Movers & Shakers Q&A – Alison Lancaster, interim marketing director, McArthurGlen Group

Movers and Shakers 2014 Front Cover

Brought to you by Retail Insider and K3 Retail


Alison Lancaster, interim marketing director, McArthurGlen Group

1. What is the greatest opportunity for retail businesses?

To digitally transform their businesses in order to better serve customers anytime, anywhere, anyhow. Digital transformation will be a brand differentiator and essential ‘enabler’ for retailers (new and old) to compete and win on a global scale. This is not just about the tech, e-commerce or omni-channel. It’s about retail and customer experience innovation, and how the whole business is organised and managed in the new digital retail era.


2. What is the biggest challenge to the retail industry?

It is ‘the need for speed’ in managing digital transformation and organisational change. With the exponential pace of technological change, and customers driving the digital shopping revolution, retailers and brands will need to be much quicker and more responsive.  To enable this change faster, retailers must embrace and adopt more agile, fluid and flexible ways of working. The ‘need for speed’ with both the tech implementations and retail organisational design implications will need to be more dynamic and better than ever before. This will impact every area of retail businesses, and will require new levels of cross-functional collaboration and expert change management skills, with simpler, smarter and new integrated retail processes.

3. With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far?

I would have been faster challenging and influencing the pace of change, earlier. On reflection (and I’m looking back over 20 years!), I think it’s easier to do today. There are now so many great case studies, lessons learnt and a wealth of insights and data (wisdom and experience) to support better business decisions, compared to the early pioneering e-Commerce and multi-channel days which were more based on pure gut feel, instinct and sheer determination!

4. What is the future of the physical store?

The role of stores in future will evolve as they need to become more dynamic, flexible and digitally connected to serve customers better and deliver more successful shopping experiences. Store planning, merchandising and facilities will have to change to reflect new customer journeys, expectations and experiences. There will need to be more functional and practical ‘backroom’ collection/delivery spaces and service points, together new tech and digital infrastructure to enable seamless connectivity between retailers and customers to enable greater personalisation, recognition and ‘reward’. Exciting new interactive store formats and concepts will emerge to serve many different customer segments, creating world-class brand experiences and ‘global retail and leisure time destinations’ at an International (flagship) level. The use of mobile and digital data will enable further personalisation to appeal and service both local catchments, domestic and International tourist shoppers like never before, and create more individual and relevant brand experiences.

5. What will the High Street look like in a decade?

At the local level, shops will need to become even more personal, social, service and community oriented to offer greater customer convenience and choice, closer to home and at work places. People have been predicting the death of the high street for the last 10-15 years, but more recent digital innovations and consumer response to ‘click and collect/reserve’ and ‘browse/research online, buy offline’ have had a positive impact on driving footfall to traditional High Streets and shopping centres. Local high street shops will need to continue to provide added convenience, carefully curated choice around local customer segments and preferences (but with full ranges and extended complementary assortments and services available via mobile devices/online).

I see a trend emerging in which customers who are fans and loyal brand ambassadors, will want to become more involved with their favourite brands, to the point of dynamic product design and co-creation using personalisation and  3D printing in-store, wearable tech and other digitally enabled innovations.

Therefore, retailers, brands and developers that think in terms of  continually innovating and creating exciting, entertaining and engaging new ways, spaces and places to shop, will be the ones re-defining the High Street landscape and retail spaces of the future.

As retailers re-imagine their physical shop and future space requirements, I also expect many more interesting and innovative ‘win-win’ brand collaborations and partnerships to make best use of fixed and dynamic digital pop-up spaces and channels, adding to the retail theatre and sense of community in order to compete for more of customers’ leisure time.

6. Will mobile devices be the primary sales channel in the future?

There is no doubt that mobile devices will be primary ‘enablers’ in the shopping journey of the future. Exactly where, when, how and what customers prefer to use to shop will determine channel and device preferences and choices. The retailer of the future just has to be turned-on and tuned-in ready to serve customers anytime, anywhere, anyhow!

7. What other retail businesses do you admire?

I love John Lewis as an ex-Partner, and forever customer. I admire Apple for their product and retail experience innovation, and the way the likes of Amazon, Asos, Zappos and Net-A-Porter disrupted the traditional retail ways of selling books (and everything else), fashion, footwear and luxury, and at the same time, set new standards in global customer service, convenience and delivery. I also love specialist lifestyle brands such as Patagonia for their sheer passion, focus, remarkable story telling, inspirational content, customer and social engagement, product expertise and continual innovation while remaining true to their strong eco believes and heritage.

8. If you hadn’t been a retailer what would you have liked to do?

Business psychologist. People, behaviours and culture within organisations fascinate me.

9. What marks out of 10 do you give yourself so far for achievement?

I’d rather you’d ask my teams, customers and clients that question. I believe there’s always room for improvement. You never stop learning, and should always aim for continuous improvement.

10. Who would you place in the Top 25 multi-channel / e-Commerce Movers & Shakers?

The Movers and Shakers Top 25 is an impressive list, and I think it reflects the best in our multi-channel and e-Commerce industry today. In future, I expect to see a new generation of digital transformation leaders joining this list as the trading channel silos are removed, and traditional retailers and functions embrace new digital skills. These will be tomorrow’s customer champions within organisations: entrepreneurial and resourceful, with the ability to set the vision and create the right culture and  pace of organisational change to harness and extract maximum value from retailers’ brand, spaces, data, tech and people.