By some counts the Czech Republic has one of the highest proportions of supermarkets and superstore space per population in the whole of Europe. And while most of the sector is booming along with the rest of the economy, there is still a squeeze on some key sectors.
Retail Summit 2018, the Czech shopping sector's big event of the year opened in Prague for its two-day session on Tuesday. There are around 1,000 participants, many of them shopping for new ideas and applications that could streamline their supply chain or attract new customers through their doors or to open their wallets wider.
Marta Nováková is president of the retail sectors biggest association, the Czech Confederation of Commerce and Tourism. She described how most of the sector stands at the moment:
ʺThe Czech economy is in very good condition. And it means that retails as the last part of the supply chain must be in the same position. Retail is growing and we anticipate that it will grow this year.ʺ
On offer at the summit were a range of mobile apps which allow shops to track customers within the store or to make special offers to them as they approach the appropriate shelves. All this is part of the retail armoury to boost sales which has already been rolled out in some stores or alternatively is being used by the luxury boutiques on Prague’s plushest shopping street, Pařížská, in the centre of the city.
And the confederation’s Nováková is in no doubt that, like it or not, the retail sector will increasingly have to look to digital and mobile applications as the way forward while at the same time making shopping a wider experience which will drag them away from Internet shopping.
ʺRetail must follow the digitalisation process. There is no other possibility because mobile technology, information technology, automatization, robotisation is on the table. We have to use it because the lack of [workers] in the labour force especially and because of efficiency.ʺ
In spite of rocketing growth of Internet sales in the Czech Republic, she is convinced that the so-called traditional bricks and mortar shop is here to stay. In some cases some retailers, such as for the Czech branch of the electronic goods seller Datart, say they are trying to offer a mix of online background information to buyers as well in store expertise from staff as the best combination on offer. But Nováková believes the main strength of high street and city centre stores is that they can offer a social and enjoyable experience.
ʺI think that brick and mortar stores will exist as a place to exist as a place for meeting, as a place for fun, as a place for entertainment as well as a place for buying some needed goods.ʺ
The one exception to the rosy picture is that of many mid-sized stores and especially small grocery stores in villages. In villages the trend of shop closure continues although some local council try to find ways to subsidise them to keep them afloat. The retail confederation is working with the Ministry for Regional Development on ways that such village shops should also be ensured a future.