Last Thursday and Friday, I attended the Sheer B2B event in London; a marketing conference specifically for luxury and premium retailers. Like many of the companies in attendance, the event had a boutique feel to it with around 150 attendees on each day. With around 10 people each sat on a round tables the event lent itself to meeting lots of new people with time set aside for introductions and discussion around key topics.
Even as a seasoned digital marketer I found the vast majority of the talks very interesting. Day 1 began with a keynote speech from Neil Saunders from Verdict Research looking at the future of retail. Neil outlined how the retail boom is over. Our insatiable appetite for goods, serviced in the main by mounting debt, was not sustainable and so it has proved with consumers changing their purchasing habits in the last couple of years. We are now moving into a phase of ‘considered consumption’ where consumers are streamlining their lifestyles and seeking greater value. The good news for premium retailers is that value does not necessarily mean seeking cheaper alternatives; instead consumers will continue to invest in premium products but with much greater consideration. Self indulgence remains important but consumers are now more price aware, value driven and looking to avoid risk. In particular, consumers are making purchases driven by health and well-being. As a result retailers need to consider that the next 5 years will be concerned not with the organic growth in sales experienced in the past but instead on strategies aimed at stealing market share.
Next up was Kevin McSpadden from More2. He focused on the traits found in successful retailers. A man after my own heart he explained to the audience how having a competitive advantage is integral to building a successful brand. Retailers must focus on what it is that makes them unique, what it is they stand for and why customers should choose them. The mistake I see companies make time and time again is assuming that by having a website or throwing enough money at Google sales and growth in their business will just happen. Not so. In an increasingly competitive and complex marketplace companies must seek competitive advantaged to survive and prosper. Kevin reiterated my own views.
Day 2 started with a keynote speech from Michael Ross founder of eCommera and co-founder of Figleaves, looking again at the future of retail. He explained how we will continue to see the rise of online superstores such as Amazon and Tesco; big powerhouses continuously expanding their product range, which in turn makes them a growing threat to even the most niche of retailers. An added threat is that brand owners will sell direct, rethinking their wholesale and retail distribution channels, as well as retailers becoming brand owners with the likes of Boots and John Lewis marketing their own product lines. These developments were enough to strike fear into even the most resilient of premium retail brands but luckily Michael also sees a growing demand for niche specialists who can offer a level of service and expertise larger operations will find difficult to compete against.
Michael says that ‘proposition is the new location’ as consumers increasingly turn to the web instead of the high street. To compete online, niche brands must therefore ensure they have a compelling offer, a great website, strong marketing strategy and nimble operations. Competitive advantage can be gained in each of these areas.
Next up was Martijn Bertsen from Google who introduced the audience to a number of their free tools. With respect to Martin it felt a little too much like a sales pitch for Google’s many products, albeit free ones. However, there is always a feeling with Google that they are subtlety pointing you towards their cash cow, Adwords. I couldn’t help but feel a few people may go away to try Adwords off the back of the talk without the right level of planning and execution needed to make it work effectively.
Other highlights on day 2 included Julia Reynolds from Figleaves discussing various aspects of their online strategy; what has worked for them and what hasn’t. She finished by warning attendees to ‘mind the heroin’; in other words don’t become addicted to attention grabbing techniques such as Paid Search, that can all too easily suck budgets dry unless the right analysis and strategy is put in place.
David Smith, Director of Operations at IMRG and Russell Morris of Warehouse Express also provided an insightful look at how to expand retail operations internationally. I was blown away by just how much there is to consider when looking to target an overseas market; cultural, legal, technology, fulfilment, payment methods and marketing are just some of areas that need to be thoroughly investigated before committing to an international expansion strategy. An oversight on even the smallest detail can lead to disaster.
All in all, it was a conference very different to others I have attended. Smaller and highly focused made it much more valuable to attendees compared to larger, less personal events. Oh, and the sandwiches were great too!
I met some great people and look forward to speaking with them again in the future. Next time, I hope Leapfrogg to be more actively involved in the event. Watch this space.