opportunity on governments and businesses to cut global emissions by half by 2030 if we’re to limit the consequences of global heating.  

And with such short deadlines to work to, retailers can’t sit still.  

Sustainability will increasingly dominate stakeholder discussions and action plans, and investors will begin to take a more active interest in how and when these targets will be met, according to Retail Horizon 2024 – Retail Week’s subscriber-exclusive strategic toolkit, mapping out the opportunities and winning strategies for businesses in the year ahead.  

Finding a balance of open dialogue and trust will be a key part of meaningful strategies – and legal teams must be on hand to help connect the dots when it comes to resolving varied ESG challenges across the business.  

Increased reliance on partnership and collaboration, both internally and with third-party support, will also be needed to accelerate climate harm reduction efforts, and it’s retail’s legal teams who will be depended upon to help seek maximum benefit from collaboration opportunities while minimising the risk.  

Political change afoot

Polling station sign

With a change in government widely expected when the UK general election is called this year and the US election on the horizon in November, the implications of changes to strategy and policy could potentially be huge for retail.

In the UK, parties vary in their prioritisation of retail.  

The latest YouGov data from March 2024 suggested a lead for Labour, with 44% voting intention, compared with 19% for the Conservatives. If Labour did come to power, its plans to establish an Industrial Strategy Council – a body of leading business figures reporting to Parliament – could offer a critical opportunity for the retail sector to secure strong representation. 

Its pledge to replace business rates with a “new form of business taxation” to better balance the burden between big online and digital firms and high street brands would be big news for retail and its legal teams, though no details have yet been given on timescales or how this might work. 

Whichever way political change goes over the coming year, retail’s legal teams must remain resilient, help leadership navigate the right path forward and find the right bodies to work with to drive change and better outcomes for retail.  

The impact of global change

Cargo ship

As the geopolitical environment remains unsettled, retailers are being forced to reassess international expansion strategies, as well as their business practices closer to home.

Sourcing and supply chains have certainly been tested over the last few years. Retail’s dependency on China for sourcing was highlighted during the pandemic. More recently, the war in Ukraine has forced many retailers to exit from Russia, and the Red Sea disruption has taken a toll on more than half of UK businesses this year due to increased costs and shipment delays.  

Nearshoring is on many retailers’ minds, with 65% of fashion executives considering relocating production to address supply chain challenges, according to a 2023 report by The Business of Fashion and McKinsey. Asos and Boohoo begun ramping up sourcing from Turkey, Morocco and domestically in the UK, Retail Week reported in February.

Retail’s legal leaders must be prepared to support businesses through this period of supply chain unrest, keeping on top of regulatory and legislative change to enable a quick but considered response when global political volatility raises its head.

General Counsel Summit 2024 poster

Hear more about the challenges set to face retail’s legal leaders with your free pass to the General Counsel Summit  

Retail Week data and insights director Lisa Byfield-Green will once again deliver an opening keynote exploring the biggest factors set to influence the retail sector over the next year and the successful strategies retailers are implementing to navigate the uncertainty ahead.  

Your free pass to the summit offers you and your senior legal peers access to a day of engaging panels, business-critical discussions and unrivalled networking opportunities.  

We will also explore:

  • Building trust through comprehensive sustainability reporting  
  • Can AI become your legal team’s new co-pilot?  
  • Mitigating ESG legal risks 
  • How to redefine risk and cultivate courageous legal leadership 

Places are going fast, register today.