‘The industry should be proud of its achievements’: Retra Conference highlights progress of electrical retail being more sustainable

The Retra Conference took place yesterday (Tuesday) at the Double Tree by Hilton hotel in Coventry. The event was hosted by journalist and broadcaster, Declan Curry, who has been reporting on business, the economy and politics for almost 30 years.

There were some great presentations all focussed around the theme of a sustainable industry; it was an informative and thought-provoking day with an impressive line-up of guest speakers – all providing retailers and brands in attendance with plenty to think about.

Paul Hide, CEO of AMDEA, spoke about the role that home appliances play in achieving net zero homes across the UK. Looking ahead, he said: “There’s much to be hopeful about in terms of a sustainable future, despite a challenging environment.”

Steve Fowler, Editor-in-Chief of Auto Express, discussed the move to electric vehicles and whether they’re a suitable choice for retailers – is the infrastructure in the UK good enough yet?

Laura Crehan, Member Account Manager at REPIC, highlighted how electrical retailers can review their business processes in order to meet their sustainability objectives. “The industry should be proud of its achievements so far,” she said.

We saw a fascinating presentation about AI (Artificial Intelligence) in retail by Tim Gordon, Partner at Best Practice AI. The reality of what people can do and the tasks that can be simplified using AI is quite astounding! “AI has superpowers,” said Mr Gordon. “Think about your day-to-day jobs and how using AI could increase your productivity; it’s like having 1,000 interns working for you!” But Mr Gordon warned about the threats that AI can also bring.

Always a popular session at the Retra Conference, Nick Simon, Client Director at GfK, presented the latest market data. “The world economy is progressing through tentative recovery, and the outlook is still a little uncertain,” he reported. Focussing more on the UK market, Mr Simon said that half of retail is online and it’s been that way since 2021 (post-pandemic). In 2019 only around 35 per cent of retail sales were online.

The SDA sector has been the strongest performing sector in the past year, according to GfK data. “The jewel in the crown, with the overall value of that market going up,” Mr Simon revealed. The consumer electronics segment has been “disappointing” recently, he added, although turntables and headphones have been bucking the trend. MDA sales are remaining steady, with consumers’ average spend going up.

Next, there was the view of UK high streets from Andrew Goodacre, the CEO of BIRA. “The high streets are challenged but there’s still plenty of opportunity,” he began. He also spoke about the growth of online shopping… “it’s seen as the Grim Reaper by many independent retailers, but instead it should be seen as an enhancement to your business, not a threat. There are many ways online and physical retail can work hand-in-hand. They’re not choices, they go together.”

Mr Goodacre said that ‘window shopping’ now consists of consumers browsing and researching online before they make a purchase. And many purchases are still completed in stores. “Consumers want the high street still,” he went on. “They don’t want isolation at home, they want to be out and about being social.”

The final session of the day was an industry panel, made up of retailers Matt Renaut, Managing Director of Dacombes of Wimborne, Matthew Todd, Partner at Herbert Todd, and Luke Gammon, Director of Wades, plus Sean Hannam, Editor of Retra Alert magazine.

The panel covered many varied topics. On the subject of sustainability, Mr Hannam said that independent retailers need help to be more sustainable, yet we’ve all come a long way from just a few years ago, he said. Mr Renaut revealed that he’s just had solar panels installed on his store building and he’s looking to invest in new electric vans very soon.

The issue of manufacturers selling direct to consumers soon came up, and Mr Gammon simply said: “We cannot compete with that. Manufacturers should stick to manufacturing, and let us do the selling.”

Mr Todd added: “When brands introduce snap deals direct with consumers it pulls the rug out from underneath us. We never get any warning and they always tempt people away from us to buy direct. It’s not right.”

In the upcoming November issue of ERT, there will be a full review of the Retra Conference.