LCF students take on the World Retail Congress 2022
In April 2022, the World Retail Congress took place in person for the first time after two years of absence due to the pandemic and proposed a unique extracurricular opportunity for a team of four students from MA Global Fashion Retailing to attend the Future Retail Challenge.
This year's challenge was created around the topic of sustainability, and students had to choose a fast-fashion retailer and then propose a business plan covering the next five years that would generate 25% of income from activities that reduce or replace the consumption of new physical products, or through products that fully comply with the principles of the circular economy.
The four chosen students to represent London College of Fashion, UAL at the congress, Ishita Jain, Ben Butling, Nele Nagels and Yenny Lee undertook extensive secondary and primary research around their chosen retailer being River Island. Following a multi-strategy approach to tackle the challenge, and coming up with three different strategies around AI-based trend forecasting, a subscription-based rental service and responsible collaborations was a time and energy-consuming task but was rewarded by being able to present their business plans at the congress in front of leaders of world-class retail companies and attending the three-day congress in Rome.
"Being part of the World Retail Congress has been a great opportunity for my personal professional development, and I feel very humbled to have been chosen along with my teammates to represent London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London." - Nele Nagels, MA Global Fashion Retailing student
During the three day conference, the students were able to attend and listen to multiple keynotes, panel talks, interviews and intensive laboratories and have shared their insights with us.
Ishita Jain: It is known that Nike is a pioneer when it comes to building meaningful relationships and community. Hearing first-hand from Cathy Sparks, VP EMEA at Nike Direct, on how to engage consumers and create immersive experiences was more than just inspiring. Learning how Nike is driving its business not only by numbers but through empathy, diversity and team spirit was insightful and is now more critical than ever. Moreover, to hear about how Nike is building relationships through memberships and exclusives whilst inspiring engagement within a tangible, authentic community provocated a lot of thinking.
Nele Nagels: One quote from Shekar Natarajan, Chief Supply Chain Officer at American Eagle, summarised my key takeaway from the WRC: “Shared problems have shared solutions.”
The calling for more cooperation between multiple industries was a notion that was recognised by a vast number of speakers at the congress and is something that I strongly believe in as well. Throughout the pandemic, the urgency of partnerships only accelerated as well as the need to learn from one another and to think more transformative instead of transactional. An example was given by Chris Igwe, MP of MoreOrLess, who emphasised that new and long-lasting retail models have to be built on the foundation of and in cooperation with companies from the food & beverage sector to operate as a third space and increase dwell time.
Ben Butling: The WRC really did continue to deliver a wealth of discussion around wildly futuristic topics, for instance, the Metaverse, predictive data analytics and artificial intelligence. However, I was most excited about the idea of sensorial and experiential initiatives in the physical space, and the congress also had some excellent speakers who brought us back to the ‘real world’.
Therefore, the keynote from Co-founder and CCO of Aesop, Suzanne Santos, resonated with me immensely. Suzanne shared her experience of changed consumer behaviour through the pandemic towards a more engaged one and emphasised the importance of sensorial retailing. She called for “stripping away all that is cold and double down on tangible connection”. A thought-provoking keynote showcased the opportunities to resonate and connect with consumer audiences through alternative senses instead of the apparent sources of sight and sound.
Yenny Lee: Shimona Mehta, Managing Director EMEA of Shopify, emphasised the importance of maintaining the retailer's consistency of all digital and physical touchpoints, as it changes rapidly in line with pandemic-accelerated digitisation and as nearly three-quarters of customers shop using multiple channels when shopping. She also said that with the advancement of technology, retailers respond quickly and correlatively to new platforms and channels such as TikTok, Metaverse, NFT and Live Selling and that it is necessary to provide an experience that combines live experience and new technology to customers, citing AR/VR furniture companies she experienced during the lockdown. From a macro perspective, she said that retailers should try new technologies in the development stage with an initiative, which led me to a shift in thinking about how fashion retailers and brands treat new technologies.
The keynotes, panel discussion, talks and interviews at the WRC were an excellent opportunity to look at the retail business from the perspective of management and executive roles with a wider variety of points of view. It made us realise once again that understanding retail business requires a broad and complex level of understanding of widespread phenomena such as politics, society, economy, environment, and technology. In addition, it gave implications for companies' philosophy and values and why and how they should play social roles, thus giving a deep perspective on managing customers in the long term.
Written by Nele Nagels and Yenny Lee