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AI CX E-commerce Fashion Fast fashion Podcast Retail trends Technology

Ikea Roblox, Walmart Drones & AI Update, Pretty Little Thing Charging for Returns

The interview from this episode originally aired on The Globalist from Monocle Radio. Natalie discusses the latest global retail stories with Georgina Godwin:

  • Ikea’s Roblox venture: the launch of a virtual store and how Ikea has become the first brand to offer paid work on the gaming platform.
  • Walmart’s tech update: innovation in delivery – drones and at-home delivery – and the beta launch of a generative AI-powered shopping assistant.
  • Pretty Little Thing becomes the latest UK retailer to start charging for returns.

You can listen to the original episode of The Globalist Episode 3352.

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CX E-commerce ESG loyalty Marketing Podcast Retail leadership Retail trends

Perpetual Innovation with ex-Pandora and The Body Shop Boss

Jeremy Schwartz was the turnaround CEO of Pandora, the world’s largest jewellery company with 2,500 stores and e-commerce sites in 90 countries. Prior to that, Jeremy was Chairman and CEO of The Body Shop from 2013 to 2017. He also previously spent time at Sainsbury’s and, as Brand Director, he was the architect of the grocer’s turnaround in 2005 which saw a decade of growth after years in decline. He is the former Managing Director of L’Oréal UK and, as Innovation Director for Coca-Cola Europe, he invented Coke Zero. Jeremy is currently the Chairman of Kantar’s Sustainability Transformation Practice.

In this episode, recorded live on stage at the Richmond Retail and E-commerce Directors’ Forum, Jeremy and Natalie discuss:

  • Why some retail businesses fail and how to avoid becoming a statistic.
  • How to embark on a successful turnaround strategy.
  • The importance of perpetual innovation and how Jeremy uncovered an opportunity to create Coke Zero.
  • ESG – addressing the intention-action gap and FMCG best practices. 
  • Customer loyalty and doubling down on your top 20% of customers.

You can watch in full on YouTube.

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AI Amazon CX E-commerce Non-food retail Quick commerce Retail trends Supermarkets Technology

It’s a Density Game, with Deliveroo’s Paul Wilkinson

Paul Wilkinson, Product Director at Deliveroo and former Tesco and Amazon exec, joins Natalie to discuss retail technology trends.

They explore the evolution of quick commerce, why Deliveroo won’t chase 15-minute delivery and moving into non-food to “bring the whole high street to the customer”.


Other topics covered include: learnings from the restaurant sector, supermarket collaboration, voice commerce and frictionless checkout.

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E-commerce Economy Inflation Retail leadership Supermarkets Technology

Ken Towle on Supermarket Trends, Shrinkflation, International Retail

Former Tesco director and Nisa CEO Ken Towle joins Natalie on the podcast to discuss:


•    The retail and consumer outlook.
•    Why shrinkflation is not always a bad thing.
•    His experience running Nisa during the pandemic.
•    From self-checkouts to generative AI – how technology is changing the way we shop for food.
•    Grocery e-commerce and the importance of collaboration.
•    Lessons from his time as Tesco China CEO.

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CX E-commerce Technology Unified Commerce

How Do You Actually Achieve Unified Commerce?

Paid partnership with Manhattan Associates


What do you call a retailer with a relentless drive to enhance the customer experience? This may sound like the start of a geeky retail joke but it’s a serious question. We used to brand these more nimble businesses as “disruptors”. They were the ones ripping up the rulebook, defying the status quo and continuously elevating the shopper experience.

Today, I’d argue that all retailers need to adopt a mentality of perpetual disruption. In the fast-moving world of retail, today’s innovations quickly become tomorrow’s norms. You’ve got to keep evolving and experimenting. Failing fast has become a prerequisite. 

This was evidenced in a new study from Manhattan Associates. The inaugural Unified Commerce Benchmark for Specialty Retail in Europe assessed 50 retailers across three verticals (apparel and footwear, home and DIY, luxury) in five European markets (France, Germany, Italy, UK, the Netherlands).

Retailers were categorised as Leaders, Challengers, Followers and Laggards. The study then revealed common attributes of successful retailers across four categories: Search and Discovery; Cart and Checkout; Promising and Fulfilment; Service and Support. So what have we learned?

