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Leadership|July 13, 2021

Retail Leaders Predict Future Success Relies on Engagement

Retail’s future isn’t simply online or in-store – it’s in a “chameleon consumer” who moves effortlessly through complexity and change. In WSL’s latest Future Shop® podcast, top executives from the Fashion Institute of Technology and Maybelline cultivate new ideas with WSL’s CEO Wendy Liebmann on retail futurism, from the role of supply chain to “ROE.”

Where Do You Want Your Retail Shop to be in the Future?

This is the question all retailers and brands need to ask themselves, and fast. Because the future is barreling toward us as fast as someone can order a latte on a smart phone, and it isn’t looking back.

In our recent Future Shop podcast, “The Future of Retail Leadership,” WSL CEO and Founder Wendy Liebmann explores the new levels of expertise, perspective and agility retail leaders require now for the very near future.  

Following are four “musts” from our podcast, featuring edited excerpts from Stephan Kanlian, chairman of the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Master’s Program in Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing and Management; and Morgan Hagney, assistant vice president of omni-channel retail marketing at Maybelline.

1: We must recognize that putting the shopper front and center is more urgent, and trickier, now.

A new shopper journey has aggressively emerged from this pandemic, thanks to an unprecedented degree of channel fluidity made possible by innovative retailers and brands. But now shoppers are pushing the gas pedal on that fluidity and it will just continue to accelerate.

As Morgan put it, shopping and buying are two very different things.

“One is more of an enjoyment and experience versus the other being an action and a necessity,” she said.  “As we go into the future, we need to think about both and the experience that we're giving the consumer, because they're going to do both, but the needs are going to be very different.”

To Stephan, successful leaders will view the shopping/buying experience as neither physical nor digital, but as a blend. “One of the pieces that is critically important as a toolkit for leaders in retail is the ability to shift frictionlessly through the new ‘phygital’ environment – between physical retail and brick and mortar.”

2: We must support innovation not only in products, but in supply chain.

From RFID to blockchain technology, leaders need to deliver more personalized, customized and localized products and services, with assurance that their customers get what they want, whenever and wherever they shop.

“Make sure that your product really, truly is available in whichever way and however the customer wants to get it,” Morgan told us.

Shopper fulfilment in fact surfaced as a key element in FIT’s specialized research into the future of technology, Stephan said:

“Much was focused on the supply chain and building a fourth wave of technology – so we added global supply chain management to the program.”

3: We must recognize that ROI is no longer the best measurement of success.

A more relevant measure in the future – and we’re seeing it now – is return on engagement. Make no mistake, doing what’s right for the consumer all day, every day, is an investment with measurable returns.

“You can’t be (just) an in-store marketer anymore, and you can’t be an e-commerce salesperson,” Morgan explained.

“There needs to be a partnership (between in-store and ecommerce merchandising). Both sides bring different perspectives and expertise to the table. If both sides come into the business looking at that, that’s where you will find success.”

4: We must play a role in society and the community.

As both Morgan and Stephan put it, one can’t be only a brand or a retailer selling products anymore. Good leaders listen to what’s happening around them, and infuse their shopper experience with what they hear.

“What we’ve learned during COVID is that retail is a community at a time when society desperately, and consumers desperately, want and need community in all senses of that word,” Stephan said.

“Retailers … they are brands. They have to reflect value systems that consumers can see themselves reflected in.”

Where Will We See You in the Future? It’s Up to You!

So there you have it. There is no longer just one way of doing things. Consumers are completely at ease with the fluidity and complexity of both shopping and buying and retailers need to be comfortable with it, too. 

This is what leaders in the new retail world must think and act like. See you in the fast-approaching future.

You can listen to this and other podcasts in our Future Shop Podcast series here


Coming soon: WSL is exploring the nuances and new values that shoppers will be looking for as a new generation of younger shoppers forms families and expects to find their values in the brands retailers offer them. Stay tuned for our next How America Shops® report.

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