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'Obsess' about shoppers and partnerships, says Clarks UK president

Retailers must treat shoppers as one of their partners, and ensure all stakeholders are fully integrated with a combined purpose to remain agile, Ben Fletcher, UK and Europe president of Clarks has said. 

Speaking at the Drapers Fashion Forum in London today he said retailers are now facing “unparallel interconnection” and this demands a new approach to partnerships: ”We need to be as connected in our partnerships as our consumers are with each other.”

He said human attention spans have now dropped to just eight seconds and people’s identity is increasingly forged on experiences, where they have been, how they present themselves in what they wear, and how they present themselves on social media.

“Because attention spans are shortening, those with a long-term mindset will win the most, but that long-term mindset is now harder to hold onto than in the past,” he warned.

To address this, he stressed the need to have clarity on the brand’s purpose: “Without absolute clarity in your organisation and purpose there’s no ability to understand which opportunities are the right ones and which are the wrong ones. 

”We need purpose and clarity to align everyone around what we are doing. This helps to move the debate on from whether we will do something, to how we will do something.” 

To align the business purpose in this environment, Fletcher said retailers need to “absolutely obsess about the customer” and make sure they are at the heart of everything.

“Consumers have become more than just a consumer – they have become partners in a different way. They are part of the partnership model: they are brand advocates, advertisers, product reviewers, and they are often also specialists. When they come into our stores, they have done their research.”

Fletcher added that “being consumer-obsessed allows you to innovate faster.” He cited the new Clarks store design as an example – its displays are designed so that shoes are perfectly spaced apart to be Instagram-friendly. 

He also urged retailers “to be more agile and curious about opportunities that present themselves” and make sure they are aligned with the right partners.

“We need to ask who are we hanging around with – who is in our tribe? Do they push us an open things up for us? We need to integrate our partnerships so they are not a series of one-to-one relationships, but are all connected to each other and connect us to a whole new world.”

He said this is how Clarks is now able to quickly work on reshoring some of its manufacturing to the UK.

“The power of the right partnerships makes you relevant and modern,” he concluded. To highlight the importance of this he said that Clarks’ tie up with Drake sold out in just nine seconds on the day of its launch.  

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