World Retail Congress Chairman Ian McGarrigle Shares His Thoughts on the Future of Retail

This article is part of Raydiant’s new Future of Retail series which interviews the world’s leading retail experts to better understand how the industry has evolved and most importantly, where it’s headed. 

The following is from a recent interview with the World Retail Congress Chairman Ian McGarrigle.

What personally excites you the most about the retail industry?

IM: Having followed and been part of the retail industry for many years, I think it is the sheer pace and dynamism of the sector that has always appealed to me. Retail is led by very passionate, innovative leaders, many of whom have started their businesses or built them up into sometimes global brands. There are few industries that can demonstrate that.

What has been the most dramatic change you’ve seen in the industry over the past 3-5 years?

IM: Without doubt it is how digital technologies have completely changed the rules of retailing. Ecommerce, mobile, social media, Voice and AI are transforming retail at an extraordinary speed. It is proving to be a challenge not just for those retailers that were originally store-based but even the pureplay operators. What it all really means is that the consumer is completely in control with so much choice available.

What are the top trends you see shaping brick and mortar retail in the next 3-5 years?

IM: There has been much talk about the store becoming more of a flagship that helps showcase a retailer or brand in a way that its online channel cannot. But we haven’t seen too many examples of this emerging as yet apart from the great work by brands such as Nike or Adidas. So more of this has to happen and will happen in the next 3-5 years as retailers reduce their store portfolios and rethink how they want to use this physical space. But a trend that I am starting to see is for retail technology companies – both the large tech giants through to start-ups – directing their attention to retailers’ brick and mortar stores to help harness the power of technology to digitise the store in a way that creates an efficient operation for the retailer but more importantly can deliver a seamless, intuitive and exciting experience for the consumer.

What technology do you believe will have the biggest impact on the retail industry in the next 3-5?

IM: In some ways, the technologies that will have the biggest impact may not have been developed yet given the pace of change. But what we can see is that AI and robotics will without doubt come to transform the business of retail both at the front and back end. Retailers will be able to know more about their customers through really understanding their data and in turn delivering products and experiences that people want at speeds not seen before. But the next technology wave will likely be fuelled by the growing take-up of 5G networks that will again make things ever faster with extraordinary power to deliver content

What’s the future of brick and mortar retail? 

IM: Contrary to what some believe, I believe there is a future for brick and mortar. But it won’t happen without fundamental change which will involve investment, risk-taking and lots of imagination. It will require retailers to fully understand how on and offline can coexist and support each other. It is how we as consumers live our lives – we want everything to be seamless. Alibaba in China understands this and its Hema format store points the way forward. I think we can also see that consumers really do like to go to stores, city centres and even malls if they deliver a great experience. This is what lies behind the growing popularity of pop up stores or street food markets. People want to “go” to places for social experiences and retail has a powerful and important part to play in that.