Like the switch from silent film to 'talkies', retail is passing a point of no return with the advent of online, says David Wild

Halfords boss says online is giving retail its ‘talkies moment’

At a Javelin Conference on ‘The Future of Retail’ today, Halfords Group CEO David Wild has said that “the UK retail sector is experiencing a transformation as far reaching as the move from silent film to sound”.

Tying his speech in with the multiple Oscar-winning film The Artist, Wild said retailer must face up to a new and permanent reality and use all their talents to avoid falling behind in rapidly changing technology, shopping behaviour and value expectations.

His speech added that web-enabled shopping is here to stay, with customers selecting and purchasing goods outside stores – or making decisions about what stores to visit based on online research. Further to that, Wild highlighted, when in store customers also use the internet to compare prices and get further product information, or use social media to comment on or seek recommendations on purchases.

“Retailers need to respond to the changes in technology and customer behaviour," said Wild. "We are living through the biggest transformation the retail sector has ever seen. The good news is that there is potential to turn this challenge into an opportunity.”

The Halfords boss added that customers need good reasons to visit stores, and the key in Halfords’ view is ‘a multichannel experience where online and stores work together to compliment and improve customer experience’.

Adding value service is essential to differentiate winning retailers, Wild said to the conference.

87 per cent of Halfords online orders are collected in store, where the retailer offers further advice and fitting services for customers. This added in store service, Wild suggested, gave clicks and mortar retailers a competitive advantage over pure play online retailers who do not have stores to facilitate interaction with the customer.

“Product pricing is also very important. The web means there is complete transparency and customers can easily find the best offer. We are creating extra value through the design and direct sourcing of our own or exclusive brands.

“Retailing has always been about understanding the customer so we need to adapt fast to the way they are now shopping. Retailing is not going to return to how it used to be, this is a new reality.”

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