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Retail Expo2020 Day 1 Review

Updated: May 15, 2020

The second webinar of the RetailEXPO 2020 introduced a new format with Caroline Baldwin, the editor of Essential Retail, joined by a panel consisting of Isabella West, Founder and CEO of Hirestreet; Kieron Smith, Digital Director of Blackwell’s Bookshops and John Hagen, Director of Growth at Purelei. Once a few technical glitches were ironed out (online conferences are new to us all!) the webinar kicked off with a quick update on each of the businesses.

Hirestreet focus on renting out dresses and occasional wear for events, while Purelei sell Hawaiian inspired jewellery and accessories. It will come as no surprise that Blackwell’s Bookshops are a bookseller! The initial section of the webinar was particularly interesting as our panellists shared some insights on how they have adapted during their “lockdown journey”. All three shared insights on ensuring that social distancing practices were put in place to safeguard the employees in their supply chains and the tone was generally positive about the business impact of this.

Being largely events based, Hirestreet has been hit harder in the sales department, initially choosing to focus on bigger picture strategy planning such as website design. As the lockdown progresses however, they have introduced a new product, the “Tryout Box” allowing customers to try on their formal wear ahead of events that may be planned later in the year.

Over at Blackwell’s, parents balancing working from home and home-schooling has seen a massive uplift in demand for educational literature, entertainment titles have soared as well, presumably as the nation seeks some kind of escape from the lockdown.

The panel shared some feel good news stories from other companies that they have heard - with John Hagen, despite his amusement that Crocs had made it to the UK, sharing a touching story of them donating 20,000 pairs of a day to health care workers.

Isabella told us about some innovative local ideas that she had seen, with a Newcastle taxi company switching their business model to delivering essential goods to people; as well as a local magazine that hosts events managing to convert their spring/summer exhibition into an online store.

The high street retail crisis has been spoken about for many years, and the global Coronavirus situation has only worsened fears, with some major casualties already. That being said there was some refreshing optimism from Kieron. His local Gin distillery, suppliers of “a key pandemic item,” having switched to making alcohol gel, and local independent bookstores have been videoing their bookshelves to create their own eCommerce solutions. Kieron is optimistic that this inventiveness, and the desire to seek out new ways for customer engagement could spur on a new wave of imagination and creativity when it comes to getting

shoppers back onto the high street, and back through the door.


The third webinar of Retail Expo featured a presentation by Susan Azari, the Mobile App Commercial Lead from The Very Group. Like Mark Price’s introduction, this talk analysed how customer-behaviour has changed during the recent lockdown conditions, and how brands need to adapt to this. There were some similarly striking headline figures from the talk: that the average smartphone user spends four hours a day on their phone; and the average number of a minutes a smartphone user spends in apps is 16x higher than the number of minutes they’re on the web.

With mobile usage figures this high, and increasing during lockdown, one would expect to see a correspondingly high percentage of orders from phones and apps – however Susan clarified that this wasn’t the case; that smartphones and tablets accounted for 70% of traffic but only 54% of orders. Clearly there is a space here for companies to develop their apps to maximise the user experience and drive conversions. As the number of smartphones worldwide passes 4Bn customer demand for apps and content has never been higher.

No one is sure how consumer behaviour will continue after the pandemic, there is clearly an appetite from some consumers to return to the high street and shop in physical spaces. Perhaps though, now that more customers have been forced to become accustomed to apps, mobile and e-commerce, this type of shopping will be the mainstay. Apps tie in to the requirement for better customer service; delivery changes, new stock and other updates can be communicated directly to customers’ smart phones via push notifications, rather than being unread emails. With the likes of Asos rolling out augmented reality via its ‘See My Fit’ feature, apps can be used as a way to minimise the costs of constant customer returns and as they improve conversion rates will increase.

As 2020 continues and retailers tailor every channel to their customer, it may just be the case that the app leads the way.


The final discussion of the day was brought to us by Caroline Baldwin, Editor of Essential Retail. Caroline was interviewing Galahad Clark, founder and CEO of Vivobarefoot on sustainability within the retail sector. Galahad offered some fascinating insights into sustainable and regenerative business practices.

The term Vivobarefoot actually means “live barefoot.” The brand make shoes and put on experiences that literally connect people to nature, their shoes are made to be as close to being barefoot as possible, with thin, wide and flexible soles.

VivoBarefoot was formed with sustainability in mind and Galahad sites John Ehrenfeld’s book “Sustainability” as an inspiration. The book characterises sustainability as being about humans and other life flourishing on earth, but says we can only do this by limiting how we fill up the world with “more crap”, allowing only three exceptions:

  1. A product or service that makes us feel more human

  2. A product or service that helps us connect more with nature

  3. A product or service that asks or helps to answer environmental and ethical questions.

Galahad realised that the only shoe he was making that truly connected and resonated with these conditions was the barefoot shoe, so in 2012 he dropped everything else he was doing to focus on Vivobarefoot.

Galahad talks about the strides that are being made by footwear giants Adidas and Nike who have invested in online platforms and improving their supply chains’ sustainability – unfortunately there is still a long way to go though. Galahad is keen to emphasise sustainability needs to be tackled on a systemic level, as opposed to being an add on to existing business practices.

A key point of the discussion centres around Clarks’ desire for businesses to do more than sustain. He makes the poignant argument that sustaining the status quo is far from aspirational, and that we should all be aiming for regeneration - to have a net positive impact on the environment through our business practice and supply chain management.

The economic impacts of the global pandemic are yet to be completely clear, and we are a long way off consumers being able to pick the cheapest option, which is also the most sustaibable. This is similarly true for suppliers; as Galahad tells a humorous story of a team who managed to build a cot from 100% renewable materials and a completely clean supply chain – which cost 35,000 Euros to make!

The challenges that we now face in the Retail sector are great, and the global pandemic is shifting people’s focus back to human connection and the bottom of the ‘hierarchy of needs’. Galahad notes that we can use this time to rethink how we act, how we travel, how we consume and ultimately what effect and impact we make on the world. He hopes that this will help people and businesses see that there is a world worth saving.



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