With new developments in retail technology and attitudes coming thick and fast, retailers need proper context to create the right strategy.

I found out last week that in the mobile telecoms world, a year now equates to five weeks. With the World Retail Congress beginning in Paris next week, I’m beginning to get a sense of what that speed of time feels like.

I am not sure where the past 12 months have gone and it is a reminder of just how dramatic the pace of change now is in retail.

Since the last congress, the developments in retail have come thick and fast: from the change at the top at Tesco and Sainsbury’s; the continued rise of the discounters such as Aldi and Lidl; the public listing of Poundland and B&M; the emergence of more pure-play retailers such as Boohoo and Missguided and, in the past few weeks, the biggest IPO that puts China’s Alibaba firmly on the international map.

Looking at the even bigger influencers of change on retail – new technologies – Apple has given a big boost to the move towards wearable technology with the Apple Watch as well as the revolution in payments that Apple Pay will only accelerate.

Putting all of these changes into some context will, no doubt, form much of the discussion at the congress.

Focus on leadership

We have some insight into how retailers around the world view today’s current challenges from our annual survey of retail bosses.

This asked a wide range of questions to help understand attitudes to business and consumer confidence, the changing mix of retail channels, the strongest global markets and, above all, what are the biggest business-critical issues they face.

What has emerged this year though is that the focus on talent and leadership has risen right up the order.

If new retail leaders do have to emerge to reflect the changing retail world, it does put Tesco’s appointment of Dave Lewis into an interesting context. Someone who, by his own admission, has never run a shop brings instead a completely new approach to customers and brands. Maybe he will usher in more change than we – or given this week’s developments, even he – imagined.

  • Ian McGarrigle, chairman, World Retail Congress