Lord Stuart Rose on the ‘overblown’ death of the high street

Amsterdam - The retail industry is changing faster than at any time in the past 40 years, but the death of the high street is being “overblown”, said Lord Stuart Rose at World Retail Congress in Amsterdam.

Lord Rose, who was the former chairman at Marks and Spencer and now holds the same position at Ocado, said during his talk on Friday: “I get quite bad tempered when people say that retail is doomed – not remotely so. It’s just a place that, if you’re half asleep, don’t come here.”

The retail veteran said the biggest challenge facing the industry now is the continually accelerating pace of change, partly driven by the explosion in digital and social media. “If David Beckham goes to a party tonight in Los Angeles, wearing a white tie you’ll know about it 45 seconds later and probably, half an hour later somebody will pop into a shop somewhere asking if they sell white ties,” he said. “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.”

The challenges facing the industry are compounded by the fact there are too many shops, Lorde Rose added, while intense competition is forcing downward pressure on prices at the same time as retailers’ costs are rising. The winners, he said, would be businesses that put customers at the heart of everything they do.

“The world has changed. The customer is no longer king, the customer is now master of the universe. They want what they want, when they want it, how they want it, and in any channel that suits them. And one other critical factor has changed as well - it’s no longer at the price we choose to charge them, it’s at the price they’re willing to pay. The thing has turned on its head, it’s become a demand-led economy and if we don’t understand that customers have plenty of opportunities to go elsewhere then we are lost.”

Businesses also must keep reinventing themselves and seeking ways to improve and capture the imaginations of shoppers. “Retail is like theatre and every day we have to put on a show,” he said. “We must examine what happened last night, was the lighting good enough, was the make-up good enough, did everyone remember their lines. If not, we must recognise our failures and do it better the next day, keep regenerating ourselves. Change is a great thing and we should all embrace it.”

World Retail Congress 2019 took place in Amsterdam between 14-16 May.

Photo credit: FashionUnited

 

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