Retailers have experienced a period of unprecedented change over the last decade and no-one can predict what impact future innovations will have on the industry, according to British Retail Consortium (BRC) director general Helen Dickinson.

Speaking today at the UK Gift Card & Voucher Association conference in central London, Dickinson told delegates that for retailers to achieve success as the digital revolution continues to disrupt the business world, companies must be open to change and not afraid to fail.

"The world of retailing just got a whole lot more complicated," she said.

"Retail as we know it will evolve and flourish, especially if we are nimble enough to understand what is going on around us."

Dickinson cited 3D printing as a new development in technological innovation that has the potential to transform the ways retailers do business in the future, although she acknowledged that it is difficult to foresee and understand exactly how this will manifest itself.

"This kind of technology, when joined with others, could revolutionise how things are made and by whom," she remarked.

This morning's presentation also touched upon some of the other new patterns in consumer behaviour and technology that are impacting retail businesses.

In the week that PwC and Local Data Company released research showing that there was a net closure of 987 stores in 2014, nearly three times the figure of 2013, Dickinson called on retailers to change the way they operate their physical properties.

She said that the reduction in UK retail stores on the high street over the last decade is not just due to the advent of online retailing or the recent recession, but a longer trend that started during the latter stages of the 20th century as car ownership grew and supermarkets branched out into non-food goods.

It is up to retailers to shift their stores from the functional to the "experiential", she noted, and to create reasons for shoppers to visit them, as opposed to sitting on their sofas at home.

Mobile and digital platforms were referred to as enablers of physical store sales – rather than reasons for sales cannibalisation – with the success of click & collect used as an example of this process in action.

"Digital isn't competition to physical space – its an enabler," Dickinson asserted.

"Those doing it successfully are integrating digital and physical because customers do not think in channels."

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