Our time at the World Retail Congress in Madrid is sadly over, but the ideas we heard will stick with us for a long time.

Here are 4 takeaways that really stood out.

1. Brick and mortar can do better, and everyone knows it. 

There's always been an imaginary divide between stores and online. Online is supposed to be innovative and personalised, and physical stores traditionally aren't.

Times have changed. Every time another high street retailer goes under, it's a sign that the old school mentality doesn't cut it anymore. 

Not too long ago retailers who implemented augmented and virtual reality technology in their stores were hailed as the trailblazers. 

But now, it's not a question of if but when retailers realise that stores aren't just for shopping anymore. They exist to help, inspire and delight shoppers, just like online does. 

If physical stores are left behind, it's not an omni-channel shopping experience. 

2. Now is the time to understand who your future shoppers are, how their expectations are changing, and adapt your customer experience accordingly. 

Hint: your new audience is about to be Generation Z. They have an attention span of 8 seconds and lose interest, even in activities they enjoy, within 12 minutes. How is this going to change the way everyone shops? 

Gen Z also loves a good in-store experience, but that doesn't mean stores are safe. Is every store on-brand and Insta-worthy at all times? If not, you'll probably lose their attention.

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A retailer willing to adapt to what consumers want will always be relevant. Achieving this relevancy requires an understanding of who shoppers will be and what they'll want 2, 5 and 10 years from now.

This requires a hard look into the emotional side of retail: what draws shoppers into stores and what makes them feel good about buying. 

3. Change starts from within.

Retailers can jumpstart innovation by hiring employees with vastly different skillsets and mindsets than the traditional retail mentality. 

This doesn't apply to head office employees only.

That new Generation Z audience from takeaway #2? They're going to be your sales associates too. 

Retailers have a golden opportunity to listen and gain a fresh new perspective. A procedure or policy that has worked well for the last ten years might be unnecessary and slowing everyone down today.

Frontline employees know what customers are saying and can provide the nudge that's required to shake things up - but only if someone listens to them. 

These kinds of shake ups are what's needed to stay ahead of the curve. 

4. The time to implement these takeaways was yesterday.

Waren Evans, Maplin, Toys R Us, Nine West, Claire's USA... the list of retailers who didn't make it in 2018 is growing at an alarming rate. 

Sometimes it's easier short-term to decide that the status quo has always worked just fine for everyone. Retailers who continue to make this decision will be joining the list above. 

Change ruffles a few feathers. It's often difficult and risky. But doing nothing is riskier. 

The divide between "online-driven" and "store-driven" retailers is so 2017. To succeed, retailers need to figure out ASAP what it means to be customer-driven. The process is probably going to be uncomfortable. 

 Kingfisher CEO Veronique Laury had a memorable quote: "We have the choice to either be disrupted or disrupt ourselves". 

And as far as the physical store goes, the World Retail Congress was a timely reminder that this choice isn't going to make itself. 

Ready to bring your store operations into the future? We'd love to show you how we can help. 

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