3 questions with Andrew Jennings, retail industry Chairman, Board Member & Senior Advisor

5th November 2019

UWE, in partnership with Business West, runs an annual lecture series that brings top business leaders to Bristol. We caught up with retail guru Andrew Jennings before he gave his talk "The Changing Retail Landscape and how to succeed."

1. What new retail developments are you most excited about?

I think the greatest development over the last few years is the focus on sustainability. We’re seeing a lot of great innovations.

Second hand clothing labelled as previously loved garments; we’re seeing a lot more focus on what the customer is going to recognise as a great reusable product.

In the supermarket business, who over package everything, they are launching plastic free aisles.

That sort of thing takes me right back to part of my career at a business called Woolworths in South Africa, where we had a strong focus on sustainability. 

Our trucks were washed with rainwater, we reduced our carbon footprints and the amount of salt and sugar in our foods, so it was much healthier.

On the farming side we took account of everything from field to fork, everything was about freshness and what pesticides we used, in order to make sure we were focussed on the world of tomorrow.

2. Will the high street become obsolete with the rise of online shopping?

Shopping centres and high streets are going through massive change today.

Why? Because retail rentals are high, rates are high, many of the high streets in secondary and tertiary locations – I won’t say tumbleweed is blowing through them – but they certainly have less traffic than before.

In the UK last year, traffic flow was down 2% on the year before. Some of this is due to the rise of e-commerce, which is 18.9% of total retail sales, but it is still below 20%.

The second thing is that more and more consumers are looking for greater leisure time activities. They’re spending more on vacations, restaurants and what they experience. It’s critically important that retailers pick this up, understand what’s happening and stay relevant.

To do so they need to understand who their customers are, they’ve got to be a lot more innovative and have a think about the talent they employ and the technologies they’re using.

Change is a part of doing business today, especially for retailers, and if you don’t recognise that consumers want to shop 24/7 then you’re in trouble.

3. What advice would you give to students looking for a career in retail?

If I had to choose my career again I would choose retail. There is no question about that.

Why? Because it’s an ever changing industry, and you can make a great career and be hugely successful.

How do you become hugely successful? Well some students won’t want to hear this, but this is a fact of life: the harder you work, the more successful you will be.

If I was starting out in my career today I would focus very much on technology, where the customer is at and how they’re changing.

If you want to be in this industry, be passionate about what you’re doing. It takes a long time, it’s a slow road, there are no quick fixes, work harder than you ever thought you could, and you stand a greater chance of being successful.

This series of free public lectures brings top level business leaders to Bristol. You can discuss these events on Twitter using the hashtag #BristolLectures and view further content from Andrew Jenning’s lecture here. For more information please contact events@uwe.ac.uk.

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