The Retail Week Live agenda is packed with great speakers

After a successful return to face-to-face Retail Week events last October, it’s a pleasure for CannyInsights.com to once again be invited to be a Media Partner for the 2022 edition of Retail Week Live, taking place today and tomorrow (24 and 25 May). Both Andrew Bartlett and I will be there, and we look forward to catching up with old retail friends and meeting new ones.

After the autumn scheduling last year – following a succession of unavoidable Covid delays – RWL is closer to its usual springtime slot this time. However, despite having barely half a year to get this latest event organised, the Retail Week team seems to have done an impressive job of pulling together some great speakers and sessions, focused around the theme of “Digital Transformation & Innovation” on the first day, and “People & Planet” on the second.

So, there is a great deal of insight and inspiration to look forward to this week, but here are the five speakers we’re perhaps most excited of all to be hearing from – listed in the order they appear on the schedule.

Mary Portas, Portas Agency

You can’t have ITV describe you as a “North East Mary Portas” and then not be excited about seeing the actual Mary Portas on stage.

After a career working in retail, including as creative director of Harvey Nichols, Mary launched her own agency 25 years ago, opening the door to a succession of high-profile TV appearances and a role producing the influential and timely 2011 “Portas Review” for David Cameron’s government, described at the time as “an independent review into the future of our high streets”.

A decade on, Mary’s recommendations – some implemented, some not – still resonate, and business rates remain the elephant in the room. One particular line in the report – “Quite frankly, the costs of trading in many areas far outweigh the benefits of being in town. As I have been researching this report, the financial burden imposed by business rates has come up time and time again” – could have been written at any point in the last 11 years (and probably the next 11 too).

One thing that certainly has changed in that time is the importance of online retail, and Mary’s session at Retail Week Live will explore how online shopping can be made more inspiring, “just like shopping in real life”. Just as online retail can try to capture more of the magic of in-person interactions, there will no doubt also be tips that bricks-and-mortar retail can learn from the best of online.

Lauren Barrie, Frasers Group

Whatever you think of Mike Ashley – and people in my native Tyneside tend to have strong views on this – you can’t dispute that the company he founded is one of the UK’s biggest investors in bricks-and-mortar retail at the moment.

House of Fraser’s transformation into the “Harrods of the High Street” still seems unlikely, but the flagship Flannels and even Sports Direct stores that Frasers Group is opening these days are undoubtedly impressive, and, more importantly, seem to appeal to modern shoppers.

New company CEO Michael Murray is surely a future RWL target, but this week it will be great to hear from Lauren Barrie, Group Head Of Luxury Retail Development, as part of an expert discussion session on “How to make consumers your brand ambassadors and bring shoppers in store”.

Whether you’re another chain or the kind of indies I work with, tips on how to mobilise your customers to become your biggest champions are always worth hearing.

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP, Shadow Minister for Mental Health

With any conference like this, the most powerful sessions can sometimes be those that introduce topics and speakers who transcend whatever the particular industry focus might be.

Two years of Covid shone a light on the importance of mental health, both in our personal and working lives, and encouraged many to reflect on their priorities, getting the right balance, and the need to better look after themselves.

So, this session tomorrow – “Your mental health matters more than ever, this is why” – promises to provide some food for thought among all the specifically retail chat.

Whatever your political point of view, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan – who has served as MP for Tooting since the 2016 by-election – is always an impressive communicator, whose political work is surely enhanced by her having an established career outside politics as a humanitarian aid doctor and an A&E doctor.

Her 20 minutes on stage at RWL promises to be one of the event’s most impactful moments.

Alessandra Bellini, Tesco

At last year’s RWL we heard from Tesco CEO Ken Murphy in an insightful but pre-recorded interview with Retail Week editor Luke Tugby, memorable for the Aldi brand (as part of Tesco’s “Aldi Price Match” campaign) being prominent in the background all the way through.

This time, Tesco’s Chief Customer Officer, Alessandra Bellini, should be on stage in person, with a timely keynote that offers “A look at Tesco’s journey towards a healthier, more sustainable basket”. This, presumably, will focus on Tesco’s new “Better Baskets” campaign, launched last week, which aims to “help you make better choices” and “feel better about the food we buy, the meals we make and the packaging we use”.

The press release quotes Alessandra arguing that “we understand that customers want to make better choices but not have to pay more. Our Better Baskets campaign means there is no compromise. Right now, every little helps”.

If, in recent years, Tesco sometimes seems to have defined itself in relation to competitors – not least Aldi – Better Baskets feels more like the company setting its own agenda and getting back on the front foot, and it will be fascinating to hear about the campaign direct from the person who is leading it.

Richard Walker, Iceland

Last year’s “Wind Down with the CEOs” was one of the conference highlights, and this year the equivalent session brings together some of the UK’s supermarket giants – the bosses of Iceland, Ocado and Co-op Food – to ask “What does the future of grocery look like?”

Richard Walker, Luke Jensen and Jo Whitfield are all well worth hearing, but I’m particularly looking forward to Richard’s insights, given the impressive job he’s done of positioning Iceland as both a consumer champion and a campaigning retailer with a distinctive voice. Richard, himself a very active Twitter user, is also one of the relatively small number of big retail bosses who has ever engaged with my tweets!

Iceland is, of course, a company whose activities I follow closely. A year ago I was invited to visit Iceland’s new convenience store format, Swift, on the opening of its inaugural store in Four Lane Ends, up on my home turf in the North East, and the first of several London branches have subsequently opened in Wembley and Hounslow. Among everything else, it will be interesting to see if Richard shares any further updates on how far the Swift fascia might be rolled out.

Follow @soult, @bartlett_96 and @cannyinsights on Twitter, where we’ll be tweeting updates across the two days using the hashtag #RWL2022.

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