China Insights

The Face, Bones and Brains of Retail

Martin Guo

Editor-in-Chief, Kantar China Insights

Retail 28.05.2018 / 17:51

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It can be helpful to think of the retail sector as a combination of complex systems – like a human body, in which different elements perform specialist functions.

During this April’s World Retail Congress in Madrid, WPP and Kantar Millward Brown launched BrandZ Top 75 Most Valuable Global Retail Brands ranking and report. For the first time in a BrandZ retail ranking, the Top 75 brings together brands in four categories, of which Pure Retail (supermarkets, e-commerce platforms, department stores, convenience stores and DIY chains) is just one. The ranking includes brands of Luxury brands, Apparel, and Fast Food retailers. In other words, at WPP and Kantar, we think not only the future of retailer brands, but also the future of all directly consumer-facing retail brands.

In the report, David Roth, CEO WPP The Store EMEA and Asia, has proposed the “Face, Bones and Brains” structure to make sense of the evolving retail sector globally.

The Face Mini

The Face

All the customer-facing elements of a retail brand are what can be considered its face – so that means stores, websites, apps, pick-up points and call centres. Ideally, the face helps maximize the shopper experience in a way that helps shoppers get what they want easily and with pleasure.

If they’re “mission shopping” – looking for something specific, like bread and milk, or shoes to match their new dress – the face of a retail brand will help shoppers find what they want and get it efficiently.

If the motivation for shopping is less specific and is more about having a retail experience, then the face of the brand will help make that trip (whether online or in the physical world) more enjoyable.

Staff are a key element of a retail brand’s face. But there are other important elements that each play a small but important role in the overall impression a brand makes. These include merchandising, signage, and other look-and-feel elements of the store.

Future advances in this area might include interactive brand experiences, virtual shopping assistants, and spectacular holographic displays.

The face is also the place that data is gathered on the shopper and fed to the brain.

The Bones Mini

The Bones

As in the human body, the bones of a retail brand are the supporting structure - all the retail elements that sit behind the face to feed the store and shopping experiences.

Today these include things like fixtures and fittings, the supply chain, inventory management systems, loyalty card and reward systems, and point-of-sale terminals. Future advances in the bones of the store might include smart infrastructure, indoor location tracking, 3D printers, robots, delivery drones, and automated and reconfigurable store fixtures.

The Brain Mini 

The Brains

Out of sight but essential to the smooth running of a retail brand is its brain. All the data analytics and intelligence deployed through every stage of the retail process come from this brain. This intelligence helps retailers to drive operational efficiency and better understand their customers. This knowledge is then used to deliver a personalized set of experiences, offers, pricing, services and products.

It’s worth noting that investment in the brains of retail can be considered a multiplier of the other two elements. Improving the brains can make the bones and the face of the store much more intelligent and thus more effective.

For example, dynamic pricing at the shelf won’t truly hit the mark unless it’s backed up by cutting-edge analytics and comprehensive customer data held in the brain. Personalized experiences won’t be very personal unless the brains can direct and choreograph them. And supply chains will only be as streamlined and efficient as the quality of the insights distilled from operational data allow them to be. Without a fully functioning retail brain—a brain fed by vast amounts of data and powered by sophisticated analytics software— investments in the retailers’ face and bones won’t yield maximum returns.

Technology will remake the face, the bones, and the brains of retail. Specifically, computing capability will come at costs, physical sizes, and performance levels that will quickly disrupt retail.


Thinking about the face, bones, and brains of retail is a valuable way to reframe the conversation on the future of retail. It offers a helpful way to let go of old notions that are tied to increasingly redundant retail formats. And it’s a productive way to frame ideas for future innovation and deployments.

It helps retail brands think differently about ways they can differentiate their brand proposition and gain competitive advantage through the deployment of technology that transforms the face, bones and brains of retail.

These include technology designed to:

>> Personalize the shopping experience.

>> Deliver personalized or customized products.

>> Create new business models and revenue streams.

>> Enable retailers to embrace the sharing economy with new selling models, such as sharing, bartering, and renting.

>> Create interactive experiences in the store that make shopping more efficient, more fun, or more personal.

>> Free up sales staff in the store to deliver better customer service by automating non-value-added activities that can be mechanized or handled by algorithms.

>> Augment and improve sales staffs’ selling capability using wearable technology and assistive AI.

>> Generate the maximum profit from each customer over time by using dynamic pricing that varies by location, by customer, by minute, and by product.

To know more about Artificial Intelligence and the future of the evolving retail industry, or get the full copy of the report in English, please contact us.

Source: Kantar Millward Brown

Editor's notes

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