The great and the good of the retail world descended on The Cloud Retail Week Conference yesterday, with senior retailers discussing everything from the death of the high street to the profitability of the multichannel customer.
The difficulties facing retailers on the high street were much discussed, with Aurora Fashions president Stewart Binnie saying many landlords are “inflexible” in their response to the changing environment.
He said: “The nature of the high street is changing, but we are locked into property arrangements that are largely inflexible. The only way you can get out is to go into administration and come out again.”
While he made it clear Aurora has no current plans to close any stores, he said fashion brands like Aurora’s would not need the large estates they have today in five years’ time. DFS chief executive Ian Filby said landlords need to “wake up.” He added: “Millions of people are shopping there every week, but the dynamics mean it’s becoming increasingly economically unviable for people to run shops on the high street.”
John Lewis Partnership chairman Charlie Mayfield agreed there are issues in the property market, caused by underlying changes in the way the retail industry works. “There’s been a slackening in demand for retail space,” he said. “A space bubble is developing in the grocery sector - there’s been a 50% increase in space with planning permission since 2008.”
Another major change for retailers involves the changing status of certain customers. Mayfield spoke about how up to 80% of sales rely on just 20% of customers. He said: “We’re going to focus increasingly on customer profitability.” Not only this, but the most important customers are those most likely to shop across channels. “This will change very significantly the way money is made in the retail sector.”
Finally, product innovation came to the fore as a crucial way of differentiating a retail business. Kingfisher chief executive Ian Cheshire said retailers need to improve their innovation. “Retailers on the whole are pretty crap at research and development,” he said. To create a culture of innovation throughout the business, they will often need to bring in new people, he added: “With the best will in the world, a weather beaten hairy ops director is not going to drive a creative spark.”