Imagination and optimism: a glimpse into the future of retail October 15, 2013 19:57

On Monday the 14th October, seventy leaders of retail gathered on the Gold Coast for a Camp David-style leadership summit to engage in that deeper conversation – the future well-being of Australian retail.

The group of leaders were a powerful snapshot of the broad and diverse tapestry that comprises Australian retail. They included ASX-listed retailers, heads of retail brands many decades old, some of our newer technology led retail entrepreneurs, and – perhaps most gratifying – the heads of three of the four Australian peak retail bodies. Also present were a high-level, trans-Tasman delegation, as well as business leaders from those enablers of a fast-moving retail; technology providers, payments systems, supply chain providers and marketing solutions, to name a few.

This was not a conference and it was not intended to be one. Rather it was a deep engagement, professionally facilitated, bringing some of Australia’s best and brightest together to reflect on our retail future and explore ways we might all grow the Australian retail pie. A true example of the collective voice.

Dr Tim Mansfield and his team at Action Foresight kicked off proceedings on Monday with a series of intense exercises, pushing delegates to think ten years out, to consider future retail scenarios. I have a confession to make here: I often reference my career – prior to my time in retail – in the human sciences. I am a registered psychologist and fancy myself as a bit of an amateur philosopher, so I had thought these somewhat esoteric exercises would suit me perfectly. They didn’t! I struggled deeply to shift my frame of consciousness away from the present, short-term strategic imperatives and outwards to probable futures. But the level of experience, talent, intellect and tenacity in the room prevailed.

If, as Einstein said, “imagination is more important than knowledge” than this was indeed the case at the summit. I was humbled, but deeply impressed with our retail captains. And we all ended the day with an even deeper sense of optimism around our retail future.

Our guest dinner speaker was Rob Henderson, a Chief Economist for the National Australia Bank (NAB). He spoke powerfully about the economist’s view of the future. And while he was frank regarding the challenges that lie in the path ahead, he left us in no doubt that brighter retail times were on the way.

Tuesday morning’s working breakfast was a rigorous and practical engagement around the opportunities and challenges. Several action items were tabled. While Chatham House rules preclude me from naming delegates and the broader content, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the delegates (you know who you are), for giving up their valuable time and engaging in this often rigorous process. Your selfless contribution to the big picture leaves Australian retail, and its customers, a little richer for the experience.

As I walk down George Street this morning, I have a bit of a lift in my step, and maybe I have had a coffee too many, but there is a bustle in the stores, and on my smartphone. I swear I can hear cash registers ringing!

I predict very strong Christmas retail trade this year.

A special thanks to the Reed Exhibition Group team who, as always pulled together the impossible, with logistics and planning.