PROFILE

Neil Saunders

Managing Director, GlobalData
Neil is Managing Director of GlobalData’s retail division. In this role he oversees the development of the company’s retail proposition and its research output. He also works with clients to help them understand the retail, shopper and market landscape – advising them on how best to develop, evolve and implement business strategies. Prior to GlobalData, Neil worked at retail research firm Verdict for ten years. He latterly held the post of board director with responsibility for Consulting, Corporate Development and Planning. Before Verdict, Neil worked for the John Lewis Partnership where he was involved, among other things, in the planning and relocation of new stores, the development of the ecommerce business, and the creation of technical and information systems. Before moving to the United States, Neil served as a non-executive board director for the Great Western Railway – a role he held for just under 11 years. He currently serves as an advisory board member for the faculty of business and law at the University of Southampton, as an Honorary Lecturer at the University of New Hampshire, and as a Visiting Fellow at the University of Surrey. For more information, visit: www.globaldata.com/
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  • Posted on: 05/23/2019

    Can a startup undercut Rent the Runway in the clothing rental space?

    Clothing rental is growing and there is increasing consumer interest. However, consumers will not subscribe to loads and loads of services; many will only subscribe to one. So as more players enter this arena the market is getting very competitive and not everyone is going to find success. In my view, those that offer a variety of brands have a better chance of success.
  • Posted on: 05/22/2019

    What will happen when Grocery Outlet takes things public?

    Many of the locations where Grocery Outlet operates are less saturated with discount and dollar stores. The danger is that this will change over time, and that the chain will bump up against rivals more should it elect to expand geographically. That said, I do think the opportunistic business model is different from mainstream discount rivals and that should provide some protection to margins and a point of differentiation in terms of what is offered to the customer.
  • Posted on: 05/22/2019

    Should retail boards include seats for store associates?

    While this should never be mandated by government, having store associates on boards is a sensible idea. They can provide honest feedback about what's happening on the ground, and provide input on ideas and initiatives from a practical point of view. Of course, boards should be listening to associates anyway, but having high level representation never hurts. However, I must take issue with Bernie's suggestion that having workers on boards would somehow limit pay for the CEO or top people. It won't because not everyone - including many Walmart employees - shares Bernie's socialist view of the world!
  • Posted on: 05/21/2019

    How should retailers raise prices to offset tariffs?

    One of the interesting ways some retailers managed to push up margins during the last downturn is by adding a bit of embellishment to an apparel item. This may cost a few more cents but it improves customer perceptions and means retailers can charge a couple more dollars. The lesson is that retailers need to be creative about cost increases and they need to do it in a way that leaves consumers still feeling they're getting great value for money. Even so, price rises are inevitable and are going to cause pain for everyone.
  • Posted on: 05/20/2019

    Should Kohl’s buy At Home?

    Spot on, George! We have some consumer research on At Home and reactions are very mixed. People do appreciate the huge range, but many also find it totally overwhelming and dislike the amount of work they have to put into getting what they want. Also, the lack of inspiration really grates on a lot of people.
  • Posted on: 05/20/2019

    Should Kohl’s buy At Home?

    I see little logic in this move. Sure, it will give Kohl’s a stronger showing in the home sector. However, there are probably easier ways to attain this and At Home is not without its issues. From what I understand, many stores aren’t all that profitable. This is a function of the fact that they are big boxes with loads of inventory and poor sell-through rates, particularly in newer stores. Stores are also too much of a warehouse style "category killer" format when what people really want is more inspiration and ideas. I am not clear on what Kohl’s would do to solve these issues. It’s not like they could merge the format into their existing stores, it’s far too big of a concept. And you could not put Kohl's non-home stuff in At Home as it would not make sense. Driving e-commerce sales in home is an area they could focus on, but there’s a stack of competition from Walmart to Wayfair, and they arguably don't need At Home to do this. All in all, I'm just not seeing the value in any potential deal.
  • Posted on: 05/16/2019

    Study says Whole Foods is the priciest grocer of them all

    This comes as no great surprise. The price cuts have always been headline-grabbing and cosmetic. They have never represented a substantial repositioning of Whole Foods. There are some products at Whole Foods where a higher price is justified. These include things like deli products, meat, fish and the patisserie. Here the quality justifies the price. However, there are many more basic items - including branded products available elsewhere - where prices are very out of kilter and are unjustifiably high. Until Whole Foods remedies this it will continue to be seen as bad value for money.
  • Posted on: 05/14/2019

    Lands’ End is looking to get out of Sears like a bat out of hell

    Land's End was always one of the better offers with Sears. So much so that it often looked incongruous among the awful ranges that Sears itself put together. I see no advantage to Lands' End to partner with what remains a failing retailer. Sears brings it very little in terms of customers, demographic reach, or brand profile. Indeed, it probably damages Lands' End to be associated with Sears. As such, it is a sound strategy to move on and focus on other routes to market.
  • Posted on: 05/14/2019

    Did Walmart just one-up Amazon on next day deliveries?

