Today’s multichannel leaders are tomorrow’s retail leaders.
For new Tesco chief executive Phil Clarke, it’s a headache he could do without. He won’t be happy, especially having named Wade-Gery in his new executive team just two weeks ago and promoted her to head non-food. Tesco’s habit of developing some of the best online retailers -John Browett and Steve Robinson spring to mind too - then losing them is starting to look unfortunate.
But the bigger news is what it means for M&S. Her appointment is a real coup for Marc Bolland, especially as many anticipated that Wade-Gery’s next step would be jumping straight to a chief executive job in much the same way that Browett did.
Appointing Wade-Grey shows Bolland takes online seriously. He has always been a sceptic about the economics of selling food online, and even if it doesn’t presage a move into grocery straight away, it can’t be ignored forever given the popularity of Ocado among M&S’s core food customer base. In the meantime, there is plenty to do with general merchandise, overseas expansion, and the launch of a new platform to replace Amazon.
And maybe there’s an even bigger story here - after the shambles of finding a successor for Sir Stuart Rose, could it be the company under Bolland and new chairman Robert Swannell is thinking ahead to what will happen when Bolland steps aside. By which time multichannel expertise will be vital for any retail chief executive.
No spring in the air yet
This week’s BRC retail sales figures looked reassuring, but no one in retail will be fooled into reading too much into the good news.
The very first few days of the year will have been helped by shoppers wanting to beat the VAT rise, while for much of the month the comps were really soft because of snow last year. But for most retailers, as the month wore on, trading deteriorated rapidly. Even pay day didn’t help.
February is always the toughest month for retailers, and with Easter falling late this year and the economic news unremittingly gloomy, the weeks ahead are going to be a long hard slog. Casualties can’t be ruled out.