Consumer CX High Streets Podcast Retail leadership Retail trends Store of the future

The Retail Leader’s Roadmap with Brian Librach

Brian Librach, former VP of Stores at Urban Outfitters, Pacific Sunwear and Old Navy, joins Natalie to discuss his new book: The Retail Leader’s Roadmap. They explore:

  • Why retail leaders get stuck and how to rewrite your career outcome.
  • The evolution of bricks & mortar retail – what is the future of stores and how should we be measuring success?
  • Which brands does Brian admire and what are they getting right?
  • How can retailers ensure their staff are motivated and engaged?
  • Cultural shifts: digital transformation journeys and the importance of taking your people with you.
  • Upskilling and investing in digital competencies.
  • Squiggly careers: why the path to success isn’t always linear.
  • Natalie and Brian debate the key traits of winning retailers. 

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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:

•    Quick commerce: what went wrong and how will it evolve?
•    Why Deliveroo won’t chase 15-minute delivery.
•    Learnings from the restaurant sector.
•    Why retail partners are more open to collaboration in 2024. 
•    Deliveroo’s move into non-food: “bringing the whole high street to the customer”.
•    Voice commerce: why hasn’t it taken off and is there a place for it in the future?
•    Frictionless checkout: are checkout-free stores the future or are there too many barriers to making it viable?

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Hyper-Localism, Cinemas, High Street Regeneration

Have you been to Catford Mews or Peckham Levels? Then you’ll know what can be achieved by transforming disused car parks and empty retail units into vibrant, community-led, cultural hubs.

Preston Benson, founder of Really Local Group and fellow American in London, joins Natalie on the podcast to discuss:

  • How Really Local Group is creating and restoring cultural infrastructure by regenerating disused high street locations.  
  • Homogenous high streets – how to inject character and make our high streets relevant for 21st century shopping.
  • Funflation – the Taylor Swift Effect and how cinemas will evolve in the future.
  • Hyper-localism, community and the importance of financial inclusivity.
  • Why Amazon has partnered with Odeon and what this means for smaller, community-led cinemas. 

Catford Mews was RLG’s first site and they’ve since expanded into a number of locations like Ealing, Peckham, Reading and Sidcup with more venues planned throughout 2024 and beyond.

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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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The Future of Retail with Chris Browne

Chris Browne, former Global Retail Director at Ted Baker, joins Natalie to discuss:

  • Visual AI and the opportunities for fashion retail  
  • How tech can enhance the shopping experience
  • Addressing the perennial problem of returns
  • What Western retailers can learn from Asia
  • Chris’ vision for the future of the high street

Prefer video? You can also watch Natalie and Chris’ conversation on YouTube.

This episode is part of a special collaboration with the Richmond Retail & E-commerce Directors’ Forum. Chris will be speaking at the event alongside leaders from across the industry – Tesco, Charlotte Tilbury, TikTok, N Brown and more.

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TV Dragon Theo Paphitis on Successful Retailing

Natalie speaks to TV dragon, retail magnate and small business champion Theo Paphitis live on stage at Springfair. They discuss:

  • Digital transformation and the impact on retail
  • Why stores are assets in today’s digital era
  • High street struggles – business rates, rents and levelling the playing field
  • Failing fast in business
  • What will retail look like in 2034?

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AI ESG Retail trends

3 Retail Trends You Cannot Ignore in 2024

Paid partnership with Manhattan Associates

After years of volatility and disruption, might 2024 bring some much-needed stability?

I’m optimistic that we are safely out of ‘permacrisis’ mode, but that doesn’t mean that 2024 will be uneventful. Technology will continue to disrupt the status quo, improving operational efficiencies and taking the customer experience to new heights. Here are 3 areas to watch:

AI: From Intrigue to Implementation

The buzz and excitement of generative AI bursting into the mainstream dominated the headlines in 2023, with ChatGPT alone reaching 100 million users within just a couple of months. But things will really begin to heat up in 2024: this will be the year of deployment. AI is no longer hype; it’s reality. We are on the cusp of another ‘smartphone moment’ where AI will disrupt every aspect of the value chain – from product development right through to consumption.

From a customer experience perspective, the holy grail of hyper-personalisation is finally within reach. AI-powered shopping assistants are not the future, they are here now. Rich, real-time, relevant experiences are rapidly becoming the norm. I’m personally excited to see how AI develops in our kitchens, helping consumers not only with meal inspiration but also reducing food waste, and also how AI-enabled virtual try-ons might help tackle the perennial problem of returns.

