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#WRC2018: The future store needs humans, says Kingfisher CEO

Kingfisher CEO, Veronique Larry, took to the stage at the World Retail Congress 2018 conference in Madrid this week, saying how important humans are to the future of retail.

“The only benefit of having stores in the future, is having humans in those stores,” she said.

This opinion countered that of JD.com founder and CEO, Richard Liu, who said the previous day that sooner or later AI and robots will operate the retail industry.

But Larry said customers are human beings who want to talk to other people. She said her 78,000 strong workforce may decrease “a little bit” in number, but those job roles will change.

B&Q is famous for its knowledgeable employees and Larry said she wanted to make sure they continue to improve their skillset by launching a home improvement academy.

“I realise there are video home improvements on YouTube – which are really seen by people – but I think there’s something more personal to help people through their project,” she said.

“There’s an emotional connection with the home, and this emotional connection isn’t fulfilled through digital technology, but people understanding what you are going to go through, which will be really important in the future.”

Store transformation

She explained that the future of stores will be a blend of humans and technology, but retailers need to stop and think carefully about their transformation plans.

“I don’t think we can do what we’ve always been doing and do digital on top of it.”

She said retailers are underestimating the cost of digital and if you decide to roll out technologies as well as having the same number of people, same amount of stock and same retail spaces and locations, this will negatively impact the bottom line.

She took stock levels as an example of what will change in the future. Larry described how she was in a store recently looking at a 10 metre display which showcased all of the retailer’s speciality tools.

“I thought, as a customer, who is going to shop in a store like that five years from now? The fact is, you have all that stock there, but it doesn’t really help you see the range.”

She described how customers can easily go online, filter the right tools for their needs and read reviews from their peers to help them decide on their purchase.

“The store of the future is about giving more insight that’s on the web and having a human to help you. But we don’t need all that stock in our stores.”

RBTE takes place at London’s Olympia, 2-3 May 2018.

You can register to attend here