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Embracing collaboration, change and the future of retail: Part II of our interview with Jonathan Elms

4 min read

Our interview with Jonathan Elms – who is heading up the retail programme at New Zealand’s Massey University, was so good we had to give it to you in two parts! If you haven’t read it, check out part one, which delves into the need for a retail degree in the current retail environment. Spoiler alert – if we don’t do something now to invest in our people, we’re going to have a massive shortfall of talent, inhibiting growth in the sector. It’s up to us to ensure that we’re investing in people, enabling the talent to fuel the change transforming the retail environment. We continue our interview with Elms discussing the future of retail and why collaboration is the way forward. 

The Massey model of retail learning 

Massey developed its retail programme with insight from industry leaders from New Zealand and Australia’s largest retailers and continues to consult with an industry driven advisory board to ensure the programme is hitting the key points that students need to tackle the future world of retail. The degree includes six months of internships to show the students what its like working in the back office of retailers like the Warehouse, Kmart, or Mitre 10. This highlights the importance of collaboration and the goal for Massey to work with the industry to change the negative perception currently of negative opportunities, make retail a career of choice and enable current retail workers to upskill and take advantage of the potential within their organisations to carve a career in retail. 

The future of the sector 

Going forward, the sector is going to continually evolve and look quite different to what it is today. Technology is going to be central to customer experience, operations and analysis. Change always occurring because retail is so fast moving and students need to be able to manage this change. Furthermore, international players entering the marketplace are changing the game. Online players are delivering to the other wide of the world. Customer expectations as to what should be delivered, how it can be delivered and how soon it should get to them is changing, which will put greater pressure on the sector to meet these expectations. Innovation is the key to succeeding, as is sustainability.  

What should retailers be doing differently? 

A common problem in the industry currently is a resistance to change, particularly around technology. Elms describes the two polar extreme attitudes of the sector as ‘the ostrich effect’- burying our heads in the sand, or ‘chicken little’ where the ‘sky is falling’. His advice to retailers is to be more modest in their approach to change – it’s happening daily and there are disruptors in every sector. Be proactive and sensible, he advises; what business models have worked now may not work in the future. 

The current environment is all about customer service and cranking up this service. Retailers need to have a point of difference. Only one company can compete on price alone and these are usually the biggest retailers. Take Amazon – they will win the price war, so retailers need to consider their differentiation. “Differentiate or die”, warns Elms.  

We asked Elms why ‘crazy works’; crazy works because it’s about interrupting the norm – about understanding existing business models and asking if there is a way to do it better. It’s about being more profitable and delivering better CX. “Crazy isn’t that crazy” says Elms – it’s about revolutionising the industry: focusing on what the consumer wants and doing it better. 

How can the sector move forward? 

Collaboration is the key to driving forward momentum in the sector – we need to leverage current opportunities and realise what can be achieved when the industry collaborates with tertiary institutions to support growth. Massey is looking into opportunities to support the Australian retail sector with executive level courses which will enable talent to develop and grow within their existing organisations.  

Retailers need to talk the talk and celebrate the successes of the industry with those in the wider business ecosystem. We need to dispel the myths that retail is low paid, with no development and mundane because it’s actually fast-moving, fast-paced, rich in opportunity, organic career opportunities and potential to grow independently.  

Jonathan Elms is pioneering a programme that can set the standard for how industry collaborates with tertiary to support the future pipeline of talent and ensure continued growth is paralleled with an upskilling across the board for retail professionals. Part of our goals at the Retail Learning Channel are to enable this growth and we’re offering retail students the opportunity to be part of New Retail ’19. If you, or students you know are interested in this opportunity, please email sara.ellis-jack@akolade.co to get involved in supporting the future of the retail sector.  


About Jonathan

Jonathan Elms is the Sir Stephen Tindall Chair Professor in Retail Management. Jonathan leads Massey University’s Bachelor of Retail and Business Management, NZ’s only retail degree. He is also the Director of the Centre for Advanced Retail Studies (CARS), NZ’s ‘centre of excellence’ for retail research, education and scholarship. 

Jonathan joined Massey in December 2014 after spending seven years at the Institute for Retail Studies (IRS), University of Stirling. At Stirling, Jonathan directed the IRS’ undergraduate retail marketing programmes delivered on campus and in Singapore. 

He holds a BSc (Hons) Marketing, MSc Management, and PhD in Marketing from Lancaster University.


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