Predictions for the 2024 World Retail Congress

With the start of the 2024 World Retail Congress now imminent, it is always fascinating to look ahead to the discussions and debates and imagine what will emerge as the biggest, most important takeaways.

Each year, many weeks are spent researching amongst retailers in order to build a relevant and dynamic programme that reflects the state of the retail industry. But once you bring together 700+ retail industry leaders, over the course of the three days of the Congress, a picture begins to emerge of what the most important areas of focus are, or what new issues are emerging.

If I look back to last year’s Congress in Barcelona, I remember as we built that programme, AI was coming onto the radar, but at the event itself, it was suddenly the issue that everyone wanted to talk about.

So, what might emerge from this year’s World Retail Congress? Before delegates meet, one thing that can be taken as certain is that in most regions of the world, retailers are facing challenging market conditions which in turn is impacting consumers.

This has been true for some time now and the very best retailers are learning how to navigate through this and implement transformation strategies but also a new kind of leadership style that is more agile, less risk averse and forward-looking. Hearing from some of those retail leaders at the Congress will provide real insight into how all retailers have to embrace change.

On the issue of AI, it is an easy bet to imagine that it will have grown even more in importance since last year’s meeting. But the key thing will be to understand from the AI experts and other retailers where they see the greatest potential in a retail business. Technology companies say that retail clients are coming to them with long shopping lists of where they believe they should be applying AI. Unfortunately, no company has the resources to invest in every single area so retailers have to be selective and mindful of where they are going to get the best return and where it will most benefit customers and employees.

In parallel to AI, one of fast emerging issues that will undoubtedly figure high in discussions is around “retail media”. A number of retailers have woken up to the potential for using and sharing their data with suppliers. But retail media also has enormous potential in store. Turning “the store into the medium” is exciting for retailers, technology developers and agencies and will figure strongly in the Congress programme.

Another topic likely to shape the discussions is around “purpose”. Consumer research and the growing importance of ESG have underlined that it is increasingly critical for retailers to have a clear sense of what their business stands for, particularly around sustainability.

However, I think it is important not to forget that “purpose” should also go to the heart of what a retailer stands for in serving its customers. I was reminded of this when interviewing Judith McKenna, former President and CEO of Walmart International as part of our new podcast series, the World Retail Podcast, with AlixPartners. Judith told us that at Walmart they remained unwavering in their belief that their purpose was to provide customers with products at the lowest and best value prices possible. From that founding purpose as enshrined by founder Sam Walton, everything flowed.

In building up to this year’s Congress and in creating a programme that reflects retailers’ key issues, it has been fascinating to hear a consistent view that they place “people” as one of the most important.

Recruiting and retaining the right people remains one of the biggest challenges for retailers as underlined by responses in our annual CEO survey. There will be much to learn from retailers presenting on this at the Congress.

Above all, it is going to be great to hear from some outstanding retailers speaking on the programme about the innovations they are implementing in reinventing their stores, their e-commerce platforms, their approach to technology and strategies for driving new growth. Retailing remains one of the most dynamic industries.

It is why this year’s Congress has taken as its theme: “High Performance Retail” and there will be much to learn from the retailers assembling in Paris.

Written by Ian McGarrigle, Chairman, World Retail Congress

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