Tech-Enabled Human Touch

As retailers recognised the value in repurposed, tech-infused stores, the collective view on bricks and mortar shifted from ‘liability in a digital era’ to ‘top asset’. The industry’s primary goal of the past decade has been digitising our physical spaces. As we look ahead to the next decade, the focus will shift to making our digital spaces more physical, more immersive, more lifelike. We’re already seeing this with the rise of virtual try-ons, liveshopping, social commerce and virtual shopping consultations, to name a few. Mixed reality is coming. In the future, we really won’t know where the physical world ends and the digital one begins.

As e-commerce transitions from its current static, transactional state to one of multiple dimensions, physical retailers will need to ensure they are leveraging their staff to provide a unique, elevated experience. Retailers must look to technology here to help democratise concierge-level service, allowing staff to serve the customer in both an efficient and highly personalised way – that’s everything from clienteling to allowing customers to pay on the spot or swiftly collecting or returning an online order. Tech-enabled human touch will differentiate the winners from the losers in 2024.

ESG: Firmly Back on the Agenda

In recent years, progress on the ESG agenda may have been quietly stunted as both retailers and consumers prioritised cost efficiencies. However, it’s safe to say that this is one trend that is never going away, and I believe sustainability will be a top priority for retailers in 2024 and beyond.

Transparency will be a key theme this year. Consumers look to retailers to guide them in their decision-making and, with heightened awareness around both greenwashing and bluewashing, there is simply no hiding behind false claims or labels. Retailers will be judged on their authenticity. They should be striving for honesty over perfection. Retailers must have full visibility over their supply chain and be able to effectively communicate their practices and standards to consumers. I believe we’ll see greater demand for product durability and traceability around retailers’ broader circularity efforts. Increasingly, shoppers will want to align with brands whose values reflect their own.


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It’s Going To Be a Bumper Black Friday

Love it or loathe it, Black Friday has become a permanent fixture on the UK retail calendar.

Carrying black Friday paperbags

In this episode, Natalie shares her predictions and general observations around Black Friday 2023. You’ll learn:

  • Why Natalie is expecting a strong turnout this year.
  • Black Friday creep – why retailers like John Lewis are going earlier than ever before.
  • Whether the growing skepticism around Black Friday will impact shoppers’ willingness to participate.
  • Why blanket discounts are out and targeted promotions are in.
  • What the ONS and BRC data tells us about Black Friday 2023.

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Perpetual Disruption Requires Perpetual Innovation

If you’re not innovating, you’re standing still and that is the most dangerous place to be in retail. Perpetual disruption requires perpetual innovation.

The most successful retailers today are those that reject the status quo. They foster a culture of innovation and fast failure. Everything they do begins and ends with the customer. They understand that they have to keep moving, constantly evolving their proposition, and experimenting with new technologies in order to stay relevant in this digital era.

That’s easier said than done in the current climate. Ongoing cost pressures and soft consumer demand mean that retailers must deal with more pressing, short-term challenges. In times like these, innovation can often get put to the back burner. 

However, now more than ever, it’s essential that retailers embrace technology as a means of driving efficiencies as well as enhancing the customer experience. I keep coming back to the phrase ‘tech-enabled human touch’. In my view, this is what’s going to separate the retail winners from the losers going forward. Store associates are a retailer’s most valuable asset. Equipping them with the right digital tools means that they can quickly address any customer pain points and cut friction from the in-store experience (ie. help a shopper to find an item on the shelf, reorder an item that is out of stock, or check a customer out on the spot with a mobile POS device).

And, with greater transparency around a customer’s shopping habits across both physical and digital channels, it also enables staff to offer a more deeply customised experience. This is only going to improve as retailers look to AI to power those more personalised recommendations. 

And things are moving quickly. At a client event in Cannes earlier this month, Manhattan Associates CEO Eddie Capel reminded us that it took Netflix ten years to get to 100 million users. It took TikTok 9 months. And for ChatGPT – just two months.

Generative AI will transform retail. This is an industry that is accustomed to a certain level of disruption, but today technology is progressing at a mind-boggling pace. Many believe we are on the cusp of another ‘smartphone moment’ where an immersive digital world is about to transform our lives.

But will we all be donning VR headsets and living in the metaverse? I don’t think so. When exploring these new disruptive technologies, it can be difficult to separate the hype from reality. When it comes to the metaverse, there is much scepticism and general befuddlement. What is it? How do you enter it? Is anyone even there?

