Blog: World Retail Congress 2013: The "speed of change" hitting the retail sector

Michelle Russell | 8 October 2013

The World Retail Congress kicked off in earnest yesterday (7 October) in Paris, with emerging markets and the rise of omnichannel shopping hot issues.

Attendee numbers are expected to reach a record 1,400 this year, making it the biggest yet, Ian McGarrigle, chairman of the World Retail Congress, told attendees in the opening presentation this morning.

The message, McGarrigle was keen to emphasise, ahead of the day's presentations, is that the biggest challenge for global retailers today is "speed of change". This, he says, means retailers are unable to "sit back and rest".

"There is undeniable evidence that consumers have changed their shopping habits and there has been an evolution of digital," McGarrigle said.

However, the survey also revealed physical stores remain the most important channel, according to retailers, despite the rapid growth of online shopping.

The results seemed to echo the comments of Carrefour CEO Georges Plassat in the opening session. Carrefour has been a retailer affected by consumers not shopping at hypermarkets as often as in the past. However, he insisted the format was "not dead" and claimed, despite the boom in online shopping, the digital channel alone was not enough for a successful retailer. "I am totally convinced that clicks and mortar is the future," he emphasised.

According to a survey carried out by the WRC to manage the mood of the retail industry, there has been a return of confidence globally, with North America, Asia and India leading in terms of optimism, according to respondents. China, however, remains the top market in this respect.

Eastern Europe, as predicted, came out as having the "least attractive" growth prospects.

Despite the recent slowdown in emerging economies, delegates heard markets like Brazil and China were vital for their growth.

"Emerging markets are still very important. Credit to emerging markets, they are growing faster than the developed markets. They will still be faster growing markets but just not as fast," Dr Ira Kalish, chief economist at Deloitte, said.

Click here for just-food's coverage of the event, live from from the French capital.

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