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Everything you need to know from World Retail Congress

Retail’s ability to disrupt and update its strategies alongside a broader call for more sustainable practices were among the key topics at this year’s World Retail Congress in Amsterdam.

“High velocity retail” and “the future of retail” were the themes for the conference in 2019, with technological advancement standing out as a priority for retailers. “If you’re slow at picking up these nuances, these trends and things that are happening all around us all the time, you’re going to be a loser,” said Lord Stuart Rose, former chairman of British department store Marks and Spencer, now chair of online grocer Ocado.

There was also a conversation around slowing down, however, which tied into consumer expectations of purpose-driven brands. “I think the brands and retailers who will win will be the ones who can tap into meaning,” said philosopher Robert Rowland Smith.

Here’s everything else you need to know…

TOP STORIES
  • High velocity retail: Why the World Retail Congress 2019 was a breath of fresh air [Forbes]
  • Slower retail: Has the industry hit its speed limit? [FashionUnited]
  • Lord Rose: Death of the high street is “overblown” [Retail Gazette]
  • Amazon revealed as the world’s most valuable retail brand, but it shouldn’t rest on its laurels [Warc]
INNOVATION
  • Levi’s to allow shoppers to customize their own ‘greener’ jeans [FashionUnited]
  • Retail chiefs dismiss AI job threat, promise more training [Reuters]
  • Google launches tool to help retailers boost customer experience [Retail Week]
  • Walmart International CEO on data privacy, the failed Asda merger and leveling the playing field for women [FashionUnited]
RETAIL UPDATES
  • Zalando to expand delivery from stores to bag missed sales [Reuters]
  • Yoox Net-a-Porter to become one of the first to launch shoppable Instagram account [ChargedRetail]
  • JD.com exec Ling on the future of ‘boundless retail’ [Retail Week]
BUSINESS MODELS
  • Retailers should collaborate to survive: “You can’t do it alone” [CyclingIndustry]
  • Retailers say business model needs to change for them to remain relevant [Enterprise Times]
  • Millennials are driving growth in emerging subscription retail services [FootwearNews]
  • Superdry chairman urges boardrooms to hire young people amid online shift [Retail Gazette]

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. Current Global is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more. 

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Editor's pick Retail technology

JD.com on a future where robots replace humans

Richard Liu, CEO, JD.com
Richard Liu, CEO, JD.com

“Sooner or later, our entire industry will be operated by AI and robots, not humans,” said JD.com’s CEO, Richard Liu, at the World Retail Conference in Madrid this week.

Speaking to a large audience of retail professionals, the head of China’s second-largest e-commerce company (behind the Alibaba Group), highlighted the fact he believes the future of retail is all about automation.

The Asia region is known to heavily invest in technologies that enable more personalized, seamless, and often self-directed retail experiences, as we recently highlighted on the site, making this a more natural leap for such businesses, but Liu’s views were not met by everyone worldwide.

Mango chairman Daniel Lopez disagreed on the idea of automation as inevitable, saying that humans are sociable at the core, so stores should strive to provide that element. “This is part of the experience that consumers are looking for, and by all means we shouldn’t lose that human touch,” he said. Mango has always had ‘experience’ as a central part of its DNA as a result, he explained.

In another conversation, John Lewis’ group development director, Tom Athron, delivered a warning on the same note: “Walk away from the power of the human at your peril. To assume consumers want everything to be automated or screen-based is naive, they want that in some ways, but I have a belief that humans and machines together will always be better than humans on their own, or machines on their own.”

Athron agreed, however, that some automation is necessary when labor is a retailer’s biggest cost. As the industry and technology evolves, it’s inevitable computers will be able to perform certain jobs more efficiently, he explained, making it essential to shift accordingly to an extent in order to remain competitive.

Véronique Laury, CEO of Kingfisher, which owns companies such as UK DIY retailer B&Q, says that the only benefit a physical store will have in the future is to provide emotion-led experiences, which are more often than not facilitated by humans. “That emotional connection is not completely fulfilled through digital techniques or technology. The human being side of talking to someone who understands what you are going through will be really important even in the future,” she said as she likewise dismissed the idea of purely automated or robotic-led stores.

Beyond experience, convenience and frictionless shopping was also a central theme of the conversation at the event. JD.com’s Liu also spoke about how the company is always finding opportunities to invest in logistics capabilities to serve the Chinese consumer’s evolving expectations around speed, for instance.

JD.com’s delivery service currently covers 100% of China and offers next day delivery to 90% of its 252 million customers. Liu’s goal for the next few years is to have a convenience store in every Chinese village, and the retailer is currently deploying drone technology to source and supply more remote locations until it reaches that milestone.

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e-commerce technology

Asos wins tech award at World Retail Congress

Asos_fitvisualiser_virtusize

Asos won the retail technology initiative of the year at this month’s World Retail Awards, for its Fit Visualiser tool.

Powered by Swedish company Virtusize, the technology enables shoppers to see how well an item might fit based on similar pieces they already own.

As pictured, it plays out in the form of a button next to the colour and size options on a product page (at this point for Asos’ own-brand products only). By clicking on it, users are invited to add measurements of a piece they already have to compare to the one they’re trying to buy.

The tool will then display overlaying silhouettes of the two garments in two-dimensional form and pinpoint the exact variations in bust, waist and length for instance. Different sizing options alongside allow the shopper to work out which to buy.

According to reports at launch earlier this year, using such a tool is proven to reduce fit-related returns, in some cases by up to 50%. Virtusize co-founder, Peder Stubert, said: “Many virtual fitting companies have tried and failed in this area because their solutions have been too costly or inaccurate. Our positive results from the ASOS [six-month] trial signal that there is a bright future ahead for our 2D garment comparison method.”

Other retailers who have used the tool include Nelly.com and Stylebop.com. A video below loosely demonstrates it being experimented with: