Andrew Busby ‘it’s so important to understand how your customer is feeling’

Andrew Busby is a writer, speaker, former Forbes contributor, retail expert, and author of the best-selling book Harry Was Right All Along. He’s the Global Retail Senior Director at Software AG. He’s also the founder of Retail Reflections, and one of the highest-profile figures in retail in the world.

Douglas Hampton Dowson

7 min read

Andrew’s retail career has spanned an impressive 25 years of in-the-trenches service. He’s recognized as a thought leader in the industry, a global retail influencer, a member of the exclusive global retail community ReTHINK Retail, and an esteemed member of the IORMA Advisory Board.

His work as a writer, editor, and influencer has made a truly prolific impact on the retail world. In addition to being a renowned blogger and author, he also serves as an Advisory Board member at Retail Week, is the founder of the Retail Advisory Board, and also serves as the editor-at-large for Retail Technology Magazine. Thus, when we got a chance to catch up with him after he graciously accepted an official Convrt Judge appointment, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn a bit about retail from a true master of the industry.

Can you describe your job in one line?

I’ve got two jobs. I’m the founder of Retail Reflections, but my primary role is as Global Retail Industry Senior Director at Software AG.

What do you love about the retail industry?

Retail is just a fantastic industry. I’ve been privileged and lucky to be working in it and to be involved in it for many years. And the reason why I enjoy it so much is that it’s so relevant. What I mean by that is that we are all consumers, we’re all shoppers, and so retail touches our lives—probably unlike any other industry sector.

We’ve all got our favorite grocers or our fashion retailers, and we know them quite well, in a far more intimate and probably emotionally engaged way than we do perhaps the company that supplies our gas, our electricity, or that supplies the fuel that we put in our cars. So that’s the main reason why I just love retail.

What are some of the key challenges that you see facing retail at this point in time?

Retail, in 2022, faced enough challenges—and it’s going to continue to face many of the same ones. Inflation, rising costs, cost of living crisis, supply chain issues, these sorts of things.

They are going to soften, inflation’s going to come down, interest rates are going to come down, but it just simply means the prices are going to go up—but not quite so quickly as they were in 2022.

So, against that backdrop, for me, in retail I think there are three key things. Well, price but probably value is a better way to describe it. Price, value, and service. And if you like a wrapper around all of that—customer experience.

And I think that those three things, with customer experience around it, are going to be what every retailer is going to be striving for in 2023.

When you consider that nearly all of our buying decisions are driven by our emotions and our subconscious brain, then you get to understand that it’s so important to understand how your customer is feeling.

From your first day at work to now, what are some of the biggest things you’ve learned?

The biggest thing that I’ve learned is probably not to take anything for granted and to really get to understand your customer. Everybody says that. We all say “customer service” and so on and so forth, but I’ll give you an example that I learned in my days when I was at Superdrug, which in those days was part of Kingfisher.

We were all familiar with the customer journey. Of course, these days, it could be online, it could be through an app, it could be in-store, or a combination of all of the above. Back then, it was quite a very simple thing.

What we did was something called the double buggy test, which I’m sure some people could be familiar with—but if you’re not, it was simply literally getting a double baby buggy and seeing if you could navigate the store pushing it. If you couldn’t, then it failed the test. So I extend that a little bit in terms of my thinking about the customer journey.

What I’d say to retailers is when we talk about the customer journey, let’s, for now, talk about the physical journey, then look at your store, wherever it happens to be. It could be out of town, it could be on the high street, it could be in a retail park, but let’s say it’s on the high street. Don’t just limit your thinking to the four walls of your store. Go out into that high street, into your town, look at where the train station is, look at where the buses run to, look at the car park, and yes, physically walk that journey.

The reason for that is, it’s going to give you far greater insights into how your customer is feeling when they walk through your door. One of, if not the key metric for retailers now and certainly something that I’ve learned is, how is my customer feeling?

When you consider that nearly all of our buying decisions are driven by our emotions and our subconscious brain, then you get to understand that it’s so important to understand how your customer is feeling.

What is your vision for the future of our industry?

First off, I think that actually, it’s bright. I think there’s far too much negative that’s spoken and written about stores dying, high street dying, online taking over, and so on and so forth. That’s not going to happen.

But equally, let’s take something like the Metaverse. I don’t think for many years that will become mainstream at all. However, having said that, I think there will be a place for it. Luxury brands, Gucci, Estée Lauder, and Salvages, are all experimenting with the Metaverse. And I think that it will be another way for customers to engage with their favorite brands.

Beyond that, I mentioned customer experience and its twin, personalization. Obviously, they go together very well. If we consider personalization for a moment, and think of it as climbing Mount Everest, then I don’t think we’ve gotten to basecamp yet.

And consider your own. I recently moved into a new home and I purchased something from a furniture company that I won’t name, but what did I receive in my timeline? I’m still receiving pop-ups for exactly the same item that I bought. Now, for me, that’s not personalization at all. That’s a lesson in how to irritate and annoy your customer.

So, I think that the future of retail, a large part of it is going to be, apart from more and more ease, convenience, new ways of delivery and fulfillment, it will be far far better personalization.

And just briefly on that, what I mean by far better is that it will be in context and relevant. That’s quite a big thing to do. I’m not aware, to be honest, of any brands or retailers who are achieving that.

To give an example of what I mean by that, let’s suppose that I’m a keen tennis player and I play an awful lot. So I need to order perhaps a new racket, new strings, new tennis balls, and so on and so forth. Well, in the future, the brand, and the retailer will know when I’ve checked into my club. They’ll know what day and the duration I’m playing, and they’ll know roughly the life of a set of tennis balls. They’ll suggest when I next need some tennis balls. Of course, it could apply to an awful lot of other things. For example, in the house and with groceries.

In other words, that’s what I call privative personalization. The trick there, of course, is to do that without appearing a bit creepy and intrusive. I guess you could say it goes back to one of the other challenges for retailers—but I’ve got no doubt that we will get there. The question is just how long will it take to get there?

What makes a successful business in this industry?

Well, that’s interesting, it’s doing the basics right. Although by that, I don’t necessarily mean following the same metrics, as we call them KPIs (key performance indicators) that we always have. So doing the basics, but then, and this again is something that I think we’ll see more of, is giving your customers a reason to shop with you.

So let’s suppose that operationally you’re very efficient. Your costs are as low as they can be. Well, what is going to differentiate you as a retailer from the one next door or the next website or what have you?

It comes back to some of the things I mentioned earlier in terms of price, value, and service. Let’s take a physical retailer. I think that retail as an industry can learn lessons from other sectors. So a physical store, and we’re starting to see more of those. I love the sort of store that you walk in and you really don’t know what’s around the next corner. Obviously, that doesn’t apply to a grocer because you want to know what’s around the next corner and you want to know about your shopping journey. But for a lot of others, it could be an electrical, fashion, department store, or even general merchandise, something different, something to inspire and excite.

I think this is the opportunity that retailers have to kind of break out of what it means to be a retailer. What are the boundaries? Well, I think there aren’t really any. You can break off into media, into entertainment. I’d say to people, perhaps a retailer should think like a museum curator. By that, I mean that when we visit a museum, we’re in wonder of what’s going to be around the next corner.

Whether it be an art gallery or a more traditional museum. We’re curious and it excites us in that way. That’s what we need to see more of in physical stores.

I think that retail as an industry can learn lessons from other sectors.

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership means not being the boss. Leadership means from the front setting an example (not telling) and building a team around you who, in what they do, are better than you.

I think within retail, if you look back over the years, there have been some very good examples of leadership. But equally, there have been some very poor examples.

Just on that note, regarding leadership within retail, I hope that we’ll see more diversity. And what that means is more women in leadership positions because I think we need that balance. We need that mix of what generally, you know, sweeping statement, but generally men are good at, which is being competitive and ego-driven and so forth. And yes, you need that but we can’t have it all like that.

You need what women bring to it which is intuition and empathy. Now put those two together in the right way and I think you’ve got the recipe for a fantastic business, and also fantastic leadership with that business.

What does creativity mean to you?

It’s not being afraid to experiment. We talk a lot in retail about failing fast and I think that we’ll see more and more of that.

Sure, it means learning from your mistakes, but I don’t think that people should be afraid of trial and error. At the moment it’s so difficult to predict customer behavior because of the macroeconomic factors that I mentioned earlier. It is very difficult, and the customer journey is very complex and hard sometimes to understand—depending on the item, particularly if it’s a big ticket item.

So creativity in that respect means, I’ve mentioned inspiration, but it’s being imaginative. It’s innovating. Innovation can take the form of technology innovation, but it can also take the form of something far simpler.

I’ll give you the example of Canada Goose. In Montreal, they have their flagship store. So obviously they sell jackets. They’re no longer fur-lined, I’m pleased to say—but they keep you very warm in low temperatures. So what do they do? They’ve installed a freezer in the store, which I think goes down to minus 25 degrees. So you slip a jacket on and you go and stand in there for 10, 15 minutes or so. Now that, on the face of it, is incredibly simple. But that, for me, is a great customer experience.

It’s being creative, it’s being imaginative, innovative, all those sorts of things, which I think we’ll see far more of in the future.

The Convrt Award is about authentic, independent recognition. Why do you think that’s important?

I think being independent is critical in as much as you maintain that impartiality. This is something in my position and what I do with Retail Reflections, where I work with and have worked in the past with a lot of people who want to maintain the credibility that comes with being independent, having that impartiality of opinion on something.

So I think that goes particularly well with something like the Convrt Awards, where people want credibility and authenticity, and they want to be able to believe what they’re seeing. That probably goes for a lot of things, and I think it particularly applies here with the Convrt Awards.

people want credibility and authenticity, and they want to be able to believe what they’re seeing.

What would you like to see from participants entering the awards? Any words of encouragement for entrants?

I’m really looking forward to and hoping to see something that takes the industry forward. Something which is very relevant for consumers, for shoppers.

It can be incredibly simple. It doesn’t have to be a very complex technology-led solution. I think that we’re all looking to make our lives easier. Something that can also help retailers, but in helping retailers, it obviously helps the consumer. So primarily I’m looking for something through a consumer’s eyes. Something to make my life easier and make it better.

The best ideas are the simplest. It could be something that makes our lives easier online, particularly in-store. It could be something in the supply chain.

Lastly, I’d say that I’d be really hoping to see something which is quite different. Something that makes you think:

“Wow, I hadn’t thought of that,” or “I hadn’t thought of it that way,” as opposed to simply extending or slightly tweaking an existing product, solution, or outcome for the retailer or consumer.

So in that respect, something new that really takes the industry forward.

A small image of two Convrt Awards side by side.
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