A fortnight on from LIVE 2024: Retail Week x The Grocer, we reflect on 11 of the best moments from #RWGLive24

Here are some of our highlights from LIVE 2024: Retail Week x The Grocer, as captured in our live tweets from the event.

What used to be Retail Week Live – and, this year, was LIVE 2024: Retail Week x The Grocer – is always such a feast for the brain and the senses that it takes a good week or two afterwards to digest everything that you have absorbed (especially as you catch up with all the work tasks you didn’t do while you were there!)

This year’s event, which took place in London on 12 and 13 March, once again delivered some memorable nuggets from industry leaders and emerging brands, alongside shining a light on topics – such as menopause – that don’t always get enough attention but have more retail implications than you might imagine.

With CannyInsights.com once again a Partner of LIVE, Andrew and I were delighted to be there across the two days, attempting to live tweet – using the #RWGLIVE24 hashtag – at the same time as actually listening to what was being said.

So, in chronological order, here are some of our highlights from the event, as captured in Twitter (or X, if you like) form.

1. Amazon: “We are Earth’s most customer-centric company”

Amazon’s UK country manager John Boumphrey kicked things off on day one with an insightful, if heavily scripted, review of the company’s journey.

While Amazon’s tech may change – including drone deliveries in the UK later this year, and already robotic towers of shelves in its warehouses that move to where the staff are, rather than the other way round – everything the company does, Boumphrey explained, is underpinned by the “virtuous circle” of serving customers better.

2. Higginson: “Retailers are overpaying”

With two important hats – as chair of both sports fashion retailer JD and the industry body the British Retail Consortium – Andy Higginson can speak with some authority about the issues affecting bricks-and-mortar retail.

Needless to say, business rates were in his firing line at LIVE 2024.

Andy’s comment about attention to detail in stores will also resonate with anyone who cares about maintaining the highest quality of instore experience for customers.

3. Heather Jackson: “Make menopause the new veganism”

Founder of the GenM campaign, Heather Jackson, was joined on stage by Pete Markey, the chief marketing officer of Boots, to talk about her work is helping to better address a demographic – of more than 15 million women at any one time – whose particular needs have traditionally been overlooked and underserved by big retailers.

Urging the audience to “talk it, walk it and vegan it”, Jackson argued that just as retailers have adapted their offer to meet the growing demand for vegan ranges, there is a similar commercial logic in delivering “menopause friendly” products – aside from it being “the right thing to do” to serve those customers well.

4. Lessons from luxury: heritage, craftsmanship, experience

The “Lessons from Luxury” panel – bringing together speakers from London-based designer retailer Rixo, sustainable fashion brand Reformation, and iconic department store Liberty – shared some useful pointers on the qualities that need to underpin a luxury retail experience.

Julian Beer from Liberty – who got extra brownie points for his magnificent floral shirt – also gave an interesting answer to my question, which was, in essence, “What’s stopping other department stores being as good as Liberty?”

5. Matt Edmondson: “I love retail, and I love an over-engineered lanyard”

TV presenter and board game inventor Matt Edmondson’s opening remark about the hefty electronic lanyards at LIVE 2024 set the tone for a warm, engaging and humorous keynote about “curating creativity”.

Speaking without notes, his session was a masterclass in how to deliver a talk that surprises, amuses and delights, despite not being directly about retail.

6. Google: “15% of searches are new every day”

Like Amazon earlier in the day, Google also came to the stage with an interesting, albeit heavily scripted, presentation. I suppose when those companies each have a market value of not far off USD 2 trillion, the impact of a single unplanned remark on the LIVE 2024 stage could be calamitous.

Sophie Neary, the firm’s recently appointed Managing Director of Retail and Consumer Goods, gave a strong pitch for the company’s AI capabilities, but also peppered her talk with some fascinating stats.

7. Co-op: “Membership is our superpower”

Co-op Food boss Matt Hood was one of my “top speaker picks” ahead of the event, and his thoughtful closing keynote on day one certainly delivered, delving into the qualities that underpin the Co-op’s distinctiveness as a retailer and a brand.

