Retail insights from Paris ahead of World Retail Congress

As the World Retail Congress gets ever closer I have travelled to Paris, our host city, several times for meetings. What is striking is that this is a city buzzing with activity as it prepares for this summer’s Olympics. There are major transport and infrastructure projects nearing completion as you would imagine. But retailers are also putting their best foot forward with some of the major shopping locations now looking the best they have for some time.

It would be surprising if they weren’t with the prospect of many thousands of visitors descending on Paris for the Games. However, when talking to retailers and brands about this new energy, it is clear that it goes beyond just the impetus of the Olympics. There is a definite sense of rising confidence amongst those retailers and brands that are winning in today’s tough retail landscape.

One of the flagship stores that will be taking part in the special series of store tours on the opening day of the World Retail Congress will be JD Sports which is due to open a major site on the Champs Elysée. It will be one of the biggest in its portfolio and showcase some of its very latest in-store experiences and technologies. Yet the senior team said that they will not be stopping there, and it will be joined by another five stores opening in central Paris this half of the year.

Exactly opposite the Champs Elysée JD Sports is a brand at the complete opposite end of the scale – Louis Vuitton. A major construction site is cloaked in an awe-inspiring giant Vuitton suitcase as a two-year project to convert the building into the first-ever Louis Vuitton hotel emerges. LVMH’s recent financial results reinforce the confidence across the luxury behemoth but to see how this is manifested in this ambitious new development for the Vuitton brand makes you stop and think about what sets a winning company apart from the rest.

This is not limited to Paris and these brands. It is clear in most major markets and retail locations and a growing number of retailers. Sephora, LVMH’s beauty retailer is gathering market share in all its international markets. Long-established European fashion retailer, C&A, has found renewed confidence and recently announced that it would open 100 stores. Primark continues to expand its physical presence and a leading international retail property agent told me that “prime-prime” locations around the world are seeing rents grow again as a reflection of demand from retailers.

So, are there some key factors that are setting these retailers and brands apart from the crowd? From conversations with many of our speakers lined up for this year’s World Retail Congress and from our special guest speakers at our recent launch events in London and Paris, there are some definite common rules.

Chris de Lapuente, the Chairman of LVMH’s Selective Retailing division which includes Sephora, told us it is about having a clear goal and obsession to make it the world’s most loved beauty retailer. He said that the world’s best retailers excel at curation and having brands and products that set them apart. It is about knowing your customers and having winning teams.

Retail veteran, Lord Stuart Rose, who chairs many retailers, spoke at our London launch event and reiterated Chris’s point about the importance of great people. He said that his rules for success have never changed and they are “product, service and looking after customers”.

For Craig Brommers, the Chief Marketing Officer at leading US fashion retailer, American Eagle, having Gen Z consumers as their core customer reinforces that to win today it is all about “speed”. Knowing that everything changes quickly but also that you have to move rapidly to stay ahead of trends and ideas.

As a specialty retailer – which many see as being squeezed by luxury at one end and value retailers at the other – he said that the golden rule is that you have to find what makes you “special” and keep reinforcing that.

But the rule I particularly loved which should make all retailers sit up is that he said in today’s world, to succeed you have to realise that you’re part of the entertainment business. That is critical if you’re going to cut through all the distractions bombarding consumers to win their attention and their loyalty.

These discussions will undoubtedly form the core of the many discussions at this year’s World Retail Congress taking place in Paris, on April 16-18th. The energy, insights and ideas will help all retailers become High Performers.

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