#RBTE2018: Retailers must ‘evolve or die’, says ASOS chairman

“I don’t think there’s a retailer on the planet that can take for granted that they will be around in the next three or four years.”

That’s because digital is going to disrupt retail, said Brian McBride, chairman of ASOS, speaking at RBTE 2018 in London. “The path of digital disruption is filled with the carcasses of companies that, at one point, were pretty good in their own right,” he added, citing the examples of retailers like Kodak and Nokia who, despite once having great success with a product or service, fell by the wayside by failing to respond to digital advances made around them.

“There’s a lot of technology today, and a lot of disruption, and it’s going to be pretty hard to keep up with.”

A key driver of that digital disruption is the growth of mobile internet in shopping, which McBride described as the “future of commerce.”

“It’s happening everywhere, and where visitors go, orders follow.”

McBride said retailers have to respond to this and continue to evolve with it if they really want to know their customer, and doing that starts with aggregating big data.

“For online businesses, it’s all about data,” he explained. “We need to know as much as we can about the customer, and putting that to work for us. The culture of an online company is very much about being data driven.”

Having data is just the starting point though, and the next crucial steps are using machine learning and artificial intelligence to turn that data into a curated and personalised experience, and then delivering it to consumers.

McBride also argued that a crucial element of success in today’s online consumer world is using social platforms as advertising platforms. TV and print still have their place, but social media really matters to 20-somethings, he said, so “you have to think of the wider digital universe, the wider market universe, and figure out how to deploy the different elements in your campaigns.”

There’s no doubt at all that digital is going to disrupt retail, he concluded, and it will be the retailers that observe what’s going on around them and respond to it that will be the winners. “There are only two choices here – there is no other way – you have to evolve or die.”