“There is nothing more important than recognising what makes your business special”, he argued. “Our membership is what makes us special – it was there all along.

“But just because we recognise our difference doesn’t mean for a minute it translates externally. A new generation of shoppers had to be educated and excited.

“We have 5.1 million active member owners. Membership is our superpower – it is irresistible and indispensable.

“Membership is not just a loyalty scheme – but we have to do a better job of communicating it.

“Something that was relevant in 1844 can be just as relevant in 2024. We are the guardians of our specialness”.

And bonus points to Matt for activating my first (and only, I think) Woolworths klaxon of LIVE 2024!

8. “A brand is a memory”

I wasn’t familiar with day two panel sponsor Nepa prior to LIVE 2024 – apparently it’s a company specialising in “marketing intelligence” – but Andrea Goeres, the company’s “consumer and shopper insights director” came out with one of the morning’s best lines.

9. Meeting Mark Webb

As well as the great speakers, always one of the biggest joys of LIVE is catching up with retail friends old and new – including, in the case of the brilliant Mark Webb, someone I had regularly chatted to on Twitter since at least 2011, but never before met in person.

And here’s one of those very first exchanges to prove it!

10. Primark: “We have big plans to invest in the UK high street”

After some of the more guarded presentations from earlier in the event, it was refreshing to hear Primark boss Paul Marchant talking honestly and off the cuff to Retail Week editor Charlotte Hardie in a closing “fireside chat”.

Noting how Primark is celebrating 50 years in the UK this year, Marchant reiterated the company’s “belief and passion in bricks and mortar”, with “big plans to invest in the UK high street”.

It’s a formula that clearly works – after all, he observed, 751 people had waited outside for the opening of the new Bury St Edmunds Primark (in a former Debenhams) just a week earlier.

The recurring but misguided question about why Primark doesn’t trade online has, mercifully, ebbed away slightly since Covid. Indeed, bricks and mortar generally has seen a comparative bounce back, while online players have struggled to address the rising costs and complexity of returns.

Against this backdrop, Marchant was clear that “making money online is not easy. Our business is low margin and about volume. It is almost impossible to make money on a traditional home delivery model”.

Click and collect, however, is something we can expect to see more of from Primark. “I would say that click and collect is e-commerce.Β There are 57 stores in our click and collect trial – it’s going really well, and plays into our bricks and mortar strategy rather than taking away from it”.

“It was hard during Covid. It does test you, but you have to stick by your strategy. Click and collect is making the Primark proposition even more compelling”.

Amid all Primark’s success, however, Marchant was honest about the need for any business to keep improving. “Unless we are better tomorrow we will be history one day”, he reflected.

For Primark, part of that improvement is maintaining and growing its appeal to a diverse customer base. “We try to be democratic in our proposition – everyone is invited. We don’t alienate anyone and work hard to keep that democratic perspective. We can appeal to everybody”.

International growth is important too. Marchant explained how Primark is currently in 16 countries – soon to be 17, with the addition of Hungary – but that “the UK is our biggest and most profitable market, and that fuels the investment in international expansion”.

To achieve international success, Marchant explained that “you must recognise that every market is different. You need local execution. We have to give more accountability and responsibility to our teams in those countries. You need to surround yourself with brilliant people. What can the local market adapt within the guard rails that make the brand what it is?”

That said, not everything is right first time. “We make a lot of mistakes because we make a lot of decisions”, he concluded.

Coming across as thoughtful, likeable and modest – despite being in charge of one of the most successful retailers in the UK and beyond – Marchant certainly brought LIVE 2024 to a close in an understated yet powerful, and immensely positive, manner.

11. The Park Plaza carpet

To conclude, the extraordinary carpet at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge host venue deserves an honorary mention.

Over the two days, the LIVE organisers kept us all fed and watered with smoothies, coffees, doughnuts, pick and mix, tasty buffet lunches, and the traditional drinks reception at the end of day one.

As at any big event, some food and drink may well have been spilt – but at least with this carpet, no-one will ever know.

So, let’s raise a glass to LIVE 2024 and the Retail Week and Grocer teams who made it possible – here’s to (hopefully) doing it all again next year!

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