Chris Poad, Managing Director, Online at Tesco PLC joins us in the studio for a wide-ranging and extensive discussion. Fresh from a series of senior roles at Amazon (heading Fulfilment by Amazon, then Director, Amazon Business International), Chris has returned to the UK to take up the reins at Tesco’s online activities – just in time to be in the eye of the COVID storm!
We segue from his career to the Tesco response – an impressive and sustained activity at scale – and we learn about the values that drove the work, the decision-making approaches, and how the team runs under such great pressure.
The interview is chock-full of insights, expressed with clarity and openness – it’s a privileged view inside Tesco at a defining time. There are too many quotable nuggets to list here, but the title of this podcast references a perceptive classification of decision-making – jump to 22m10s if you can’t bear to wait! It’s worth it.
Our thanks to Chris for giving us so much time, and we’ll pick up with him again post-Christmas to see how the peak-upon-peak of trading turned out.
A bumper edition for the stifling dog-days of August!
We kick off with an in-depth chat with Mark Wright, Group Operations Director at Fat Face. Mark’s got an incredible track record in retail – online, offline and multichannel – with stints as head of trading at M&S and as Managing Director, Omnichannel and Jack Wills. His role at Fat Face covers all operations and trading and so it was interesting to get his reflections upon the lockdown, recovery and impact. Mark’s a direct and generous guest and so there’s no holding back!
After Mark we hear from Murray Lambell, the VP of Trading at eBay UK. Murray’s role is to help major retailers and brands get onto the eBay platform and there are some suprises here, with no hard sell. 27 million (yes, million) active customers on eBay are the “bait” for sellers, and Murray’s team look at what they’re are searching for, identify gaps, and then approach retailers and brands to take up that demand. Murray shares with us the partnership approach and, as if a jolt were needed this year, points out that 60,000 sellers have joined eBay in the last 90 days! Busy, busy times indeed.
Still in lockdown limbo, we use the internet to speak with two guests from the beauty and electricals sectors.
First up is Aaron Winsloe, the Head of eCommerce USA for The Hut Group. We spoke with Aaron in his new office just before the group results were announced – an impressive 24% revenue growth to £1.1bn and a 22% increase in profits. With 66% of group turnover coming from the international operations, it was a timely moment to catch up with Aaron, and in particular the trading and learning experience over COVID.
Next up is John Roberts, founder and CEO of AO.com. John has some very pithy sayings, as well as a lovely ‘origin story’ for how ‘Appliances Online’ (as it was 20 years ago) was founded. This interview was recorded as a keynote for IRX Engage’s inaugural digital event, and in discussion we hear about the ‘pivot’ to a direct-selling brand and the values that underpin the business’ success. The sound quality is more “phone line” than “BBC Studio” but John is such a compelling speaker that we had to share the interview.
As Lockdown continued, we caught up with our guests ‘over the web’.
Our first guest is Gracia Amico: chair, non-executive advisor and experienced CEO. In the past, she’s held senior digital and commercial roles at Burberry, TopShop and Hobbs, as well as CEO at Pets Pyjamas. After a period as Head of Digital Operations at Sun Capital, Gracia is now a non-executive Director at Stitched (the online curtains and blinds seller) and Chair of the pet technology company, Pet Mate.
With Gracia we learn about the dynamics of the ‘pet’ market, discuss the role of the CEO and the skills needed as Chair, and touch on an investor view of the skills needed to thrive as we emerge from lockdown.
Robin Phillips is our next guest. Robin is the CEO of The Watch Shop, but his career has seen him cover the gamut of ecommerce. He was Ecommerce Director at Waitrose, then Director of Omnichannel for Boots, before joining Kurt Geiger as Director of Digital. Robin’s experience then across fashion, food and pharmacy mean that he’s got a unique take on retail over the COVID lockdown, as well as some interesting insights on how The Watch Shop can be a brand platform for watch brands to sell.
Thoroughly grounded in London, I luckily had some interviews from the ’time when travel was allowed’ and so we hear from Rikard Frost, Chief Consumer Officer of Alexander Wang Inc, when we visited him in New York City in January 2020. Then, further back in time, we chat with Pieter Heij, Multichannel Director at De Bijenkorf, the Netherland’s premier department store (and part of the Selfridges group). We chatted with Pieter just before an autumn dinner in Amsterdam – such proximity is much missed as we socially distance!
HMV announced on 28 December, 2018 that they were appointing KPMG as administrators, following “a “tsunami” of retail challenges, including business rate levels and the move to digital”, according to Hilco, the restructuring group who rescued the retailer in 2013.
This is sad news for the retail sector, and for music-lovers who remember the age of dominance of HMV and Virgin Megastores (who at the time were challenging HMV as the ‘traditional giant’).
Hilco mention a ‘tsunami’ and I think that this is the key point. No one factor killed off HMV – not digital downloads, not rates, not changes in consumption and the music industry… Rather, these factors have all been accelerating and working in unison.
This is the inflexion point where a slope turns into a cliff.
I was invited to comment on the news both on Sky News and on LBC that evening and my clips are below.
The key to jobs in the future is not college but compassion | Aeon Essays – Twin argument of ‘caring/emotional’ work in the future and the fact that never-ending education is not a solution. Example being an overqualified doctor working 80 hours a week, but lacking empathy… when AI can diagnose more effectively where is the new value?”The US economists W Norton Grubb and Marvin Lazerson call the belief in more schooling as the solution to every labour problem the ‘education gospel’. As Grubb argued in a 2005 talk, having more education tends to help individuals find better work, but that doesn’t make schooling a good overall economic strategy. In fact, he said, 30 to 40 per cent of workers in developed countries already have more education than their jobs demand.”
Opinion | The Real Threat of Artificial Intelligence – “Service jobs of love” and ‘strength negate strength’. The impact of AI will concentrate power in the hands of the us and china, and leave only ’emotional’ and interface jobs.
Note too the characterisation of current AI as ‘spreadsheets on steroids’ – main point being that solutions are domain- and purpose-specific at present, not overarching ‘intelligence’.