Retail Luddites will get left behind, warns expert

 It is imperative for retail brands to fully embrace the digital age if they’re to avoid being left behind by more dynamic competitors, industry expert James Bidwell warned this week.

The former Selfridges and Anthropologie director said the propensity for consumers to buy through the web and increasingly use their mobile phones to make shopping decisions made it imperative for retailers to invest in their online capabilities.

“All of us engaged with retail and brands should be aware of the convergence of channels and the opportunities this presents,” said Bidwell in his keynote speech at Pulse, which is taking place at Earls Court, London. “The constant and huge advances of the internet and digital space will inevitably continue to alter the way people behave and how we consume.”

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He said that average annual online spend per capita of the population was now £72 in the UK, with total spend up to last December at a massive £6.8billion, a 25% uplift year-on-year.

With online sales continuing to soar, Bidwell told the audience that a 50/50 split between bricks-and-mortar retail and online sales is where most traditional retailers “should be” in the next few years.

Bidwell said it was also important for retailers to understand the role that mobile phones will have to play in the buying environment over the coming three years, citing research published last week predicting 79% of UK consumers will use their handsets to shop by 2014.

“Mobile is an amazingly fast growing global channel. Brands are harnessing the technology and new business models are emerging almost daily. In the US, there is a loyalty application – Shopkick – which gives consumers loyalty points for simply entering their stores,” said Bidwell.

Bidwell, who now runs his own retail consultancy firm advising small businesses as well as large retailers such as Karstadt Quelle in Germany, also used his speech to highlight three other key areas that he believes are crucial to retail: customer experience; authenticity and sustainability; and creativity in merchandising.

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