The future is smarter, not harder

Antony Begley

The challenges that face the local retailing sector are well documented with costs rising, margins falling and competition stiffer than ever.

The recent spate of massive collapses – P&H, Conviviality and Kerryfresh to name but a few – give a decent indication of just how tough the market is these days and as an industry we all have some tough decisions to make. One thing that is very clear is that the key to success in the future will not simply be working harder. It’s a strategy that built the convenience store industry, you could argue, but simply doing longer and longer hours and minimising costs at the same time will no longer be enough to sustain the industry. The solution, or at least part of the solution, has got to be in working smarter rather than harder.

Working smarter means, in essence, evolving two specific areas of every retail business: people and technology.

People are so expensive now that simply throwing human resources at the challenges we all face as retailers is no longer feasible. The minimum wage is so high these days (and will only continue to increase) that retailers must be sure they’re getting the maximum out of every member of staff. That means training and development to ensure all staff are given the support and encouragement and tools they need to be as productive as possible.

Which leaves us with technology. There is zero doubt that technology will transform our industry and it will happen in the very near future. Historically, our sector hasn’t been too enthusiastic about how it has embraced new technology – but that will change. It has to change. Only technology offers the prospect of minimising cost and improving efficiency in a way that will allow us all to maintain sustainable businesses into the future.

Technology impacts upon all areas of a local retailing business and offers retailers the chance to do more with less – and that was the point of our recent #ThinkSmart2 event at the Glasgow Science Centre. The conference wasn’t designed to deliver every solution any retailer could possibly need. It was simply created to encourage retailers to accept that technology and data will play a much bigger role in their futures, and to encourage them to start thinking about what that future might look like for them.

No-one knows what the future holds for local retail – but we can be very sure that technology and data will power that future. Online retail grasped that concept years ago. The major multiples are spending millions grasping that concept now. Local retailers don’t want to be left behind because playing catch-up is a tough, tough game. The onus is on us all to build the future we want to see ­– and that means driving that progress ourselves.

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Antony Begley, Publishing Director

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