Time to find our own way forward

Antony Begley

Listening to KAM Media’s Blake Gladman give presentations is always an entertaining and enlightening experience, thanks in part to Blake’s slightly leftfield view of the world and thanks in part to the fact his views are shaped entirely by data and insight. So hearing him present at our recent #ThinkSmart3 event was, once again, a real pleasure – but one thing he said really stayed with me. It was just a simple statistic but the implications of it are massive.

As they often do for our events, KAM Media had conducted some bespoke research among consumers, asking them questions related to the subject in hand, in this instance technology and data. The findings of that survey are fascinating but the one statistic that really nailed me was this: 61% of consumers interviewed believed that “convenience stores haven’t changed at all within the last five years”. Wow.

Now this may simply be the consumer’s perception but, as Blake pointed out on the day, perception is reality. The majority of our shoppers think our sector hasn’t evolved at all in the last half a decade.

Now put that into context by considering how much the rest of the world around us has evolved, within a tech and data context. To a certain extent the retail environment around us today is barely recognisable from five years ago – and remember that with the growth of food-to-go and the blurring of channels, we are no longer only competing with other convenience retailers or with just the mults and discounters. We are competing with everyone who sells food and drink, either through stores or online.

McDonald’s has touch-screen order boards, most supermarkets have self-scan tills, Amazon Go has landed in the UK, Sainsbury’s has trialled a cashierless store, online food retailers are doing one-hour deliveries, some chains are already testing delivery drones, biometric payment technologies are evolving, the list goes on and on.

Yet 61% of consumers think convenience stores haven’t changed at all. That’s a chilling thought.

The connected world we now live in, and the one that younger shoppers have grown up in, is the new reality. And the rate of change is only going to accelerate as technology improves, Artificial Intelligence becomes more commonplace and data-driven decision-making becomes the norm.

This represents a huge wake-up call for our sector. Embracing change and the technology that facilitates it is a daunting task for convenience retailers, of course it is. But sitting on our hands and hoping we can retain market share by effectively doing nothing is not a strategy.

Many delegates at the #ThinkSmart conference voiced the same concern: “I know I need to start but I don’t know where.” The only useful answer to that question is ‘somewhere’.

One thing is for sure: that journey has to start somewhere and it has to start now.

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Antony Begley, Publishing Director