2017 Winner – Sidone Thomas

Left to right: Bob Johnston, CEO, The GPT Group; Vanessa Orth, Head of Retail, The GPT Group; Sidone Thomas, Head of Digital & Marketing – Retail, The GPT Group (Winner; Peter Allen, SCCA Chairman and CEO, Scentre Group; Angus Nardi, Executive Director, Shopping Centre Council of Australia

After winning the inaugural Frank Lowy Fellowship, I was given the opportunity to attend a conference for my professional development.

I chose the World Retail Congress which was held in Madrid, Spain in April this year.

The conference brings together retailers from across the globe, from established market leaders to a number of start-ups which are taking a very different approach to retailing today.

The program had over 130 speakers, providing the opportunity to really tailor the three days to the specific topics I was interested in.

The key theme for this year’s conference was ‘Innovate to Win’, focusing on how retailers need a new approach to taking risk, how they need to shake up their current business models, and rediscover how to connect with customers through great product, experiences and service.

Some of my highlights were the CEO and President of Williams-Sonoma, Laura Alber, who was announced as the Woman of the Year at the Congress; the Managing Director of trend forecaster WGSN, Carla Buzasi; the Chairman of Europe’s largest department store group El Corte Ingles, Dimas Gimeno Alvarez; and Vice President of Global Design Strategies, David Kepron.

Some of the key trends discussed at the conference included;

  1. Online momentum grows and goes beyond just selling, a place for customers to research prior to purchasing in-store.
  2. People are seeking out services, not just more ‘stuff’.
  3. Discounters are shifting the discussion on price through value, quality and unique brand promises.
  4. Physical spaces are being reimagined to inspire and service customers.
  5. Retailers need to take a stand on something through sharing their values or points of view with the customer.
  6. Sci-fi is the new reality with augmented reality, virtual reality, chatbots and robots now becoming entrenched in retail.
  7. The seasons are changing with retail calendars expanding, changing the way customers shop.

I also took the opportunity to arrive a day early and take a retail tour of Madrid. The tour showcased some of the best of Spanish retail and included Primark, Mango, El Corte Ingles flagship store, the Mercado de San Miguel food market and a tour of one of Inditex’s (Zara) logistics centres. It was great to see how Spain’s retailers are really innovating by investing in the store experience and focusing on the service offered to their customers.

The World Retail Congress is an opportunity to see retailers from across the globe, hear different perspectives about the challenges they are facing in different markets and learn about some the consistent trends affecting the industry as a whole. The ability to immerse myself in a conference to hear from some of the world’s best retailers was an amazing experience and one that I am very thankful to both Mr Lowy and the SCCA for the opportunity to have.

Expressions of Interest