We know that all forms of retailers (on/offline) are finding these digital times extremely frustrating.
Despite the gloomy headlines we also see lots of positive retail news, so perhaps it's not all doom and gloom as the likes of 'Selfridges' at one end and 'Primark' at the other seem to provide a spark of retail hope.
My day job is working with companies who are needing to 'change'. This focus comes with lots of reasons, most of them are unfortunate basket cases, mainly because the best time to change is similar to the best time to do repairs on your house e.g. when the sun's shining.
We see lots of companies who are keen to change but decline to discover the internal 'change makers' because of the lame excuse called 'culture fit' which roughly translated means their a threat to the incumbent leaders.
Change is pretty scary for many people, particularly if it seems like it's your job that could be cut as part of that change, but what if you had a crystal ball, what do you think M&S, Thomas Cook, Mothercare, Debenhams and others would have done different back when the sun was shining - correct answer is NOTHING, yup that's right, nothing!
When retailers either complete the irrevocable fall from grace, or are still on the journey it would seem based on this recent news report about M&S that recruiting from previous troubled and competing retail brands who are suffering similar problems, that lack of innovation and a non listening culture doesn't deter them.
"Marks & Spencer has raided the senior ranks of both Asda and Sainsbury’s Argos to fill in two new roles within its retail, operations and property leadership team". link below.
The traditional retail sector has lumbered along for many years, when the internet arrived far too many of them simply saw it as a threat to 'cannabilising' the physical store network and did very little, a few of them followed the herd and added a website, but all done at a very slow pace.
In my experience you can introduce new processes, new technology, and yes even new people, but if the mindset of the company (it's culture) doesn't change then it's all wasted time and effort.
Whilst 'Walmart' owned 'Asda' are also going through their own restructuring, and Morrisons deciding it's better to have more staff on the sales floor than managers in the office this recent set of appointments by M&S would suggest that the strategy for recovery is to be based on changes and improvements to the physical store network, and by strengthening the leadership team with folks that have left behind brands with their own set of inherent problems.
In my humble opinion M&S has 'simply' lost it's 'WHY' and no amount of tinkering around a store network, bringing in new leaders or promoting 'Ocado' as a digital saviour will really move the dial forwards.
Recruiting more 'leaders' from companies where innovation is evidenced to have been pedestrian wouldn't suggest that real 'change' is likely - it's a sign that a retail incest strategy isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Now I don't personally know the two individuals involved, and I'm pretty certain that they will have had an illustrious career at both their previous employers so we can only wish them best of luck in this new opportunity to help stem the demise, and help lead the company into its bright new future.
I did see some really great stuff coming from new 'concepts' around the food hall at M&S which suggest its an initiative that needs to be extended into other parts of the store. However until the 'WHY' around customer/product fit is resolved this may also be yet more folly.
Obviously the whole sector is being pushed further into innovation, mainly because of the upstarts in what was discount land e.g. Aldi, Lidl, and now the further deterioration of it's older competitors Tesco, Asda (Walmart), Morrisons (guess where all those redundant store managers will be going), and probably more relevant to the M&S customer, the ongoing woes with Sainsbury/Argos.
Sainsbury's acquired Argos, Habitat and Homebase in 2016, and then splashed out buying loyalty card Nectar in February 2018 what on earth did it think was a key priority?
The reality is, after a number of years trying to grow through a variety of acquisitions it hasn't worked.
If M&S are hanging their digital hat on the Ocado deal then I for one see many similarities with the Sainsbury/Argos issues.
Today's retailers need to cease pissing about as if they have another 10 years to sort stuff out, they not only need to create an internal disruption team by identifying the internal 'change makers' (every single company has these) and get them to look at the business as if its going tits up anytime soon, embrace what's already disrupting them, with something we all use every single day, and that is social media..
I've said it before and I will keep saying it that retail in essence is a simple business, today it seems to be complicated by the arrogance and ignorance of senior leadership teams who don't seem to understand that it's the digitally savvy consumer whose in the driving seat, and the days of ignoring those at the retail coalface is no longer going to stack up.
The recent announcement for these 2 new retail leaders also talk about 'empowering' the workforce - well here's a no brainer to get going with.
Take a moment to consider the following industry stats;
- Less than 2% of Employees regularly share or create employer related brand content.
- Over 33% of Employees are unclear on what to post and how it could benefit their employer.
- There is a 561% increase in audience for your brand message when shared by employees vs sharing via the corporate channel.
- 90% of your employee network is new to your brand meaning you are opening up previously untapped audiences.
So when we see retailers (and other businesses) using social platforms as a way to deal with crisis management, or transferring the 'advertise, promote, me, me, me, me' thinking then I wonder if anything is really changing?
How about investing in up-skilling your employees to use social media as way of really providing an authentic voice, rather than the corporate message, or an extension of your customer service department, how about using that training to activate at least 10% of the aggregated 80,000 strong workforce to give a non brand police view of the really good reasons to work and shop at each of these companies?
Now that's industry changing, low cost innovation.
“Helen has an outstanding track record and she will be supported by two new heads of division with the right breadth and depth of experience to deliver our mission to be the best retail operator with the most engaged and empowered colleagues in UK retail.