While the way in which people shop is constantly evolving, retailers need to also be prepared for the devaluation of sterling and Government reforms.

A theme I’ve often raised is the rapid and fundamental transformation of how people shop, and how retailers do business.

Retail Week readers will be only too familiar with the shift to convenience, the march of the discounters, the impact of online, intensifying competitive pressures and more.

Recently however, a number of decisions taken by the Government – the introduction of the national living wage (and its proposed escalation), the Apprenticeship Levy and the decision to make only superficial reforms to our antiquated business rates system – have begun to make their mark in terms of incremental cost pressure.

“The fundamentals of great retailing haven’t changed, it was, is and always will be about the customer.”

On top of that, retailers importing goods for resale are already dealing or will soon have to deal with the very real impact of the devaluation of sterling against all our major trading currencies.

This is a much-misunderstood phenomenon. The picture is far more complex than whether or not a particular product has its main raw material sourced in the UK.

Addressing future issues

Input costs consist of a great deal more than that. For example, until we can all wean ourselves off petrol and diesel, oil – which is of course priced in dollars – will remain one of the major components of the cost of distribution for everything sold in our shops.

Perhaps the questions I have had to answer most often since the pound started to slide relate to why the devaluation will hit shop prices, and more specifically when and by how much.

‘Why’ is relatively easy. ‘When’ and ‘how much’ are made more complicated by the intense competition in our industry, by the give and take between retailers and suppliers, and by more technical concerns relating to when currency hedging will start to unwind.

So, with absolute honesty, I tell reporters I don’t know.

“That times are tough for many there can be no doubt, but the success stories are all around us”

What I can be more sure about is that we are likely to see the end of a long run of falls in shop prices – deflation is currently still running between 1.5% and 2% year on year – but that overall, price hikes are unlikely to be as great as some are anticipating.

Keeping the customer front and centre

These very partial questions, pegged on the impact of the Brexit vote, tend to miss the far bigger picture of the number, quantum and impact of the issues the retail industry is facing into at the moment.

That times are tough for many there can be no doubt, but the success stories are all around us.

The fundamentals of great retailing haven’t changed – it was, is and always will be about the customer.

But in this time of rapid transformation, I think it is those who are making fundamental changes to the way their businesses operate, and not just tweaks on the margin, that will emerge on top – as long as customers perceive a clear benefit to them.

Meanwhile, the BRC will be playing its part in the areas where we can make a real impact for our members: by campaigning for the Government to help consumers by keeping prices low in Brexit negotiations; helping businesses on the road to better retail jobs; and exerting pressure for more meaningful reform of business rates.

• Helen Dickinston OBE, is chief executive of the British Retail Consortium