It’s difficult to define right now because it’s still being built. And if you ask those who are building it what the metaverse is, you’ll get a ton of different answers. This means that to the layperson consumer it can be a difficult, almost impossible, concept to grasp.

However, just as retailers have digitised their physical stores, they must now turn their focus to making our digital experiences more immersive. Today, online shopping is still fairly one-dimensional. It’s transactional. But it’s moving in the right direction – it’s becoming more engaging and discovery-led. For example, retailers are increasingly using video and 3D images (often AI-generated) to create more contextual experiences for online shoppers. Augmented reality (AR) is bridging the gap between physical and digital retail, especially in beauty, luxury, footwear and home. Virtual shopping consultations are connecting online shoppers with in-store staff, again harnessing expertise to elevate the customer experience. Liveshopping, too, is picking up momentum and social commerce is taking the discoverable and making it transactional. People used to find products; today products find people.

If we look even further into the future, we won’t know where the physical world ends and the digital one begins. Our AI-powered shopping assistants will make our lives easier and more connected than ever before (Bill Gates even thinks they will kill off Amazon and Google search). Virtual showrooms will never replace the physical store but they will become the next best thing. And spatial commerce has the potential to completely redefine the online shopping experience.

The future is wildly exciting for retail. Don’t get left behind.

This commentary originally featured in the KPMG/Retail Next Retail Think Tank Q3 whitepaper. Read in full.

Consumer Retail trends

Natalie Berg Joins KPMG/RetailNext Retail Think Tank

RetailNext, the leading analytics solution for bricks-and-mortar retailers, today announced that it will partner with the Retail Think Tank to produce its quarterly Retail Health Index, alongside existing co-chair and global consultant, KPMG.

First established in 2006 by KPMG and market research leader, Ipsos, the Retail Health Index is the industry’s only comprehensive, sector-level benchmark of retail performance. With almost three decades of data, encompassing pivotal moments that defined and redefined retail – from the 2008 Financial Crash and ensuing ‘Credit Crunch’ to Brexit, Covid-19, the post-pandemic recovery and, most recently, the cost-of-living crisis – the Retail Health Index assesses the sector’s key performance indicators, including demand, margin and cost.

Each quarter, it is independently scored by Retail Think Tank members – an elite advisory board comprising industry experts, thought leaders and analysts, including Nick Bubb, former GlobalData Director Maureen Hinton, and NielsenIQ’s Mike Watkins – to benchmark retail health for the past three months, and predict how performance will evolve in the next quarter. This year author and Retail Technology Magazine publisher, Miya Knights, and retail consultant and author, Natalie Berg, will join the panel as new members, bringing fresh insight and perspective to the wealth of expertise and industry know-how of the Retail Think Tank advisory board.

Following RetailNext’s acquisition of Ipsos’ people-counting and footfall solution, Retail Performance, in November 2022, which had formerly co-produced the Retail Health Index, RetailNext will now produce the quarterly index in collaboration with co-chair, KPMG.

Paul Martin, UK Head of Retail at KPMG, commented: “From its very inception back in 2006, the Retail Health Index has been a formative resource for retail businesses and leaders, aiming to quantify the knowledge of the Retail Think Tank members in a systematic way, whilst also providing an assessment of the overall retail health, for which there was traditionally no ‘official’ data.”

“Having been the voice reporting on retail health for almost three decades, we’re excited to welcome RetailNext as our co-chair for the Retail Health Index, and through the partnership we look forward to continuing to help retailers set a course for success as they navigate the multifaceted pressures, challenges and opportunities the market continues to present,” he added.

Gary Whittemore, Head of Sales, EMEA & APAC at RetailNext, commented: “With the fast-moving and multi-dimensional challenges facing retailers, impacting every area and function of their businesses, the Retail Health Index is not just a valuable indication of sector health. Crucially, it also dissects and contextualises the key factors impacting performance, drawing on the extensive knowledge and expertise of the Retail Think Tank membership. This results in a quarterly playbook for retailers, which outlines actionable insights and strategies to create competitive advantage in the context of the market, to drive retail businesses forward and readdress the balance of health back in the retailer’s favour.”

As well as being available online, a digest of the results of the Retail Health Index, including wide-ranging insight, contextual analysis and exclusive data-sets on key performance metrics, is available in a quarterly report, which is free for retailers to download.