Firstly, the study called out four participating retailers as true leaders in Unified Commerce: Adidas, H&M, Leroy Merlin and M&S. These businesses aren’t just ticking boxes by offering capabilities such as real-time inventory statistics and product recommendation tools; they are actively embracing technologies that enable them to deliver more nuanced, and increasingly personalised, customer experiences.

And it’s paying off. The study found that Unified Commerce leaders’ revenue growth outperforms non-leaders by at least twofold.

Guided Inspiration, Rich Findability and Immersive StoryTelling

Leaders in ‘Search and Discovery’ help shoppers discover meaningful products, whether they are looking to fulfil an immediate need or are looking for inspiration. Most leaders in this space already bundle product offerings (offer suggestions to ‘buy the look’ or ‘buy the set’), and I imagine this will become the norm in the very near future as more retailers embrace the power of AI.

There is always room for improvement and Manhattan specifically calls out capabilities like offering real-time visibility on product description pages (PDP), inventory status callouts for low/out-of-stock items, and personalised recommendations on home page. Retailers should also strive for greater visibility of delivery times, for example by allowing shoppers to filter by fulfilment method.

Most leaders offer back-in-stock notifications and 100% of them provide product sourcing information and detailed content on sustainability practices. This is an important point – retailers must go beyond product features and really immerse the shopper in the brand’s ethos. Transparency is going to be key going forward. 

Unified Basket, Payment Flexibility, Frictionless Checkout

The biggest point of friction in today’s retail customer experience is due to the loss of context when transiting between the physical and the digital. Those retailers leading the way in ‘Cart and Checkout’ understand that a unified cart or basket is a foundational capability when it comes to that all-important connection across channels: 40% of leaders show personalised promotions and offers on PDPs and cart, compared to 6% of non-leaders. Most leaders also allow shoppers to view promo codes in cart and check product availability status by store in cart.

Given the proliferation of payment options today, most leaders also offer checkout with buy now, pay later (100%), Apple Pay or PayPal (70%), as well as the ability to use mixed payment methods for the same order (40%).

In-store and online cart abandonment is still far too regular of an occurrence in retail. In fact, more than one-third (35%) of shoppers said that they abandon their shopping cart because of lengthy checkout process and a whopping 37% said they will not retry if asked to re-enter payment or delivery details. It’s essential that retailers provide seamless checkout experiences that reduce unnecessary friction at the point of conversion.

Flawless Fulfilment

I’ve often said that the post-purchase experience tends to be more of an afterthought than a strategic priority. Well, that is finally changing as retailers recognise that a shopper’s product pick-up or delivery experience must be as seamless as their shopping journey. Not only do leaders in ‘Promising and Fulfilment’ make sure retailers meet or beat their delivery promises consistently, they do also so while being more environmentally friendly too.

Offering shoppers greater post-order flexibility, including complete or partial cancellations, and greater delivery/pick-up options are all areas leaders excel in. Sixty percent of leaders offer shoppers the ability to cancel orders post-purchase compared to 28% of non-leaders.

And shoppers are crying out for this: more than two-thirds of shoppers want a self-service option to be able to edit order after placing them. Meanwhile, nearly three quarters (73%) of shoppers value expedited deliver (same business day) but are only willing to pay less than €5 for the service.

Manhattan calls out the ability to highlight the carbon footprint / impact of fulfilment choice as an area for improvement. Shoppers are hyper-informed when it comes to pricing and product information, but too often they are fumbling in the dark when it comes to sustainability. I believe this will change considerably over the next decade and retailers must prioritise transparency to drive greener purchasing decisions.

360 Degree Service

Leaders in the ‘Service and Support’ segment offer shoppers a wide variety of service options from call centres to in-store assistance, social media support and live agents available via their website and mobile app. What is most important, however, isn’t the breadth of support options but the fact that they offer seamless continuity, consistent quality and always-on availability.

Leaders empower shoppers to self-serve most of their needs. Nearly all (92%) offer support on order modifications, returns and exchanges via chat/call and 75% offer their customers the ability to return purchases to drop-off locations.

