By: Mark Baum, Chief Collaboration Officer & Senior Vice President, Industry Relations, FMI

This content was originally posted in the World Retail Congress’s Chairman’s Report, 2024.

World Retail Congress - Mark BaumThere was much to take in during the World Retail Congress in Paris in April. With the preparation for the summer Olympics as a backdrop, a plethora of insights and outlooks were shared by retail leaders from around the world. As a first-time attendee with a food retailing and US-centric background, it was exciting and enlightening to interact and share perspectives with executives from other channels and geographies. After all, at its essence retailing is a product based, consumer facing, experiential enterprise.

Given the macro issues of global political uncertainty, stubborn inflation, supply chains disrupted by war and shifting trade alliances, along with the impact of climate change, there was a sense of urgency and palpable energy throughout the congress. Between hallway conversations, special events, plenary keynote and panel presentations, several common themes regardless of retail channel emerged. Perhaps most important was a message reinforced several times, namely that successful retailing is a careful blend of art and science. Hearkening to a 19th century local merchant philosophy (know your customer) and harnessing 21st century technology (Gen-AI) is a powerful combination that can be employed to excite and delight consumers.

I had the privilege of participating on a global panel of trade association executives representing the US, UK, EU, India and Ukraine. Juxtaposed with previous presentations that can be characterized as calls for retail transformation and inspiration, our panel focused on the international world order and elections in India, the US and UK, along with the impact of the war in Ukraine. Our outlook: uncertain and cautiously optimistic. The current wave of political populism sweeping the globe has “mainstreamed” with implications for retailers all over the world. Specifically in the US, November promises to be a 2020 presidential redux with an electorate split roughly in half. The down-ballot races, particularly at the federal level, remain unclear. The overall business climate is not particularly favorable. That said, retailers (and their trading partners) have learned to lead in a period of ongoing uncertainty, volatility and ambiguity. As we learned during WRC, retail leaders in the US and around the world, are running their businesses with energy, empathy and authenticity. They are taking care of their teammates, customers and communities. They are courageous and not afraid to take risks in their relentless pursuit of retail excellence. I left the congress feeling refreshed, revitalized and richer for having the experience.

To learn more about the World Retail Congress and dive into this year’s theme, High Performance Retail, check out the Chairman’s Report.

Download the report