Retail’s revolving doors have spun at a considerable pace this year – and last Friday Alex Baldock became the latest big-name boss to reveal his departure.
After five years in the Shop Direct driver’s seat, former banker Baldock will hand over the keys next summer, safe in the knowledge he has steered the etailer firmly in the right direction.
Shop Direct’s digital transformation over the past decade, kick-started by former boss Mark Newton-Jones and accelerated under Baldock, has been nothing short of remarkable.
The business has reinvented itself from an ageing and irrelevant catalogue retailer into a revered and celebrated digital leader.
At the heart of that revolution, particularly during Baldock’s tenure, has been Shop Direct’s personalisation push.
The Very and Littlewoods owner has grown underlying profits and sales in each of the past five years – a record many retailers could only dream of boasting about in today’s ultra-competitive market.
It attributes much of that success to knowing its customers better than its rivals and offering them a more personal and bespoke service, based on their needs and wants.
The business has obsessed about what Baldock calls “the three-second audition” on smartphones, creating easy-to-use apps that provide personalised product suggestions.
“Shop Direct has reinvented itself from an ageing and irrelevant catalogue retailer into a revered and celebrated digital leader”
It has worked closely with the likes of Google and Facebook to identify both existing and potential customers, with the online equivalent of a shop window display.
And while its “big bets” on AI and mobile have reaped rewards in the form of sustained profit growth, Shop Direct is also in the midst of a cultural shift to adapt to that strategic change.
Baldock has set the wheels in motion to make Shop Direct ready for “the agile working revolution” he believes is just around the corner.
But before Baldock departs next year, there is more to come.
In its current financial year, Shop Direct plans to launch an AI-powered customer service chatbot within its MyVery app, which will be equipped to answer 32 different kinds of customer query and recognise and respond to more than 4,000 written phrases.
“This business is still nowhere near its full potential,” Baldock insists. “Using personalisation, we’re striving to be the easiest and most inspiring place to shop.
“Longer term, we believe AI will bring scale to personalisation so digital retailers like us can be every bit as personal as stores.”
Having established Shop Direct in pole position for personalisation, Baldock leaves valuable lessons for its retail rivals.
If Shop Direct has evolved rapidly to meet changing consumer demands, the grocery and wholesale sector is moving at an equally swift pace.
This weekend, one of convenience retailing’s elder statesmen, Spar‚ celebrates its 60th birthday at an event in Manchester.
As its bosses blow out the candles on a celebratory cake, they might quietly wish that the landscape it operates in had not been altered so dramatically at the end of its sixth decade in business.
“In the aftermath of Tesco’s £3.7bn swoop on Britain’s largest wholesaler, Booker, the retail and supply sectors of the food industry are rushing to consolidate”
In the aftermath of Tesco’s £3.7bn swoop on Britain’s largest wholesaler, Booker, the retail and supply sectors of the food industry are rushing to consolidate.
Morrisons has agreed a deal to supply McColl’s 1,300 convenience stores and 350 newsagents as it dips its toe back into convenience following the closure of its M Local chain.
And McColl’s itself is eyeing a potential bid for Tesco’s One Stop chain, should the Competition and Markets Authority demand that the grocery giant offloads stores in order to push through the Booker deal.
Spar will rightly celebrate its 60-year history on Britain’s high streets, but the business, like all those in the grocery sector, will be working hard to ensure it is fit for purpose for the future.