The dust has settled on this year’s World Retail Congress in Barcelona, but what were the key themes for leaders? Spencer Stuart’s global retail team takes a look at the key takeaways from one of the most important gatherings for retail leaders

1. Customers first and always

The customer is at the centre of everything — any initiative should always start from their perspective.

Customer centricity must be pervasive in the organisation and a core aspect of every single job description — whether you work on the shopfloor, in the warehouse, designing a product, or in marketing or sales.

Retail leaders require a 360-degree view and must ensure that everything they do is focused on their customers’ journey, their personal preferences and experiences. It’s not about individual initiatives or specific channels — it’s just about the customer.

2. AI is the next frontier

From strengthening customer personalisation to managing back-office processes, AI will likely have a transformational impact on retail. But leaders need to learn about this technology’s capabilities and potential before cascading it through their organisation.

The impact of ChatGPT has raised public awareness and unleashed much swirling speculation and anticipation, but it’s important to stress that no one yet knows where AI is going to take us.

3. Effective leadership has never been more important

Retailers need to focus on the present, but consider the future too — including the next generation of leadership and where they should be investing.

Spencer Stuart surveyed top retail HR leaders and 33% of respondents said that in the next year they expect 25% to 49% of chief executives and direct reports to transition out of their roles.

Retail leaders also need to be more open, human, empathetic and vulnerable. But amid the ongoing economic and geopolitical uncertainty they need to stay true to a long-term vision and focus on key priorities such as their end-to-end supply chain, automation and customer experience innovation.

They also need to get the culture right as this is key in the evolution to a more purpose-led organisation. A strong sense of purpose and mission will also enable recruiters to hire the best talent across all levels.

4. Prioritise the environment and sustainability

Not only is the next generation of consumers more holistically concerned about the environment and what is good for the planet, but this issue is also being pushed by investors who have come to view it as a risk.

We recently published a survey of sustainability leaders, which found that they need their bosses to do more than support their agenda. They also need to ensure that sustainability is linked to the broader business strategy and will require engagement and collaboration across the c-suite.

Gyorgy Konda, Spencer Stuart

Gyorgy Konda is a consultant in Spencer Stuart’s global retail practice