Retail leaders share ‘high hopes’ for digital transformation
Written by Peter Walker
Digital transformation and sustainability are the key challenges facing the retail industry, according to attendees of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Global Summit.
Held in Vancouver, Canada, the event hosted more than 900 delegates, mostly c-level executives from retail, manufacturing and services.
Industry experts were optimistic about the opportunities presented for retailers and brands, with particularly high hopes for the potential of new technologies including artificial intelligence, robotics, data analytics and cloud computing.
A statement from the organisers also warned that consumer companies must continue to refit their businesses for digital success, find ways to be more environmentally sustainable, and learn how to build trust in order to engage the Generation Z market.
Colgate-Palmolive executive chairman of and outgoing CGF co-chair Ian Cook opened the conference by outlining how digital technologies are redefining the way business operates, before McCain chief executive Max Koeune, voiced concerns about growing populations, which will have implications for land use, greenhouse gas emissions and water depletion. “Business as usual is not an option,” he commented.
Discussions at the summit centered on the opportunities that industry disruption has opened up for consumer brands and retailers.
L’Oréal’s chief executive Jean-Paul Agon emphasised opportunities for growth in mass retail channels, which are slated to double in value in the next 10 years, thanks to urbanisation and digital. Beauty is particularly well placed to reap rewards from the rising importance of social media and online video, he stated.
Speakers also agreed that companies must improve their digital skills and sustainability profiles, as well as their ability to engage the Gen Z demographic, if they hope to survive the industry upheaval.
Co-founder of Futerra, Solitaire Townsend, highlighted the more demanding and sceptical nature of Gen Z consumers compared to Millennials.
Describing them as the “honest generation,” she said that Gen Z are now demanding proof of a company’s purpose.
Sarah David, president of Canadian food retailer Loblaw, spoke about the growing importance of digital skills within her company, referencing an investment of $250 million over the next five years in digital re-skilling, as well as the employment of 1,000 people in digital roles.
Frans Muller, chief executive of Ahold Delhaize, reinforced the importance of achieving transparent and ethical use of data, stating that consumer trust is less hinged on food safety, and more focused on “can I trust you on how you handle my data?”
Peter Freedman, CGF managing director, said: “Across the world companies in the consumer industry now recognise the twin imperatives of adapting to the digital world and responding to consumers’ desires for honesty and sustainability.
“At this year’s Global Summit we saw numerous examples of the role that collaboration can play in accelerating these transformations – including partnerships between traditional competitors within the industry but also with startups and tech leaders from outside the industry.”