In addition to problem solving, leaders also offer value-added services such as customisations, style/fit guidance and in-store hospitality to turn service interactions into a secret sauce of brand stickiness. Most leaders empower their store associates to check a shopper’s online purchase history while in-store (75% compared to 48% of non-leaders). They should also be striving for in-store appointment scheduling via their digital channels, product personalisation and allowing store associates to create or manage a shopper’s wishlist.

As I have said on numerous occasions, we are witnessing a democratisation of white-glove service within the retail industry. Don’t get left behind.

Download the full report.

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Consumer CX E-commerce Fashion High Streets Non-food retail Podcast Retail leadership Retail trends

Retail Veteran Nigel Oddy on Treating Shoppers as VIPs

Natalie speaks to Nigel Oddy, currently CEO of the UK and Europe’s leading golf retailer American Golf, and previously CEO of House of Fraser, New Look, Matalan and The Range.

The video version of this episode is available on YouTube and is part of a special collaboration with the Richmond Retail & E-commerce Directors’ Forum. Nigel will be speaking at the event alongside leaders from across the industry – Tesco, Charlotte Tilbury, TikTok, N Brown and more. 

In this episode, Nigel gives us a sneak preview of what we’ll be discussing at the event. He shares what it was like running New Look during the pandemic, his biggest successes, what motivates him, the importance of spending time on the shop floor and why you must treat your shoppers as VIPs.

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E-commerce Podcast Quick commerce Supermarkets

Quick Commerce: Collaborate or Die?

George Nott, Technology Editor at The Grocer, joins Natalie to discuss the evolution of quick commerce. They examine the latest Uber Eats / Getir collaboration, how traditional supermarkets are responding to the quick commerce trend and whether the world is ready for AI-powered conversational shopping experiences.

Fun Fact: Did you know ‘getir’ means ‘bring’ in Turkish?

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Amazon E-commerce Podcast Supermarkets

Enemy to Frenemy: Amazon & Iceland

“We hate Amazon. They’ll bully us and do horrible things to us. They’ll use us, we don’t want anything to do with them.” -Iceland Managing Director, 2018

Fast forward five years…

This morning Amazon UK announced that frozen food specialist Iceland will begin selling groceries on its platform. In this episode, Natalie explores the rationale behind Iceland’s shift in strategy and why Amazon is expanding its relationship with third party supermarkets like Morrisons, Co-op and now Iceland.

Amazon may need the grocery industry but does the grocery industry need Amazon? Let’s explore.

 

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Amazon E-commerce

Amazon: From Pandemic Power Grab to Pandemic Hangover

We often think of Amazon as one of those invincible brands. A bulletproof business. But like a lot of tech companies they thrived during the pandemic and now they’re finding life difficult.

Why?

1) General volatility. Like all retailers, Amazon is grappling with unprecedented cost inflation at a time when consumer demand remains sluggish. That’s a dangerous combo for any business but in Amazon’s case it’s exacerbated by the fact that during the pandemic they OVER-HIRED (added half a million workers in 2020 alone – not even Walmart, the largest private employer in the US, has ever added so many employees in a given year) and OVER-EXPANDED (essentially doubled their fulfilment network) to help cope with the huge surge in demand for online shopping and cloud computing.

natalie berg amazon bbc

2) Recalibration: return to IRL shopping. We’ve now had a year of relative normality. The world is far more hybrid than we could have ever imagined pre-2020 but the pandemic has taught us the value of stores in this digital era. Shoppers are abandoning e-commerce and returning to bricks & mortar. They’re looking for value over convenience and delaying those discretionary buys. Important to bear in mind here that e-com penetration rates are still higher vs pre-pandemic levels (both US and UK). But the pandemic has reaffirmed that the future of retail is NOT e-commerce – it’s a blended mix of physical and digital commerce.

As a result, Amazon is looking unusually vulnerable.

And, longer term, I believe Amazon will go from disruptor to disrupted. More on that next time.

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Consumer E-commerce Retail trends Technology

2023 Predictions: A UK Retail Rollercoaster

‘Permacrisis’ was declared the word of 2022, so what might 2023 bring?

There are reasons for cautious optimism, but first retailers are going to have to buckle up and brace themselves for more turbulence.

Spending more to buy less

Let’s briefly recap on retail’s Golden Quarter. Christmas was not the wipe-out that many of us had expected. After a bumpy couple of years with Covid cancelling Christmas, consumers were determined not to let illness, inflationary pressures or industrial action hamper their celebrations.

