This evening (18 January) I am a member of a panel at an online Royal Society of Arts (RSA) event looking at the topic of female growth and empowerment in the field of e-commerce. The invitation came from Ann-Maree Morrison who is the co-author of a report on the topic.
“This event is open to everyone, and will be centred around the recent report which calls for ecommerce to be a sector in its own right, with accredited courses and funding, while also exploring issues relating to the economic empowerment of women and girls. RSA Fellow Ann-Maree Morrison will give a presentation on the report, which will be followed by observations from Ann-Maree’s fellow panellists. “
Given my interest in retail and 5 minutes to make some remarks I am focusing on retailing and e-commerce and am posing four questions. Each of these is worth a seminar in its own right, so the notes below are superficial, but hopefully will lead into a wide-ranging and interesting discussion.
By way of background, I use the Office for National Statistics (ONS) chart on the internet sales as a percentage of total retail sales in the UK. I have commented/used this chart before and new data will be out this Friday.
My four questions/areas for discussion:
What has been and is the impact of e-commerce on retail?
As can be seen in the graph the penetration of online is significant. There has been a replacement of some physical retail by online retail. But this is not an either/or situation and there is a need for balance and accommodation of both forms. Online will not entirely replace physical retailing, but enhances aspects of it. The impact of online though will not be wished away and the internet will not be de-invented. Online has impacted all retail and all shopping, not just the high street, where it has added to pressures for change.
What sort of retailing do we want and why are we failing to achieve that?
Retailing is a reflection of society and culture and for decades we have valued a car borne, disaggregated and decentralised model of living. We have penalised the operations of high street and smaller business and comparatively privileged others, and especially out of town businesses. We have a choice to make about what we value, need and want in a social, cultural as well as an economic sense.
What is the (current and future) impact of the climate emergency on retailing and e-commerce?
We are in a climate emergency and our behaviours have led us to this point. We now need to consider what behaviours are sustainable and which are not and make appropriate decisions accordingly. Not all e-commerce is the same and not all forms of e-commerce have the same impacts on the planet. We need to recognise this and adjust our thinking and behaviour to support the “right” sustainable components of e-commerce.
Are there specific barriers/restrictions/biases against women or e-commerce advantages/opportunities for women that are different to those experienced generally?
It is not clear to me whether e-commerce is so distinct that the issues for women differ to the biases we know already exist and are/should be a focus for action. We are all better when women are included/leading and we need females in e-commerce, but also in retailing generally. E-commerce is changing rapidly and we need women to be involved, engaged and not to be left behind. There is a key component of this for younger cohorts and ensuring access, support and in lighting imaginations. But are there specific things that e-commerce forces us to confront in this area? Or is it that we need to challenge stereotyping and inequality wherever it is found? The last thing we need is for e-commerce as a sector/operations to perpetuate such things, so maybe given its rapid growth and change we need this specific focus.