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Retail isn't dead; it's purging 'half asleep' businesses, says Ocado chairman Lord Rose

4 min read

22 May 2019

Editorial Director

"The customer is no longer king; the customer is the master of the universe," says retail mogul and current chairman of Ocado Lord Stuart Rose.

The retail industry is changing faster than at any time in the past 40 years, Lord Stuart Rose said today.

But the industry veteran told World Retail Congress delegates talk about the death of the high street had been “overblown”.

“I think it is the most exciting and vibrant industry,” he told delegates in Amsterdam. “I get quite bad tempered when people say that retail is doomed – not remotely so. It’s just a place that, if you’re half asleep, don’t come here.”

Lord Rose, who was chairman of Marks & Spencer and now holds the same position at Ocado, said: “I came into retail a long, long time ago because I was excited by change.”

There are two kinds of people on this planet; those who like change and those who don’t like change. Interestingly in our industry many people don’t like change, but I find it exciting.”

“I would say that the biggest single change that I’ve seen in the past 40 years is that the pace of change is accelerating, literally daily.”

He said this was partly being driven by the explosion in digital and social media.

“If David Beckham goes to a party tonight in Los Angeles, wearing a white tie you’ll know about it 45 seconds later and probably, half an hour later somebody will pop into a shop somewhere asking if they sell white ties,” he explains.

“If you’re slow at picking up these nuances, these trends and things that are happening all around us all the time, you’re going to be a loser.”

Lord Rose said the challenges facing the industry were compounded by the fact that there are too many shops.

Ferocious competition meant there was also downward pressure on prices at the same time as retailers’ costs were rising.

He said the winners would be businesses that put customers at the heart of everything they do.

“When I came into retail, I had it kicked into me every day that the customer is king. It was a supply-driven economy; we made things, we put them into stores, we set the price, shoppers came into store and bought them.”

“The world has changed. The customer is no longer king, the customer is now master of the universe. They want what they want, when they want it, how they want it, and in any channel that suits them. And one other critical factor has changed as well – it’s no longer at the price we choose to charge them, it’s at the price they’re willing to pay.”

“The thing has turned on its head, it’s become a demand-led economy and if we don’t understand that customers have plenty of opportunities to go elsewhere then we are lost.”

Businesses also needed to keep reinventing themselves and seeking ways to improve and capture the imaginations of shoppers.

“Retail is like theatre and every day we have to put on a show.”– Lord Rose.

“We must examine what happened last night, was the lighting good enough, was the make-up good enough, did everyone remember their lines. If not, we must recognise our failures and do it better the next day, keep regenerating ourselves. Change is a great thing and we should all embrace it.”