Data, AI, and the impact of Covid-19. Kyle Monk – Head of Insight and Analytics at go-to trade association the British Retail Consortium (BRC) – left plenty of food for thought on the future for retailers, and those who advise them, at a talk delivered last week.
Speed – and the ability to react to a rapidly and constantly changing landscape – were key themes to emerge from his session, with those able to adapt most quickly likely to leave the competition in their wake. Feeding into this is the power of data, with the war for talent these days as much fought on the frontline of data science as anywhere else; brands which own large volumes of data and can successfully analyse it to make informed strategic decisions will outcompete those who can't. Interestingly, though, despite all of the talk about the impact of artificial intelligence on the sector, the BRC has seen little evidence that this is having a meaningful impact on retail.
On the subject of artificial, the BRC raised the question, in the world of fashion retail, as to whether in future we will need human models when images of people can be so credibly generated digitally. Indeed, we already live in a world where some avatars enjoy significant followings on social media.
There are, of course, significant and very live challenges for the sector. Coupling potential border friction triggered by Brexit with disruption caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus, the impact on supply chains and the flow of trade in the near- to medium-term are major issues for retailers, in the UK and beyond. As is the ongoing quest to differentiate, whether that's through offering an immersive entertainment experience in store, or taking a more purpose-driven environmental approach to your positioning.
Challenges and opportunities aplenty.
Sounding a positive note to conclude, the BRC pitched retail as "a monumental opportunity" for investors, with those able to be flexible and adapt quickly likely to prove the safer bets for future growth.