Two words are pretty much guaranteed to pop up in any retail conversation today – ‘transformation’ and ‘disruption’.
In a dramatically shifting retail landscape, they often conjure up unwelcome associations and tend to accompany ‘challenging’ in the contemporary industry lexicon.
But, as Retail Week marks its 30th anniversary, it’s striking how often and how successfully retail has morphed and upset the status quo.
Radical change has been part of everyday retail life for those three decades, and what the winners have typically sought.
Disruption? Within just a few years of our launch back in 1988, the advent of Sunday trading altered not just shopping patterns but consumers’ lives as liberalisation opened up new commercial and leisure possibilities.
Similarly, in the 1990s the touchdown of Tesco Extra stores sent shockwaves through retail. The fear was that, as consumers happily chucked TVs in their trolleys along with their tinned goods, specialist retailers faced wipe-out.
Then the rise of Amazon meant that one-stop shopping, first from desktops and then from sofas as technology transformed life, took on a new meaning. Alongside the Seattle powerhouse, a new generation of pureplays such as Asos rose to prominence in the 2000s.
Transformation? Expectations about service, product provenance, or convenience bear no comparison to what would have existed in the past, all driven by retailers’ efforts year after year to better cater for and anticipate people’s needs and desires.
It’s not just retail that has been transformed, retail has transformed life. Just think how products ranging from Serrano ham and Prosecco to computers and phones have been democratised by retailers’ determination to better serve shoppers.
Retailers have played their part as much as any politician in making the aspirations of individuals and society alike achievable.
The last 30 years have been tumultuous, often exhilarating and sometimes extremely testing for the industry.
Retail Week was launched in 1988 by business journalism legend Patience Wheatcroft not just to reflect the transformation but to inform it, and we have tried to do the same ever since.
Then and now
Just as in the early days Retail Week gave its backing to reform of outdated Sunday trading rules, today the iniquities of the business rates system are in our sights.
Just as we shared ideas and insights about the future of department stores – a big question back then just as it is, in new form, now – we bring the same approach to the issues facing retail today and tomorrow.
We could never have done that, and could not hope to do so now, without the support of the industry.
We rely as we always have done on the willingness of people in the industry to share news, knowledge and expertise, and are grateful to retail leaders who, as members of our editorial advisory board, provide invaluable guidance on what the issues are that really matter to the industry.
One of the members of the original advisory board was Habitat founder Sir Terence Conran.
A retail brand that can genuinely be described as iconic, Habitat’s story is representative of disruption and transformation.
It made a splash by catering for a new generation of consumers and a new consumer mood, and in the following decades had its ups and downs, going through administration before being rebuilt.
Today most of its sales are generated online, but when it opened its doors in Brighton this week shoppers flooded in.
Habitat may have changed, but the principles and retail disciplines that made it and others great have not.
Times may be tough for many at the moment, but retail has always been able to adapt as new entrepreneurs, businesses and commercial models emerged.
As we celebrate our 30th we look forward to reporting on all the change still to come, helping retailers navigate it and celebrating what is good about transformation and disruption.