Seb James on the future of retail: BRC Annual Lecture

Annual Retail Lecture 2013

How thoroughly engaging Seb was last night! The mainstay of his talk was data, technology and how that will influence the retailers business. He was upbeat and thought provoking. Seb James is the Group Chief Executive of Dixons Retail, speaker at the Annual British Retail Consortium Lecture.

I was struck by his charts, the questions people asked him and his responses.

He had three charts. No bulleted powerpoints here! Three visuals with no words but with his words – very clear. He likened one visual to a prog rock album cover. Most of the audience will have been familiar with prog rock and album covers!

The visuals were the presentation of data – showing patterns which is easily interpreted as information. The most eye-catching was a “heat map” showing the internet activity of a purchaser prior to buying a television. The big news was that the purchaser’s main activity in search of his TV took place 6 months before the purchase, a secondary hot spot showed up a month before the purchase. The activity the week of the purchase was relatively cool. This information is influencing Dixons approach to marketing and the training and direction to colleagues working in store.

Given that the talk was about data, and the technology that is being developed to collect and mine the data – the questions were biased towards people and the impact of this revolution on people. This surprised me. A question was about leadership, a question about how would the ordinary people working in retail cope with this revolution, a question about the role of the store – and the answer was about people in conversation with customers. People figure highly in Seb’s view of the future.

The role for shops in a retailers armoury will continue to change – and with it the role of colleagues working in shops. Seb talks about customers looking for a conversation, wanting some contact relating to their purchase. He talked about the importance of training colleagues working in store so that they can service the customers different needs in visiting the shop – all supported by new information.

Seb finished with a rallying cry for the resourcefulness of shopkeepers, a swipe at the online retailer who is nothing but an e-catalogue, a challenge to his listeners to get involved with what is happening in technology and seek out the opportunity for their business.

A bloke that was well worth listening to – I’d buy a few shares in Dixons / Carphone Warehouse on the back of this stimulating performance. And a clear message that Wingivers are operating in the sweet spot – developing “systems” where colleagues are engaging with customers naturally, confidently with good training, technology and design to support conversations which make a difference to business.

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