Retail industry calls for more government recognition as JD Sports chair says “retail taken for granted”

LIVE: Retail Week x The Grocer kicked off on Tuesday (12 March) morning with JD Sports chair, Andy Higginson, addressing the dynamic nature of the retail industry, noting its resilience and adaptability, and the government’s role in supporting the sector.

“The role of retail is one that the government should welcome” he said at the event.  “We employ a lot of people everywhere, up and down the country. We are in every town and every city. We don’t need subsidies; we are happy to compete on our own and just get on with it. What we ask them to do is play their part and create an economic framework that is positive and progressive and provides a level playing field.

“I think, generally, retail is taken for granted. We are huge contributors to the tax system, which is completely disproportionate to the size of the industry. In addition to that, we employ a lot of people.

“It’s a business’ job to work with whichever government is elected, so we’re all looking for a responsible government that will support businesses.”

Across two days, 150 speakers from some of the biggest names in retail and FMCG debated issues including the role of AI in retail, how the industry is adapting to hit key sustainability targets, and what the country’s biggest retail employers are doing to create great places to work.

Amazon’s UK country manager, John Boumphrey, discussed the transformative role of robotics and generative AI within a keynote session at LIVE, and how they were positively impacting its retail workers through enhancement rather than replacement.

He said: “As well as transforming existing warehouse jobs, robotics create new jobs and these are highly skilled roles. The fear suggested by someone who started down this path was that robotics would replace people. In fact, the opposite has happened.

“Robots have enhanced the lives of workers, not replaced them, and I’m confident that in a few years’ time we’ll be able to say the same thing about the impact of generative AI.”

Boots UK chief marketing officer, Pete Markey, spoke about Boots’ mission, along with menopause awareness company GenM, to better cater to the more than 15 million women in the UK currently experiencing the menopause.

He said: “Our mission has been to be with our customers through every bit of the journey of life. That includes the menopause. Most of our team members are women. 85% of our advantage card holders are women, as well. So, this is an important life moment that we knew we needed to lean into.

“Working with GenM, we’ve developed this new way of signposting where a shopper can get products if you’re going through the menopause. We’ve piloted that in about 150 stores with over 1,000 products. The key bit has been making those products more visible and more accessible.”

And Morrisons’ people director, Charlie Field, Waitrose’s head of retail operations, Peter Finegan, and The Works’ head of profit protection, David Pardoe, debated what retailers can do to drive productivity amidst challenges such as unpredictable costs, unhappy employees and constrained budgets.

LIVE concluded on Wednesday (13 March) afternoon with an interview between Primark’s CEO Paul Marchant and Retail Week’s editor-in-chief Charlotte Hardie looking at the fashion retailer’s plans to invest £100 million in new and existing UK stores during its 50th year in Britain.

Meanwhile, a generative AI powered dashboard that is helping retailers including FatFace and Next to improve staff mental health and prove the value of their wellbeing strategies has been launched by retail industry charity the Retail Trust at LIVE this year.

The new ‘happiness dashboard’, built in partnership with a handful of leading retail employers and the Retail Trust, allows employers to track staff wellbeing trends and improve the effectiveness of support. It also shows each employer exactly how much initiatives to improve mental health are saving their business and the economy, by calculating the financial value of fewer staff calling in sick, working while unwell, quitting their jobs or turning to the NHS as a result.

Retail Week’s editor in chief, Charlotte Hardie and The Grocer’s editor Adam Leyland launched LIVE: Retail Week x The Grocer on Tuesday, marking the first time Retail Week has collaborated with The Grocer to produce an event for people working in retail and FMCG.

Adam Leyland, editor of The Grocer, told delegates: “Teaming up with Retail Week isn’t just about two sister publications collaborating. The fact is that retailers can’t meet the many challenges out there without working with their suppliers.

“The cost of-living crisis, net zero, health and obesity, the biggest issues in our society, require a collective effort. And, of course, there’s so much these two huge industries have in common even in areas where they’re not working directly together, tackling issues like diversity and inclusion, social mobility and social media.”