From September 25-28, the global leaders of the retail industry gathered in Berlin’s Intercontinental Hotel to share their experience and insight in order to debate on new challenges and opportunities regarding the retail industry’s future. The 5th World Retail Congress featured a 3-day-packed agenda including wide-ranging topics dealing with changing consumer behavior, emerging retail markets, increasing shifts towards multichannel retailing, how e-commerce is influencing and redefining retail today, as well as latest in-store innovations.

More than 900 retail industry executives attended the congress, listening to speeches and panels by global retail experts such as the Chairman of Neiman Marcus, Burt Tansky, Google’s Managing Director Matt Brittin, Janet Grove, Vice Chairwoman of Macy’s, Andrew Jennings, CEO of Karstadt, José Gomez, Vice President Business Development of Mango, Chris Aubrey, Vice President Global Retail Marketing Sport Performance of Adidas and Tommy Hilfiger himself.

The congress started on Monday morning with the ‘Plenary Sessions’, including Galeria Kaufhof’s Chairman of the management board, Lovro Mandac, who shared his perspectives on how to face retailing’s big challenges in today’s world: “You have to act and not react to the market and consumer preferences,” he says. “The old department stores have to change as the market and consumers are also changing and developing. We have to watch the demographics and how the cities are developing. You need to be a lifestyle provider. Private labeling is something we haven’t concentrated on so far, but it will be our main focus in the future.“

Amongst others, multichannel expert Tony Stockil, CEO of the Javelin Group, gave a speech by presenting the latest trends in e-commerce and strategic priorities for retailers: “The first priority is to invest in e-commerce and multichannel, the second priority is to develop own labels, and the third priority is to re-define store roles and formats, then reshape the estate, consolidate and build scale and finally expand internationally.“

Next to the multichannel topic, experts discussed new emerging markets and the retail growth potential beyond Europe considering the impact of the eurozone crisis. Ira Kalish, Global Research Director at Deloitte, is optimistic that India could represent hope and outgrow China in the future, benefiting from a strong economic growth, consumer spending and demographics.

“You need alternatives, but it is still all about China. We have a large bedding business in the United Sates and shifted our production a lot to India,” Janet Grove, Vice Chairwoman of Macy’s said. She also pointed out the importance of private labeling: “Macy’s is happy to have established a private brand business that has grown a lot. It also helps to be closer in time of need. We doubled our women’s apparel brand business at Macy’s in the last eight to ten years. Branding is the most important part of our business. The most important things to consider are: high product, high value, high timing.“

Some of the best retailers, store designs and experts were celebrated on Tuesday evening at the Oracle World Retail Award Gala evening event. To name a few, luxury retailer Burberry was named ”Retailer of the Year”, Spanish Inditex group was awarded as “International Retailer of the Year”, Roger N. Farah, President and COO of Ralph Lauren was honored for his outstanding leadership of the year and sportswear brand Adidas won the “Retail Innovation Award Business” for its new retail concept Adiverse Virtual Footwear Wall, presented by Chris Aubrey, Vice President Global Retail Marketing Sport Performance Adidas and being launched in November this year.

Aubrey took part in two panels and talked about engaging the consumer in a multichannel world. “It is important to have everything in stock, which isn’t possible physically. 50% of our customers come in the store to buy something. 35% of those leave without buying anything, which has two main reasons: They couldn’t find the product they liked or they couldn’t find the product they liked in their right size. Our footwear wall is complimentary to our stores. We didn’t want to create a normal kiosk solution but a look and feel as close as possible to the real shopping experience.“

The congress ended with an exclusive keynote session of retail legend Tommy Hilfiger who talked about how he created the business, the role of brands today and how he sees the challenges and opportunities for retailers today. “We believe involving the customer on- and offline,” he says. “Stores and the social presence are still very relevant. I think retail has to be interesting, unique, new and fresh and exciting – being fully functional. You need to be aware of and be sensitive for the needs of the customers in different regions.”

The next edition of the World Retail Congress will take place September 19-21, 2012 in London.