Retail Viewpoint: 5 Steps To High-Performance Retail From The World Retail Congress 2024



AlixPartners is a results-driven global consulting firm that specializes in helping businesses successfully address their most complex and critical challenges.
In partnership with the World Retail Congress, we have created an in-depth report, "Disrupt or Be Disrupted: Six Trends Reshaping Retail," and a podcast series, "The World Retail Podcast."
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In partnership with the World Retail Congress, we have created an in-depth report, "Disrupt or Be Disrupted: Six Trends Reshaping Retail," and a podcast series, "The World Retail Podcast." You can download the report and listen to the podcast here.

Paris was at the center of the retail world in April, as over 800 retail leaders from 60 countries descended on the Palais des Congrès  for the annual World Retail Congress. The 2024 Congress theme, High-Performance Retail, was fitting for a city gearing up to host the world's top athletes at the Summer Games in just a few months' time.

As Congress speakers examined the traits needed to be truly world-class in today's dynamic retail landscape, the overall mood was cautiously optimistic. The pace of retail disruption remains unrelenting—the world is poised for a year of geopolitical turmoil, major elections, and further technology advances. But consumer confidence is gradually returning, as is the industry's faith in its own resilience following the disruption of recent years.


Reflecting on three days of thought-provoking sessions, engaging panel discussions, and industry networking opportunities, five actionable insights stood out:

1. Agility = endurance: Build retail businesses to adapt, not just to last

Today's dynamic retail landscape demands that retailers not just survive but thrive through adaptability. According to the AlixPartners 2024 Disruption Index, 50% of retail executives expect significant change to their business model in the next 12 months, the highest of all 10 industries surveyed.

Kingfisher CEO Thierry Garnier emphasized the importance of adopting agile mindsets in navigating constant disruption; success lies in building businesses ready to evolve, not merely withstand the test of time. Meanwhile, British Retail Consortium CEO Helen Dickinson reflected at the Congress that retailers should flip their business models to "think from the customer's perspective" and consider the 80-20 principle—five things might impact 80% of profitability. Focus and flexibility are key.

2. Build your people's resilience and hope

The Congress emphasized resilience and hope as foundational pillars for future-proofing retail businesses. Former Walmart International CEO Judith McKenna spoke on the importance of building not only employees' EQ and IQ, but also their "resilience quotient" or "RQ"—their ability to anticipate change and bounce back from setbacks—and "hope quotient" or "HQ," which is not just an attitude of "it'll be OK," but an ability to actively chart a course through adversity. As McKenna commented, "People don't need a map, they need a compass."

Leaders have a vital role in creating the right environment to foster that resilience and hope. Invest in your people's growth and skills: employees and customers seek purposeful corporate behavior, and engaged people and teams deliver more.

3. Unlock growth through technology and data

Integrating technology into retail operations is not new, but the scale, speed, and sophistication with which it can now be leveraged are unprecedented. Real-time retail, social shopping, and retail media all stood out at the Congress as golden growth opportunities for retailers. Sales through retail media are forecast to surpass TV advertising by 2028, while social shopping is anticipated to become a $8.5 trillion channel by 2030. With the latter, retailers must keep pace with changing consumer purchase behavior, meet customers on their most active platforms, and engage and inspire shoppers in relevant ways.

4. For consumers, value trumps values—so collective action on industry ESG challenges is key

Despite a growing societal emphasis on sustainability and ethical consumption—and 74% of millennials and Gen Z stating they prefer "conscious brands" — the reality remains that price is the primary motivator for most consumers. Retail leaders face a conundrum: How do they spearhead sustainability initiatives without passing on the cost to consumers?

Industry leaders must take on accountability for tackling climate and social challenges. Several Congress speakers called for greater collaboration across the value chain to find solutions at a system level. Leaders cannot rely on consumers or regulators to drive this critical change; collective action is key.

5. "Busy is the new stupid": Focus on the fundamentals

Executive coach Alain Goudsmet, who advises business leaders and athletes on mental fitness, captured delegates' attention with his assertion that "busy is the new stupid." Retail leaders were cautioned against overextending themselves, particularly in the realm of technology investments. While emerging technologies like GenAI offer exciting possibilities, several speakers advocated for a pragmatic approach. The value of analytical AI, for example, still significantly outweighs the benefits of GenAI for most retailers, though the balance will shift as value-additive use cases continue to emerge.

The message is clear: In the pursuit of technological innovation, do not lose sight of retail basics. That means great products, at great prices, with great people to serve your customers.

The World Retail Congress 2024 provided a powerful opportunity for global retail leaders to gather, take stock of a fast-moving landscape, and brace for ongoing change. Moving forward, the success of retailers will hinge on their ability to continually interpret, prioritize, and drive disruptive trends.

Leaders will need to steer their businesses with agility, grounding their strategies in consumer insights and technological innovation, all while remaining faithful to the fundamentals of retail excellence.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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