"Changing the Face of Retail" - Insider Breakfast 10/02/2016
On Wednesday last week, my alarm went off at an inordinately early hour for a visit to the Imperial War Museum at Trafford Wharf for my first Insider event of 2016. The breakfast seminar, hosted by the ever-charismatic NW Insider editor Chris Maguire, was not only an insightful discussion into the retail sector, but a collection of analogies from various experts on how the commercial and logistics sectors are ‘Changing the Face of Retail’.
Gareth James – CEO of Intilery (former-MoneySupermarket)
Ian Walker – Managing Director of 3P Logistics
Matthew Williamson – Real Estate Partner and Head of Retail & Leisure
Kerry Wright – Purple
After a much-needed bacon sandwich and coffee, the first panel assembled. Each provided their own unique input into the discussions commencing with Gareth Jones of Intilery. Intilery (and yes that is a made-up word!) enables customers to have a virtual one-to-one experience with a salesperson. For the customer who wants to browse freely without the pressure of helicopter staff, Intilery provides the perfect solution. In true ‘omnichannel’ style, customers are free to browse but whilst they do so their movements are monitored through which ever electronic device on the market they possess. The information about the way that people shop is used to provide much needed research and analysis for the retailer to enable development of appropriate marketing techniques. With clients such as LateRooms.com, TravelSupermarket, Sofaworks and MoneySupermarket.com, this relatively new company is making rapid strides in the virtual world.
Managing Director of 3P Logistics, Ian Walker, explained how “aspiring businesses” of any scale can utilise the company’s 75,000 sq.ft Wigan distribution warehouse, which contains 45 million units and 28,000 product lines, bringing the benefits of big business techniques and technology to even the smallest retailer. He explained how retail today is not just focused on giving people what they want but getting it to them as quickly as possible. Gone are the days of next-day delivery being quick, now the bar has been raised with operators such as Amazon offering delivery within hours. In Mr Walker’s own words, this is the new “sexiness of retail” and firms such as his are helping to level the playing field.
Real Estate Partner and Head of Retail & Leisure at Weightmans, Matthew Williamson reiterated the importance of the commercial and logistics sectors in enabling the retail sector to meet demand. Whilst “wearing his retail and real estate head” he did, however, voice concerns for how the traditional high street will cope. He also introduced the quandary that transport infrastructure needs to be up to scratch if it is to meet the ever-increasing pace of retail and customer expectations.
Kerry Wright of Purple (formerly Purple Wifi) discussed how the company has established itself with not only its clients, but to the customers of household brands. The Purple concept is to provide “seamless and free” access to wifi for people visiting shops in return for a slice of their digital information, such as how they move around a store and what they purchase. In a similar way to Intilery, that data is then passed to the retailer who can manipulate store layouts to fit with the experience that their customers require and desire. Purple has clients worldwide including Halfords where in return for accessing the wifi network, their customers receive exclusive personalised discounts. By using Purple in store it also means that the customer can be directly sent information such as reviews and videos to help influence their purchases.
As the first panel left the stage, Zoe Brimelow, Brand Director of Duo UK, was introduced. From their Manchester factory, Duo produce three million mailing bags each week for clients including ASOS, Tesco, JD Sports and JD Williams. Ms Brimelow discussed the influence of branding and how it plays a role in overall customer experience. Packaging has an influence on the customers’ but also the retailers’ perception of the products inside. Ms Brimelow emphasised the importance of enabling customers’ engagement with the packaging as it forms part of the impression of the overall product.
Robert Brigham – Managing Director of Ellis Brigham
Asif Hamid – CEO of The Contact Company
Dan Cluderay – founder of Approved Foods
Jonathon Bowers – Managing Director of UK Fast
The second panel also provided enthralling dialogues based upon their varied experience of the retail sector. Kerry Wright of the previous panel prophesised of two retail models; the first being an ‘Aldi’ model with good products at very competitive prices, and a second model of higher value products with superlative customer service. This provided a strong link to the next speaker, Robert Brigham of Ellis Brigham. He discussed how the mountain and snow sports retailer were able to sell high end products at high end prices because as a business they ensure there is quality before, during and after a transaction has been made. This maintains their customer loyalty. He believes that the high street is far from dying, particularly since sales at retailers like Ellis Brigham, who provide very technical products, are reliant upon the valuable advice and service their employees can provide.
Asif Hamid, CEO of The Contact Company, reiterated the weight of branding and customer experience in the 21st century retail arena. In a nutshell, The Contact Company “add value for clients, working as trusted partners, to manage and develop customer contact processes” and “remove unnecessary obstacles, avoid needless jargon and save businesses time and money”. The Contact Company’s clients range from very small to very large companies who operate in a range of sectors with varying seasonal requirements. It is therefore essential that The Contact Company have a fingers on the pulse approach to how they operate. He described The Contact Company as not being a call centre but an “insights arena” where agents fully immerse themselves in the companies they act as spokespersons for. As an example, stock from retailers they represent (such as River Island) reside in The Contact Company’s Birkenhead location so agents have first-hand knowledge of the products they are speaking to people about, whether that be on the phone, email or social media.
The “has this food gone off?” question litters home and working life. Dan Cluderay of Approved Food (and a representative for test-testing 30 year old chocolate bars!) has “created a culture of change” based on this conundrum. Having been turned down on Dragon’s Den in May 2014, Approved Food has since gone on to make millions (£4.8m turnover to be precise) from his concept. The concept is: selling food, household goods and cosmetics which are still perfectly fine but cannot be sold by the majority of stores because they have gone past their ‘best before date’. Approved Food’s culture of change allows consumers to save up to 70% compared to shopping at supermarkets and at the same time provides an outlet for manufactures to sell stock which would otherwise be waste. This waste would not only be counted as lost revenue for manufacturers but also a financial cost because it would have to be disposed of, not to mention the subsequent implications for the environment.
The final speaker of the Insider breakfast seminar was Jonathon Bowers of UK Fast. Effectively, UK Fast “own a piece of the Internet” and provide retailers with infrastructure to prevent slow websites being a reason for customers to choose another website and in consequence another retailer. UK Fast recognise peaks and seasonality for different businesses, such as Christmas and the ever-increasing trend of Black Friday, and use their know-how to manage online traffic to prevent websites crashing. Mr Bowers promoted the strengths of communication between hard and soft engineering and expressed how efficient and effective technology is now essential to retailers. Approved Food is one of their clients and I can vouch for their website speed!
My thanks to Insider for organising the event which, as ever, provided a coherent debate about matters that affect us both professionally and personally. My thanks also to the speakers for taking time out of their inevitably very busy schedules.
Distribution Centre - Nick Saltmarsh via flickr
Trafford Centre - Ben Sutherland via flickr
Computers - Linus Bohman via flickr
Market scene - Franz Jachlm via flickr