There are some caveats here: soft comparatives (remember Omicron?); supermarket success came at the expense of the hospitality sector; and perhaps most importantly much of the growth we saw was fuelled by inflation – in December retail sales were up in value terms but volumes continued to fall. In other words, consumers are spending more to buy less.

Inflation might be starting to ease, but consumers are still a long way from feeling the benefit. This ongoing erosion of spending power makes for a pretty gloomy outlook: consumer confidence tanked again in January, returning to a near 50-year low. Looking ahead, the deterioration in consumer sentiment is likely to persist throughout the first half of the year, at least. A reminder to retailers that value will remain firmly top of mind, purchases will continue to be incredibly considered, and big-ticket discretionary buys will be delayed.

Trimming the fat

The spending hangover is here and while there’s never a good time for subdued consumer demand, it’s especially painful when retailers are simultaneously grappling with their own cost inflation. No one is immune: this dangerous combination of soft demand and rising costs is impacting even the most bulletproof retailers. Amazon, for example, is laying off 6% of its global workforce, closing warehouses and putting the brakes on bricks & mortar expansion. 2023 will be a year of operational efficiencies for retailers, in many ways mirroring their own customers’ behaviour by trying to do more with less.

The other immediate challenge for retailers will be shifting excess stock, the result of over-ordering during the supply chain crisis and exacerbated by the current consumer weakness. With a glut of inventory and sluggish demand, retailers are left with little choice but to slash prices. But wait, haven’t they been doing that for the past four months? Aside from the obvious margin implications here, there is also the risk that shoppers are becoming desensitised as promotion fatigue sets in – or even worse, that they forget what it’s like to buy at full price.   

2023 opportunities: bricks & mortar resurgence and immersive digital experiences

There’s no sugarcoating it: 2023 is going to be another year of instability and uncertainty. But the retail industry is nothing if not resilient and I believe there are reasons to be optimistic. Stores are back, they’re repurposed and better than ever. We’ve been thrust into the future thanks to the pandemic-induced digitization of bricks & mortar retail, levelling the playing field and shifting the industry’s perception. Stores were once considered liabilities in this digital era, but they’ve been reconfigured for 21st century shopping and are now essential assets.

When it comes to customer experience, I believe that ‘tech-enabled human touch’ will be the next battleground, as retailers recognise the many opportunities that come with equipping your staff with the right digital tools. Mediocre experiences have become a thing of the past. Meanwhile, automation will climb higher up the agenda as retailers look to achieve operational efficiencies, despite the initial outlay, while simultaneously addressing the current labour shortage. In 2023, we’ll see more trials of autonomous vehicles delivering our goods and robots working alongside humans in warehouses.

Shoppers will continue to abandon e-commerce in droves now that we have returned to some semblance of normality. Some categories like food, fashion and furniture will never transition online like the rest of retail has, but it’s clear that as an industry we have been propelled towards a more digital world. And over the next decade, new, immersive digital experiences will redefine our perception of e-commerce – this is going to be the next big thing in retail. I’m still a bit of a metaverse sceptic. I know barriers can be knocked down but right now how many of us really have a VR headset kicking around at home? However, it’s clear that e-commerce is ready to evolve. Sure, all of the friction has been sucked out and today the experience is wildly accessible, slick, effortless. But is it any fun? Not really. It’s still far too transactional, too one-dimensional. This will change.

The next stage of e-commerce is all about immersion, discovery, curation, hyper-personalisation and escapism. And it’s already happening with augmented reality, virtual showrooms, live shopping, social commerce, 3D product views/virtual try-ons, video shopping consultations, among others. In the future, we won’t know where the physical world ends and the digital one begins.

Our hybrid way of living is here to stay and while businesses may still be acclimatising to the consequent shifts in demand patterns, longer term this will present new and exciting customer engagement opportunities. Despite tight budgets, investment in sustainability will remain high on the agenda in 2023, while opportunities to tackle the often-neglected post-purchase experience and explore new revenue streams such as retail media and third-party marketplaces will accelerate. In summary, short-term volatility will persist while consumers batten down the hatches, but as always the future of retail is bright for those who are willing to evolve.