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Retail Week Live: Shop Direct rebrands, Walmart talks automation

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

This year’s Retail Week Live event brings together 200+ world-class speakers from across retail and beyond to create the opportunity for industry’s leaders to take stock, find inspiration and reconnect with the sector. We lok at some of the key tends at this year’s event.

Shop Direct group chief executive Henry Birch announced this week that the business will rebrand to The Very Group this year.

Birch was talking at Retail Week Live, which opened at the O2 Intercontinental in London. He also confirmed there are no plans to close Littlewoods, saying, “It is a robust and well-loved business that, if you took out of Shop Direct, would be the 11th or 12th pure play retailer in the UK. But Very is our powerhouse and continues to perform above market growth, and that’s why we are going to rebrand Shop Direct to The Very Group this year.”

Key events at Retail Week Live:

  • Walmart International CEO Judith McKenna claims technology and automation will impact the future of retail’s workforce and calls for retail to embrace public engagement, partner with education and prioritise inclusivity

  • Automation has already ‘significantly’ reduced staff turnover at Walmart

  • Birch was preceded on stage by Walmart International CEO Judith McKenna, who delivered the opening keynote, focusing on automation and the role it will be play in retail from a workforce viewpoint.

“Retailers play a special role in society – we are one of the biggest employment sectors, providing many people with their first jobs, and we have a responsibility to think about the future of work, the technology driving it and the impact it will have on people,” she opened.

McKenna called on the industry to take a collaborative approach in shaping the future of working in retail. Highlighting the Kinsey forecast that 60 per cent of jobs are expected to be affected in some way by automation, she added:

“Millions of people will have to transition to new jobs, do them differently or find new careers. Transition on that scale is scary but there’s no point turning the other way and pretend it’s not happening. Technology will help us to run better businesses and create economic growth, but it needs to be managed in the right way.”

McKenna revealed that Walmart is now using or trialling ‘lots of different automation’, from floor cleaners to autonomous delivery vehicles, ‘a robot that goes up and down the aisles with depth of vision to help restocking’ and an app in the States that directs customers to product using an interactive map.

This increased use of technology, McKenna claimed, is freeing up Walmart associates to do what they love and enjoy, ‘which is the freedom to sell and to serve’, adding, “where automation has been brought in to help with difficult jobs, the reduction in staff turnover has been significant.”

McKenna called for retailers to prioritise inclusivity, specifically, “women and other underemployed populations such as young adults to create economic prosperity, which is fair and equal to all.”

When pushed on the Asda/Sainsbury’s merger by Retail Week Live chair Harry Wallop, she replied: “We’re still in the process – we’re still working with CMA to see what the path forward is. We think we put together what was a fair and reasonable proposal which enables the merger to be delivered in a way that was beneficial to British consumers.”

Taking place from 27th to 28th March in London, Retail Week Live is the single largest gathering of retail leadership in the UK.

Founded in 1995, Retail Week Live over 48 hours brings together 200+ world-class speakers from across retail and beyond to create the opportunity for industry’s leaders to take stock, find inspiration and reconnect with the sector. Retail Week Live provides truly unique experiences, which enables attendees to see retail from an entirely new perspective.


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