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World Retail 2009 Part 4 – The True State of World Retail Revealed!

The World Retail Congress ended on a high note in 2009 with a closing plenary session titled “Putting Innovation At The Heart of the Business”. Featuring Andy Mooney – the Chairman of Disney Products, John Demsey – the Global President of Estee Lauder and Vittorio Radice – CEO of La Rinnascente – this session was always going to be interesting but it finished the conference off like the three tenors hitting a perfect C.

The conference theme was permanently altered from one of SURVIVAL to that of ADAPTABILITY- a trait that has always been and will always be the essence of retailers that sustain success.

As Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” This topic covered everything from fear of change to why change is the essential lifeblood a retail business needs to stay relevant and how great organizations enable innovation.

As John Dempsey said, “Every successful brand or business has a DNA that needs to be adapted or refreshed through time but you should never lose sight of that DNA. The businesses that fail don’t fail because they have changed, but because they have thrown away part of their DNA.” Vittoria Radice added “Sometimes you have more to lose by not changing. You need to evolve and adapt faster today than ever before but to gain more than you lose in changing.”

Each one of these inspirational people pointed to creating a business that has a tolerance of failure embedded into the financial model – as well as the culture – and supported from the very top of the organization all the way through it. Failure carries a financial cost and many leading innovation companies see up to 20% of their new initiatives fail. But breakthrough change – the kind of quantum shift that creates leap gain rather than refinement – usually comes about because of the passion and tenacity of one or a few individuals.

This kind of change requires a deep understanding of the true aspirations of the customer and how to meet them in both an inspirational and economically sound way.

As Vittorio Radice said “Tapping into the community you serve takes the risk out of innovation and adaptation. We have the ultimate research tool in the cash register and we can use it to test and to innovate with less risk.”

But it is less about listening to customers than understanding customers. “Often your most ardent fan is the one who will hold you back because they don’t want anything to change. But not changing is what leads to irrelevance and lack of energy,” is the way John Dempsey put it.

As the World Retail Congress drew to a close and the attending economists prophesized the return to growth of the global economy in the next quarter, the summary of the sessions was clear. It is not so much the circumstances you find yourself in as what you do about it that determines your fate. Survival awaits the fittest.