The bosses of leading retailers including Primark, Ikea, Waitrose, Under Armour, ProCook, River Island and McDonald’s have spoken in-depth to Retail Week for a landmark new report – Retail 2023.
With the markets and country in the grips of such turmoil, this report – based on interviews with 57 leaders across 54 retailers – provides a now critical strategic outlook on the year ahead and insight into the conversations happening across UK boardrooms.
Navigating the cost-of-living crisis
In order to combat the gloomy trading environment, the retailers interviewed spoke of emphasising value, whether that manifests itself through low prices or high-quality products, depending on their market positioning. Another key strategy is spreading rising costs among their own businesses, suppliers and the consumer.
“Inflation will have the biggest impact on profitability. We’re seeing record price increases at a level I’ve never seen before – and I’ve been in this industry for 15 to 20 years,” says US Polo Assn president and chief executive J. Michael Prince.
“We can’t pass all of that along to the consumer. Our supply chain partners will have to take some of it and then, with our licensing partners, we’ll have to take some as well. It will be spread among the different groups.”
River Island chief executive Will Kernan echoes the point that retailers must take action. “We have wide-ranging plans [to deal with the cost-of-living crisis]. Clearly, we need to support and reinforce our value credentials across our ranges to help our customers at this difficult time.
“We are investing further in what we’re calling ‘foundation lines’, ie: core fashion essentials – not just maintaining, but investing in prices there.
“We’re also investing in quality and design at the top end of our price architecture. There is significant cost price inflation taking place, some of which we will have to absorb within our P&L, which our suppliers are supporting us with.”
Inflation vs profit potential
The word on every retailer’s lips is inflation.
How that impacts businesses’ abilities to grow profits and convince shoppers to part with their money is a major factor in how the industry is mapping out its plans for 2023.
The consensus among the retailers interviewed was that balancing increasing costs in the supply chain with a world-class customer proposition has to be central to a 2023 strategy.
“Profitability is going to be under pressure because we are seeing such high inflation in the cost of goods and we don’t want to pass that on to our consumers”
Tracey Clements, BP
BP chief executive of convenience in Europe Tracey Clements, who also spent more than 16 years at Tesco, underlined the scale of the challenge facing retailers.
“For all good retailers at the moment, profitability is going to be under pressure because we are seeing such high inflation in the cost of goods and we don’t want to pass that on to our consumers,” she explains.
“Wherever possible we’re trying to offset; I’ve never quite seen such a high inflationary climate in my career, both in terms of cost of goods and in terms of things like utilities. Across the board, we are seeing some very high inflationary numbers.”
Leaders keep calm and carry on
Despite the pressures of ongoing digital transformation, Brexit-related disruption, a global pandemic, war in Ukraine, challenges across the supply chain and now the fiercest cost-of-living crisis in generations, managing through chaos has become the norm for retailers, and confidence about growth remains.
Almost half of retailers forecast sales to be slightly higher in 2023, with a further 18% expecting them to be much higher and 10% forecasting them to remain flat, our research shows.
The in-depth interviews also signalled good news for frontline employees – 71% of chief executives, managing directors and founders said they expect to navigate next year with more or the same number of staff in stores.
Want to find out more about the 2023 strategies of the 57 leaders? This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Access your free copy of Retail 2023, produced in association with Zebra Technologies, to find out:
- The boardroom forecast from Waterstones, Space NK, Dobbies, Ganni, Majestic Wine and more
- IT infrastructure, data, loyalty and supply chain – the truth about investment plans
- The critical role a diverse marketing strategy is playing, from traditional channels such as TV through to TikTok
- How retailers are infusing tech with stores to create memorable experiences
Who did we speak to? Meet the 57 leaders that took part in this research:
- Paul Kraftman, chief executive, Gift Universe, and owner, Menkind
- Alessandro Savelli, co-founder and managing director, Pasta Evangelists
- James Daunt, managing director, Waterstones
- Doug Putman, owner, Putman Investments and HMV
- Chief executive, footwear retailer
- Sean Ashby, managing director, AussieBum
- Andrew Hood, co-founder and chief executive, Amara
- Andy Lightfoot, chief executive for UK and US, Space NK
- Orlagh McCloskey, co-founder, Rixo
- Henrietta Rix, co-founder, Rixo
- George Graham, chief executive, Wolf & Badger
- Aron Gelbard, chief executive, Bloom & Wild
- Mark Suddards, global retail director and general manager for northern Europe, Ganni
- Graeme Jenkins, chief executive, Dobbies
- Peter Jelkeby, country manager for UK and Ireland, Ikea
- Luca Donnini, chief executive, Temperley London
- Tracey Clements, chief executive of convenience for Europe, BP
- Andy McGeoch, chief executive, M&Co
- John Colley, executive chair and chief executive, Majestic Wine
- Paul Marshall, managing director for Europe, Specsavers
- Peter Bainbridge, general manager for optics, Specsavers
- Michael Thomson, chief executive and founder, Pour Moi
- Marketing and corporate responsibility director, fashion and home retailer
- Maria Hollins, managing director, Ann Summers
- Paul Marchant, chief executive, Primark
- Huw Crwys-Williams, chief executive, WiggleCRC
- Ali Hall, co-chief executive, Sosandar
- Julie Lavington, co-chief executive, Sosandar
- Managing director, grocery chain
- J. Michael Prince, president and chief executive, U.S. Polo Assn.
- Mark Saunders, chief executive, Mamas & Papas
- Debbie Bond, chief commercial officer, Lovehoney
- Paul Hayes, chief executive, Seasalt
- Rachel Sheridan, chief commercial officer, Thread
- Alex Loizou, co-founder and chief executive, Trouva
- Daniel O’Neill, chief executive and founder, ProCook
- Chief executive, sports equipment retailer
- Rasmus Brix, general manager for UK, Pandora
- Will Kernan, chief executive, River Island
- Markus Naewie, head of EMEA, Victorinox
- Michael Fletcher, former chief executive, Nisa
- Vanessa Masliah, vice-president of marketing and branding, Vestiaire Collective
- Chris Gaffney, chief executive, Johnstons of Elgin
- Managing director, jewellery retailer
- Gavin Peck, chief executive, The Works
- Kara Trent, managing director for EMEA, Under Armour
- Bridget Lea, managing director of commercial, BT
- Elizabeth Spaulding, chief executive, Stitch Fix
- Amy Heather, director of strategic accounts, Just Eat
- Kumaran Adithyan, UK trading director, eBay
- James Bailey, executive director, Waitrose
- Natalie Knoll, co-founder and creative director, Bird & Knoll
- Chief executive, fashion retailer
- Chirag Patel, chief executive, Pentland Brands
- Penny Grivea, managing director for UK and Ireland, Rituals Cosmetics
- Gareth Pearson, senior vice-president and chief operations officer for UK and Ireland, McDonald’s
- David Robinson, chief operating officer, Pets at Home