Three key takeaways from the World Retail Congress

More than 850 retail leaders from over 60 countries gathered in Paris this week for the annual World Retail Congress. Running from April 16-18, the event brings together senior executives to share insights and ideas about how to drive growth in a rapidly changing industry.

On the first day of the conference, attendees heard from French grocery giant Carrefour  Group chair and CEO Alexandre Bompard, former Walmart International CEO Judith McKenna, Kmart Group CEO Ian Bailey and many more. 

Here’s a look at three key takeaways from day one. 

  1. Former Walmart International CEO Judith McKenna’s formula for leadership

As CEO of Walmart International until the end of January, Judith McKenna led a huge team through some significant changes, including the restructuring of Asda, the UK-based supermarket chain that Walmart purchased in 1999. 

“Disintegrating is way harder than integrating,” McKenna noted in a fireside chat. 

It’s during these times that strong leadership skills come into play. One of the insights McKenna shared with the audience was her “formula” for leadership developed throughout her career: IQ + EQ + RQ + HQ. 

When it comes to IQ, or intelligence, McKenna said it’s no longer about book smarts, but rather, the ability to join the dots. With EQ, or emotional intelligence, it’s all about being authentic and connecting with people, while RQ, or resilience, refers to the ability to adapt to change. Finally, she defines HQ as the hope quotient. 

“We were taught in business that hope is not a strategy, but it is a talent. It brings inspiration, it’s active, not passive,” she said. 

  1. How services drive sales in Crate & Barrel stores 

Like many brick-and-mortar retailers, US furniture and homewares brand Crate & Barrel has been on a digital transformation journey in recent years. 

Chief executive Janet Hayes shared the results of one of its latest initiatives in this space: Design Desk, a free interior design service to assist customers in designing their homes and apartments. 

Despite launching just three years ago, the service is already driving 40 per cent of the retailer’s overall revenue, and the average order size for Design Desk appointments is $3000 compared to $1000 for orders not linked to Design Desk appointments. 

Every store now has a Design Desk, often located in the most high-traffic areas, such as the front window in Crate & Barrel’s New York City flagship store to make the most of natural light. 

Hayes noted that despite the store being 30 per cent smaller than the brand’s previous flagship, it’s doing 25 per cent volume. 

  1. Why there’s reason for hope in a turbulent economic climate

It’s no secret that businesses are facing a challenging macroeconomic environment, with interest rates expected to remain high for some time, and growth slowing in certain markets, such as Europe and China. 

Geopolitical events in Ukraine and the Middle East could negatively impact business confidence if the situations there worsen. 

In a panel on global forecasting, Deloitte’s chief global economist Dr Ira Kalish, Blackstone’s senior managing director in the real estate group Andrea Drasites and VML’s CEO  Beth Ann Kaminkow shared tips for navigating these challenges and offered reasons to be optimistic about the months ahead.

“The new normal of a higher interest rate environment changes the business dynamic and means your balance sheet needs to be crafted in a different way,” Drasites pointed out. “The consumer is still relatively wealthy in most major markets, but doesn’t have as much disposable income.” 

She expects to see the bifurcation of value, convenience and necessity on one side, and luxury on the other, continue to accelerate. 

“We’re going to see more consolidation,” she predicted. “Niche and specialty will survive. Scale will be a benefit to take advantage of these opportunities.”

But for those retailers looking to take advantage of these opportunities, “you can’t wait for the all-clear sign,” she said. 

Further reading: How to approach dynamic pricing in a tough economic environment

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