Co-operative Retail Conference will look at Brexit, new tech and sustainability

Looking ahead to next month’s event, organised by Co-operatives UK

The Co-operative Retail Conference 2019 is held in March, with organisers promising expert discussion those trading in an increasingly uncertain environment.

“With a tough economic climate, fast-changing retail landscape and uncertain Brexit, we are in challenging time,” says organiser Co-operatives UK. “The Co-operative Retail Conference represents a unique opportunity for those involved in co-operative retail to learn from experts, meet with peers and discuss how their businesses are responding to challenges.

“With keynote presentations from industry specialists and best practice from retailers, the conference is an unrivalled learning and networking opportunity.”

Held from 8-10 March at De Vere Cranage Estate, Holmes Chapel, Cheshire, the conference will look at issues such as the rise of ethical consumption, member ownership and democracy, the future of payment systems and the role of Co-operatives UK, the organiser of the event.

The programme opens on 9 March, when James Walton, chief economist at the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD), will look at the potential impact of Brexit on co-op retailers. He will also focus on cultural shifts including increased demand for healthier options and changing views on animal ethics. There will be a further focus on how technology advances are changing the way we address sustainability, resources and labour.

Also on the Saturday morning, Gareth Swarbrick, chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH), will discuss the organisation’s first corporate strategy, which has lessons for the retail movement in how to use traditional ideas around member-ownership and democracy in a radical new way.

The first session rounds off with a look at new innovations across the centre, with speakers including Phil Ponsonby, chief executive of Midcounties Co-op, and Lee Hammond, head of the Secure Response team at East of England Co-op.

Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK, opens a previous retail conference

On Saturday afternoon, there are sessions on the funeral sector, including digital marketing and pre-pay funerals; and shopper’s habits. This is followed by a look at the future of payment systems, presented by Stephen Gill and Richard Bridges of VME Coop, whose software runs in nine of the 13 independent co-ops.

They will discuss fintech apps, checkout-free shopping as pioneered by Amazon Go, reward-based shopping and consumer payment trend, with a focus on millennials and generation Z.

Related: Interview with Stephen Gill of VME

On Sunday there is more shared experience from outside the UK retail sector, when Doug O’Brien, from USA sector body the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) and Robin Fieth from the Building Societies Association will look at how national bodies can support their members.

Co-operatives UK will be looking for more feedback on the role of national sector bodies in a morning workshop where it will ask retail societies for more detail on the kind of support they need. It asks: “Should we focus more on influencing government policy? Should we concentrate on providing governance advice? Or perhaps our role as a unifying force for the movement is most important?”