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Reflecting on the 2019 Conference: "Customer Centricity Through A Retail Lens"

Updated: Oct 28, 2019

On the evening of May 15th, leaders from Harrods, Jo Malone, Farfetch, Lyst, The Business of Fashion, Lyst, Appear Here, WeChat Pay and Walpole gathered at our sold-out event in the BMA House in Central London to discuss how customer-centricity was affecting all aspects of the retail value chain.

Nick Blunden, Chief Commercial Officer of The Business of Fashion, set the tone of the conference by affirming that “retail is fundamentally failing, because it has forgotten to put the customer at the centre of it”. The reason business like Amazon are thriving in today’s retail environment, is their relentless focus on the customer. Jeff Bezos has always underlined the importance of customer satisfaction, supporting the claim that Amazon’s goal is to be earth’s most customer-centric company. Nick Blunden’s argument mirrored this perspective, as he highlighted that business should start thinking about the end-to-end customer journey, before thinking about anything else. “Retail is about the community as much as it is about commerce, and companies need to build their playbook based off customers if they want to be successful.”

To start building this end-to-end customer journey, the modern-day response is data. “In God we trust, everyone else bring data” quoted Charlotte Keesing as she introduced the first panel of the evening, which focused on utilising data to attract the customer. With the amount of data in the world increasing by the second, how do we filter through it all? The answer we got that evening was quite straightforward: stop and talk to your customers. Ambika Patni, Executive Director of Global Strategy and Business at Jo Malone London, stressed the importance of putting the customer at the centre. By identifying customer pain points, we are able to select the data we need to solve them. As David Boyle, Customer Insight Director at Harrods, pointed out: “the role of data is to inspire opportunities”. For Jenny Cossons, Chief Partnerships Officer at Lyst, it is more about trends than simply data.

Over the last decade, the shift in consumer behaviour is indisputable. The X-generation has grown up in a digital age leading to a new way of discovering styles and products. Andrew Robb, COO of Farfetch, was next to take the stage to define how this new digital era is shaping customers relationship with clothes and the category. Consumers now just follow people whose style and aesthetic they admire. This social media path allows them to curate a style that they uniquely own – and this inspiration complements the drive towards online retail. “We can see this trend when we ask our customers how much time they spend researching fashion: anything between 1 and 4 hours a day!” These digital micro moments through customers’ days were found to influence up to 70% of purchases. Brands need to adapt their strategies to digitally native customers and come up with a unique proposition that truly resonates with today’s changing customer needs.

It was common opinion amongst our speakers that personalisation was the holy grail of any retail brand strategy, and while online has taken up a considerable part of retail, offline remains a key feature of the customer experience. The last speaker panel of the evening, led by Nader Tavassoli, focused on this question and the importance of customising the store experience. Angelo Zegna, the Head of Stores at Appear Here, the leading online marketplace for short term leases, introduced the concept of ‘luxury fatigue’. “People are tired of going from one city to the other and seeing the same thing everywhere. We need to surprise them and be more creative”. In the past year, 3500 stores on the high street shut while Appear Here opened over 5000. This is especially true of luxury brands, for which pop ups are becoming their strategy pillars. Brands need to go where the customer is and with 85% of sales growth coming from millennials who don’t stop on luxury high streets, it is crucial to open stores in hipper locations.

The conference ended with an Emerging Brands Fair, where young disruptive brands displayed their products and services. “It was great to get a feel for how brands these days react and build their business models to fit current retail trends” said one of the participants. LetsBab, The Endless Wardrobe, Baudoin & Lange and Sueted were all perfect illustrations of how today’s businesses adapt to customers’ changing behaviours.

Article written by Pauline Gordon

Pauline graduated from the MiM programme at London Business School in 2019 and was on the conference team of the RLG Club. Prior to LBS, she completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology at University College London and gained experience through internships at Amazon in Paris, the UN specialised agency in telecommunications in Geneva and the French television branch France 2 in New Delhi. She is now working in marketing at Danone in London.

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