    Unlike a few years ago, Walmart is now really flexing its muscles when its comes to e-commerce, and that's a good thing for competition and for consumers. Walmart's store base and strong logistics capabilities give it a potential advantage in fulfillment that means it should be able to offer speedy deliveries at a much lower cost than many rivals. For me the challenge is less about logistics (where I think Walmart can succeed), it is about persuading more customers to use Walmart as their default e-commerce site. Customer numbers are growing, but there's a lot more work to do.
  • Posted on: 05/14/2019

    Is the gig economy sustainable?


    There is a great deal of hype and irrationality that surrounds some of these firms, so it is hardly surprising when the reality fails to meet rather inflated expectations. The blunt truth is that for real success there needs to be profit or a clear path to profit. While Amazon may not have been particularly profitable in its early days, there was always a clear path to profitability. The same cannot be said of Uber. Its current service model is not profitable and with potentially tighter labor and regularity restrictions on the horizon, things could worsen. Autonomous cars may provide future potential, but when the technology reaches its full potential, that space is going to become very crowded, very quickly. As for retailers, I see no harm in them partnering with on-demand service providers. They just need to be aware of the downside risks of these companies and not become overly reliant on them. And that risk includes bad perceptions that arise from using labor that is not paid well or treated fairly.
  • Posted on: 05/13/2019

    What’s wrong with the (fill in the blank) category?

    A visit to the yogurt shelf at Whole Foods tells you all you need to know about the category. There is too much choice, too many brands, too many formulations, and too many options. In short, it’s a confusing category to shop which can lead to choice paralysis for customers and increasing levels of competition and discounting by brands. That said, it’s mainly the traditional brands and formulations which are under pressure and in decline. Many of the new plant based yogurts - such as those made from cashew nuts - are seeing rapid growth as they are seen as healthier and more beneficial by shoppers. This is arguably more of a problem for CPG firms than for retailers. Quickly adapting to new tastes, thinning down ranges, and trying to restrict promotions are all key. Executing that obviously requires some risks to be taken.
  • Posted on: 05/13/2019

    Why is Party City closing profitable stores?

    It’s good to see a retailer being proactive with its store fleet, rather than leaving decisions until the shops have declined to the point of being a drag on the business. That said, Party City does need to keep one eye on the non-specialists out there which are slowly increasing their market share. Target, for example, has its own party branded products under the Spritz label. These have been doing well because Target is convenient and accessible, and because the products are good. Against this backdrop, Party City can’t afford to lose the edge on convenience.
  • Posted on: 05/10/2019

    Trump is deaf to retailers on tariffs

    I do not agree with tariffs, I think they are damaging for the economy and, ultimately, for consumers. I prefer free and open trade. However, President Trump - regardless of what one thinks of him - does have a point: trade with China is not particularly free and it is not all that fair. The abuse of intellectual property rights in China is shocking and causes economic damage to many firms. China is extremely protectionist in terms of imports and imposes very high tariffs on products from the U.S. and other nations. And there are severe investment restrictions on foreign ownership of Chinese firms which do not apply to Chinese companies looking to set up in the U.S. China has been intransigent on all of these issues. President Trump is trying to get China to change these policies and is, in Trump style, playing hardball. Whether that is right is open to question, but there is a basis for action and this is not just a petty policy that has no reasoning behind it. All that said, even if the trading policies were made fairer there would still be an enormous trade deficit between China and the U.S., and that is absolutely fine. The aim must not be to eliminate the deficit, which reflects different specializations, but simply to make trade fairer.
  • Posted on: 05/10/2019

    Is anyone going to buy Sears’ rebranding?

    There is nothing wrong with rebranding or refreshing a brand. However, it needs to be done as part of an integrated strategy change and not just as a cosmetic exercise to cover other failings. I am afraid that Sears' rebrand seems to fall into this latter category. In my opinion, there are two further issues. The first is that Sears has yet to update all of its assets with the last two brand changes (made in 2004 and 2010) and many stores still sport old logos. This does not bode well. The second is that I am not entirely sure what Sears is trying to convey with the new brand: I kind of get what they want to say with the messaging but it still lacks clarity, focus and oomph. In short, I see very little here to change my view on Sears. The only positive thing I can say is at least they are trying something, even if it doesn't entirely cut it!
  • Posted on: 05/09/2019

    Will Schick parent’s acquisition of Harry’s create a ‘next-generation consumer products platform’?

    This is a great deal for Edgewell. Harry's is a disruptive brand that has gained a lot of ground in the shaving category. There is significant potential for Harry's to expand into new personal care areas, just as it already has done in shower gel and skincare products. So long as the ethos of the brand is maintained, Edgewell should be able to drive significant growth from its new addition.

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