The retail industry appears to be in the midst of profound change, with headlines full of store closures, retrenchment and cash flow issues. The finger of blame is often pointed at the rise of online retailers and at changed consumer behaviour.

However, behind the sensationalist headlines lies a complex story which raises questions: is it simply a matter of weak and inefficient retailers unable to adapt their business models to the industry’s changed dynamics? Or is the act of retailing itself that is undergoing a deep transformation? In such a complex context, where to find definitive answers to pull the industry out a seemingly-endless period of disruption?

The latest Executive MBA panel discussion held in conjunction with BDO grappled with these questions. To find answers, it retraced the history of retail’s instability and it asked whether the accepted retail business model is fit for purpose and how innovation within retail offers could be the way forward.

“It was great to hear the different points around the retail crisis and learn more about what the different brands should do to overcome it. The positions I mostly agreed on where about retailers not innovating enough and not been able to create exciting experiences for their customers anymore”. Veronica di Gesù, EMBA Candidate

The panel, comprising; James Clark,  Course Leader for Executive MBA; Sophie Michael, National Head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO LLP; Dinny Hall, creative force behind her eponymous jewellery line; Linda Alexander fashion retail buying expert; and Kirsty Nevitt, buyer, retailer and business development strategist spealising in the luxury market; reached a consensus that the industry is buffeted by adverse headwinds, and pointed out problems relating to decreasing prices, unhealthy retailers’ competition and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility).

“It was sad to hear that over the time, prices of fashion goods have decreased compare to other goods. Just competing with price among retailers is not healthy for consumers and retailers as well.” Sophia Kim, EMBA Candidate

However, the panel also concluded that, where the product offer is the core focus of activities, real differentiation and success can be found. It emphasised the role of technology and the appropriate use of digital formats, highlighting the importance of transaction capability, and it favoured innovative entrepreneurial approaches that target consumers appropriately and that bring a true experience.

“An experienced and talented expert panel were assembled and spoke openly and frankly about the problems facing UK retailing. Some insightful thoughts about what’s needed to change and how some of the larger long standing giants of the high street should focus their efforts in order to survive particularly made for engaging conversation and a thought provoking evening.’ Adam Rose, Trading Director at Debenhams

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