Last month, over 800 leaders from around the globe to discuss groundbreaking strategies and insights. The theme focused on the traits necessary to excel in today’s dynamic retail landscape. Among the bustling panels and conversations, three key themes dominated, which all focus on marketing - the importance of being customer-centric in the current landscape, the impact of geo-political pressures, and the evolution of omnichannel strategies.

AI's Expanding Role in Retail
Nozha Boujemaa, Global VP of AI Innovation and Trust at Decathlon shed light on the transformative power of AI in enhancing customer experience; all whilst balancing innovation with trust. By leveraging AI for product discoverability and personalised recommendations, retailers can empower customers to make informed decisions, particularly in areas like sports and fitness. For the retailer it’s about facilitating discovery but for the consumer they aren’t looking for a product, they are looking at how to comfortably practice a sport or activity. Mark Ibbotson, former EVP Central Ops, Walmart US and former COO expanded on his thoughts around AI “I personally don't know a better way than AI to combine technology and people and take away the complexity that has been put into retail. The next wave of technology sees us have the possibility to help the consumer, the associate and the shareholder.”.

Championing Innovation and Sustainability
In partnership with WRC, we co-hosted The Future Retail Innovation Challenge. The challenge aims to promote tomorrow’s retailers, bringing students’ fresh thinking and new ideas on retail into the Congress. This year’s challenge targeted reducing scope 3 emissions in the retail sector. A big congratulations to the London College of Fashion (pictured) for winning with their proposed initiative, Care Washing. The solution aims to transform the customer experience while championing sustainability by educating consumers about microfiber waste and reducing carbon emissions through advanced wastewater treatment. A big shout out to the University of Amsterdam, Fashion Insititute of Technology, New York and EDHEC Business School in France for their hard work!

Embracing Customer-Centricity
Focus on the Customer was called out on most panels, as many CEO's shared their businesses' prioritisation of customer needs above all. In its mission to expand the role of the department store and create new, memorable experiences for customers, Michael Ward, Managing Director, Harrods put it simply: "If you're not willing to invest in understanding your customer" you won't win". Over at Printemps, CEO Jean-Marc Bellaiche, shared its strategy of putting their customers at the heart by having 100+ personal shoppers who speak 16 languages; they go as far as to offer at-home visits to help identify, value and pick-up pre-loved items to re-sell in its incredible circularity floor.

Innovative Leadership
Alexandre Bompard, Chairman and CEO of The Carrefour Group, in his opening address, shared how Carrefour is tackling inflation, its brand new accessibility-driven store near the Olympic Village and how this is key to its community building strategy - using sports to integrate people and build lasting moments of connection.

Vision of Personal Transformation
In her keynote interview, Judith McKenna Former CEO and President of Walmart International, urged us all to “change ourselves before we are changed”. Following her Outstanding Contribution to Retail Award earlier this year, she shared her advice to leaders of building not only IQ & EQ, but also RQ (Resilience) & HQ (Hope) – encouraging us all to find ways through and look at the ways you deliver rapid and significant change to inspire others and cement purpose. Her closing advice was to make choices, rather than being ambivalent or caught in the middle. Seek diverse perspectives and build teams that have a clear point of view and space to articulate that. Alain Goudsmet, a seasoned coach for Olympic teams, shared a great quote: "Busy is the new stupid." He shared that 70% of progress comes from feedback - so take the time to build in pitstops & time-outs to suspend the game and get perspective (the other 20% comes from sharing what they’d learnt and 10% from the training itself).

Pioneering People-Centric and Omnichannel Strategies
Guillaume Motte, CEO of SEPHORA, shared its People-Centric approach which underscores the importance of nurturing a strong culture and team spirit. There is an intentional focus, not just on sales but on fostering beauty communities and curating standout products that resonate with customers' values. On the topic of The Future of Department Stores, Nicolas Houzé, CEO of Galeries Lafayette, highlighted the necessity of adapting to the changing retail landscape. With a focus on omnichannel strategies, Galeries Lafayette is embracing the digital shift while maintaining a strong physical presence - 50% of customers are reported to research online before buying in-store. Health & wellness are also at the forefront, with dedicated spaces within the store catering to these growing consumer priorities.

Technological Innovations
Danni Peirce, CEO of 7-Eleven highlighted the rapid tech adoption in retail. With innovations like e-wallets, palm (the first retailer to roll out), and facial payments (10% penetration), 7-Eleven is revolutionising the checkout experience. They are seeing a whopping 95% of transactions coming from e-wallet payments and only 5% from cash in-store.