All of us working within retail know that our industry is undergoing momentous change. Change that for some has proved too big a hurdle to clear.

But while more and more of our high street neighbours shut up shop, the opportunities to buck this trend are within our reach.

This year’s Planning and Productivity: The WFM Forum gave us the chance to listen and learn, share ideas and insights, and plan promising collaborations.

Colleagues from across the retail word gathered to get to grips with what the future looks like and how we can overcome its challenges.

From transformative WFM tech to embracing the mighty power of data science, our expert speakers inspired us all to look ahead with confidence.

Footfall Insights

Diane Wehrle presenting at the P&P: The WFM ForumRetail intelligence expert Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, was our host for the day. Her stats-packed keynote speech focused on the latest footfall trends and how we can tap into these to bolster our businesses.

We heard how Diane and the team at Springboard have dug deep into the latest data to bust the myth that all high streets have the same footfall pattern.

Working alongside teams from Manchester Metropolitan University and Cardiff University, and funded by the government’s Innovation Agency, their research has revealed four distinct high street identities: comparison, holiday, speciality and multi-functional.

So, for instance, while holiday towns enjoy a sustained spike across the summer months, they don’t experience a dramatic footfall peak in the traditionally busy months of November and December.

Diane explained how this detailed insight can be used to inform strategies including forecasting and demand. Understanding footfall loss and gain in such granular detail can act to protect the future prosperity of our towns and cities, a crucial job that we all need to play our part in.

We also heard how detailed knowledge of a store’s capture rate – the % of a street or mall’s footfall that enters a specific store – can help to plan and evaluate. Springboard’s analysis reveals that capture rates are falling faster than destination footfall rates, with department stores and food and drink retailers suffering the most.

Despite this, Diane firmly believes that the high street is not dead. The key to survival is creating a point of difference: meeting expectations and providing experiences.

Engaging Employees By Changing Behaviour

Amrit Sandhar presenting at the P&P: The WFM ForumOur employee engagement hero for the day was Amrit Sandhar, founder of The Engagement Coach.

We all understand the link between engagement and productivity: achieving it can be a little more troublesome. Amrit eloquently enlightened us on how we can tap into neuroscience to boost engagement levels and change behaviours.

75% of change initiatives fail because of internal resistance. Whether it’s fear of the new, happiness with existing habits or an attack of technophobia, the human beings in your organisation and their emotions can easily derail your change project.

Amrit explained how feelings generated by perceived threats to certainty and habits can be understood and mitigated: by building trust, communicating clearly and allowing your team to be heard.  

And to prove it, we all experienced the influence of oxytocin, the social bonding hormone, simply by chatting to someone new in the room. A straightforward exercise that demonstrated the power of a one-to-one connection.

Amrit convinced us all that sparking passion within your people – for your brand and your future plans – can help to make the change process smoother and more successful.

Demystifying Data Science

Rafik Salama presenting at the P&P: The WFM ForumWhen it was time to get technical, REPL’s Rafik Salama took to the stage to share his dazzling knowledge of data science.

Demystifying this rapidly-growing discipline for the room, Rafik explored and explained how data-driven decision-making can, over time, dramatically help the high street.

With retail sales regularly declining in small increments, data science has the potential to reverse this trend percentage point by percentage point. Getting unprecedented data insights from software powered by machine learning allows for unparalleled planning and productivity.

Data science is no longer some mythical vision of how the future might look. It’s a vital piece of today’s jigsaw. When it comes to what if planning, intelligent staff scheduling and predicting future demand, Rafik proved that data science is indispensable for the modern retailer.

How WFM Is Evolving

Cerys Johnson presenting at the P&P: The WFM ForumREPL’s CEO Cerys Johnson took to the stage to explain how the focus of WFM is evolving: the shift away from cost saving has already happened and now it’s time for the employee to take precedence over the customer.

Of course the customer will always be key but as their numbers dwindle, now is the time to make sure that the ones who do visit your store receive exceptional service.

To achieve this means going back to the crucial link between engagement, productivity and sales. Employees whose expectations are met – via personalised tech that makes their job easier and more enjoyable – will be the key differentiator between you and the competition.

Cerys also explored how updating your WFM system can bring many unforeseen benefits. From having the capability to offer more flexible contracts to obtaining a wealth of data that can be analysed and acted upon, the potential of having a slick new set-up is endless.

How To Offer Cutting-Edge Customer Service

Simon Hedaux presenting at the P&P: The WFM ForumChaired by Simon Hedaux, founder of our co-sponsors ReThink, this year’s panel discussion focused on the customer service model of the future.

Diane Wehrle was joined by Pauline Bennett from Sainsbury’s, Schuh’s retail director Phil Whittle and Nicola Raynor, senior workload and planning manager at Wilko.

Together with delegates, they explored questions around topics including the rise of AI in retail, how technology gifts time to colleagues and how they should be spending it, along with how best to create that all-important in-store experience.

With plenty of interaction and ideas-exchanging, there were some great discussions about how we can meet customer demands now and in the years to come.

This year’s WFM Forum highlighted that if we continue to collaborate and work together as an industry, while of course being aware and ahead of our competitors, we can all make a difference to the perhaps not-so-predictable fate of the high street.

The registration for next years event is now open, the event will be taking place on 26th September 2019 at the National Conference Centre, Birmingham. You can book your early bird place by clicking here.