Written by our Consumer Insights Forum Media Partner, Retail Connections.


More than two years after the BRC’s last event, which took place just before the first UK lockdown, members are finally back in the real world of exchanging ideas in person. It clearly made all the difference; after two years of accessing everything online, we can all now agree that five minutes in company with our peers is worth more than any number of weeks ploughing through a search engine.

Retail is overdue a revolution

The session started with a warning from EY that consumer confidence was lower than ever and that the future would be a mixed picture for retailers. Anyone in brown or white goods hoping for good news would be disappointed because consumers had already made their purchases during the pandemic and were now carefully watching their pennies. They weren’t just trading down, they weren’t trading at all. Spare income - if any - was going on all the things they couldn’t do in 2020/21, primarily holidays and those ‘experiential’ and social things that were removed from so many of our lives during covid. 

In the face of the cost of living crisis, where every conversion will be harder won than ever before, the advice for retailers was to act swiftly and decisively.  Retailers need to understand that the escalator they are running up is getting faster.  This means getting plans in place now for what is coming, but build in agility and resilience to deal with up to five years of what EY suggested was inevitable upheaval. And to make it work for a consumer with less disposable income (although the asset-owning classes seem to be immune) who is nevertheless more demanding than ever. So, retailers have to demonstrate value but they also have to demonstrate values, and to do this by personalising their communications.

Data-driven personalisation

And that depends on data; one session talked about the challenge of trying to make multiple channels, each with their own data, work together based on a shared, consistent image of the customer. 

Personalisation was the revolution EY said was coming, a view neatly taken up by David Josephs’, Head of Industry at Meta, who talked about the hyper personalisation that will be possible in the Metaverse, although even Meta feels that is 10-15 years away.  Despite retailers taking first steps into the Metaverse, with Selfridges launching its virtual metaverse flagship, and luxury fashion retailers like Burberry and Gucci looking at building NFTs, or virtual products, into their offering, there was still some way to go in realising the true capabilities of what the Metaverse will become.

Personalisation and margin protection

A timely point on the role of personalisation and data in protecting margins was emphasised by Sarah Curran-Usher, MD EMEA of True Fit, who talked about the revenue, profit and loyalty benefits of knowing how to match products to customers based on their preferences around style, size, colour and fit. She said that brands and retailers needed to get better at this across the entire product lifecycle, from sourcing to allocation, even to the extent of working with the industry to rethink sizing.  By hard-baking insight-led personalisation in right at the very beginning of the product lifecycle, she suggested retailers could protect margins, enabling more full price selling, drive up operational efficiencies by illuminating inevitable returns, as well as curating collections around the customer to improve loyalty and CLV.

From social shopping to ‘Discovery Commerce’

Another key trend highlighted in David Josephs’ session was the shift in how consumers shop.  He suggested that customers are moving away from traditional ‘intent-based’ shopping, and now it was more of an ‘always on’ experience.   Whilst social commerce has grown exponentially over the pandemic, shoppers were shifting to ‘Discovery Commerce’ when browsing on their social channels; a recent ofcom report ‘online nation’ report shows globally each consumer spends 42 minutes every day on its platform, whilst 40% have bought something on social that they didn’t know they wanted or had been looking to buy when they went onto social media.  This joy of discovery and a more spontaneous approach to shopping by customers is something retailers should bake into their social commerce strategies, as they look to evolve their offers to meet the news ways consumers now shop, he suggested.

Technology orchestration would be a key differentiator

Forgerock’s Adam Preiss’ session looked at the role of tech orchestration in delivering competitive advantage, greater agility and more resilience for retailers as they look to adapt to retailing to the new consumer in the cost of living crisis.  His recommendation in creating greater agility to allow retail businesses better adapt to market opportunities was to leverage automation to build in operational efficiencies whilst also allowing retailers to scale effectively.  By adopting a Headless approach, or Composable Commerce strategy, retailers build the front- and back-end tech stacks through open API integrations, which allow new capabilities to be tested, trialled, and implemented in what he described as a continuous implementation and deployment cycle.

Chris Field – Retail Connections

If you would like to join the team and fellow Retail Members for our next in person Forum, focusing on Preparing for Black Friday, please visit the website and register your place today.