Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the World Retail Congress, Amsterdam

Read this speech in Dutch

Ladies and gentlemen, l’d also like to welcome you to the Netherlands and to Amsterdam,

The world of retail is changing. I see it with my own eyes every day, in the street where I live. Because of my job I leave early in the morning, and I get home late. But even then I see delivery vans coming and going.
The blue vans of a well-known supermarket chain, the yellow ones of its biggest rival and the typically narrow vehicles of an upcoming online supermarket. The Dutch people among you will know exactly who I mean.

Personally, I still like to go to the supermarket around the corner. But more and more of my neighbours are opting to have their breakfast cereals, fruit and vegetables, and the food they plan to cook that evening delivered to their door. In fact, you can now have your shopping delivered to your kitchen. And why not?
If you lead a busy life with children who need attention, a demanding career and a hectic social life, it’s a real godsend. In any event, this trend shows that the transformation in retail is part of a broader development. Essentially it’s about how people organise their lives, and everything that goes with it: social ties, logistics, and work-life balance.

I see it all around me here in the Netherlands. But I’m sure you’re familiar with these trends in your own daily lives, wherever you are based in the world. I believe that Amsterdam, our venue for this year’s World Retail Congress, can offer extra inspiration and that  the Netherlands is a fascinating case study. Because if the retail landscape is changing quickly anywhere, it’s here. 

Why is that? Well, the Netherlands is one of the most digital countries in the world. So Dutch people expect innovations and new possibilities, especially when it comes to online shopping. One-third of Dutch people visit supermarkets online, one of the highest rates in Europe. And the number of people who shop for food online has doubled compared with two years ago. For the retail industry this means you need to keep up with the pace of change. You have to innovate and re-invent yourself. To be successful, you have to practise high velocity retail, as the theme of this congress underlines.

A good example of this transformation is the blurring of the distinction between ‘clicks’ and ‘bricks’. Big retailers in the Netherlands realise that they not only need to open their doors for consumers at physical stores, but also need to roll out the red carpet online. Conversely, I see big online stores opening bricks-and-mortar stores, even in city centres. Coolblue, for instance, one of the biggest webshops selling consumer electronics, has opened a large store right next to the train station in The Hague, the city where I live and work. It’s an Aladdin’s cave of electronic products, where the focus is on ‘old-fashioned’ hands-on experience, branding and service.

Of course, one major, overarching trend in retail is that far more products are being delivered to people’s homes. It’s really convenient for consumers. But it also creates new challenges: pressure on infrastructure, and concerns about air quality and accessibility in residential areas. Here I think retailers have a responsibility. And I’m glad to say they are taking it on.

For instance, I’m seeing more of those typically Dutch transport bicycles on the streets, delivering parcels: zero emissions and zero nuisance – an ideal solution. Or perhaps I can give you a better example for countries where cycling isn’t in people’s DNA. A number of supermarkets are switching to fully electric delivery vehicles. They are quieter and greener, and sometimes so narrow that they don’t block the road either. An environmentally aware approach to business maximises the positive impact that retail can have on society.

Not only in the Netherlands, but all around the world. Retail is the biggest employer in the Netherlands, providing some 900,000 jobs. But it’s also a source of many jobs in developing countries. What is produced there, ends up in the shops here. And there too, retail has a big responsibility. Because it’s vital that these activities contribute to people and planet, as well as profit.

With their purchasing power, retailers can ensure responsible production, eliminating child labour and exploitation of workers, and respecting the climate and the living environment. So, ladies and gentlemen, I’m counting on you. And, speaking for the Dutch government, let me assure you that you can count on us too. We are pleased to be playing our part in making the retail sector future-proof. We are working hard to establish a national digitalisation strategy to stimulate cooperation between government, businesses and science in the fields of digitalisation, artificial intelligence and technological innovation – developments that will have a major impact on the retail industry.

Look at Adyen, for instance, a company which started out in the Netherlands and has set a new standard in online payment systems. It’s fantastic to see that kind of technological innovation grow from an initial idea into a global success story. It shows that the Netherlands is a good breeding ground for start-ups, and we’re doing all we can to make it even better.

It goes without saying that we’re also proud of the big, traditional retailers from the Netherlands that do well in foreign markets, like Ahold Delhaize, Action and of course Hema. I still find it remarkable to see Hema – what could be more Dutch! – in the centre of Paris, at Gare du Nord station. And I understand that even in Abu Dhabi you can now shop at Hema, or the Dutch Standard Prices Company Amsterdam, as it was originally called. Tjeerd Jegen, its CEO, can no doubt tell us more in a moment. It’s the ultimate proof, in my view, that the world of retail is changing fast.

I hope you will make wise choices. And I wish you every success in this period of dazzling development.

Thank you.