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: 01/19/2022

    Are retailers’ returns concerns coming to a holiday head?

    This has always been an issue in the post-holiday period. However this year it is worse than ever. Why? Because of elevated online purchasing, because of supply chain issues forcing people to buy products from retailers they wouldn't usually use, and because some orders arrived late and were unwanted. This is causing issues in terms of markdowns and excess stock in warehouses and stores. The potential resolutions are multifold: improved pictures and images to give shoppers a better impression of products, more detailed sizing information, stricter returns policies, and so forth. However, in some ways, returns are simply a cost of business.
  • Posted on: 01/18/2022

    Are retailers getting closer to nailing last-mile delivery?

    Working out the logistics of last mile is challenging but seems to be getting better. The big question is: how many of these services are profitable and how many erode the bottom line?
  • Posted on: 01/18/2022

    December retail sales were strong, no matter what the clickbait headlines said

    This has been a bugbear of mine for many years. The reporting by the Census Bureau and, by extension, the media that pick up the figures is abysmal. There are two issues. First, the headline numbers are reported month-over-month, which is meaningless. Seriously, what retailer compares one month to the next? Second, the figures are reported seasonally adjusted which is an often inaccurate statistical manipulation of what happened. That is why you get headlines which say December was a bad month when, in reality, it was the biggest December on record. What's absurd is the narrative is so out of step with the reality on the ground that it makes all the negative commentary laughable!
  • Posted on: 01/14/2022

    SCOTUS strikes down OSHA’s COVID vaccine/testing mandate

    Ryan, with equal respect, I completely disagree. First, you cannot say that the pandemic would be over a year ago. No one, including scientists, knows that for certain as we are still learning about the virus and there is a lot we still do not know. Indeed, even in countries like Israel and the UK, where vaccination rates are very high by international standards, the pandemic has not been brought under control and is presenting numerous challenges. Second, vaccinations are very valuable and and they have been excellent at preventing serious illness and death, especially among vulnerable people. However, they do not completely prevent people from catching and spreading Covid -- especially with the latest variant. That's one of the reasons why things like vaccine passports are pretty useless and unreasonable. Third, there is a fundamental difference between you shouting fire or chugging vodka and driving: those are deliberate, conscious actions, by you, which have the potential to cause harm to others and violate their rights. In the case of this pandemic it is the virus, not individuals, that is the agent causing harm: people are not deliberately catching it and spreading it with intent (and if they are doing so, for example by sneezing on people deliberately, etc. then there would likely be criminal penalties). So you are basically comparing apples and pears. Finally, OSHA has a very specific remit and and it overstepped. If President Biden wanted a vaccine mandate then he should have done it the proper way by going to Congress and passing legislation for it, not trying to enlarge government power by the back door. I am sure he was doing what he thought to be right, but there are limits to government power -- which is exactly why our system of government is set up the way it is, and thankfully so!
  • Posted on: 01/14/2022

    Will NFTs, Kanye West and high-fashion collabs help Gap get its groove back?

    NFTs, collaborations and the like are all important and will be helpful to Gap. However when I walk into a Gap store - which I did the other evening - and it is so bland it makes wallpaper adhesive look exciting, these other things are unlikely to make much of a dent. Get the basics right, get the fundamentals in order, get a clear sense of direction and focus - and then add all the fancy new things. They are the icing on the cake, not the cake itself!
  • Posted on: 01/14/2022

    SCOTUS strikes down OSHA’s COVID vaccine/testing mandate

    I am not anti-vaccination - indeed, I have had two shots of Pfizer injected into my arm! However I completely agree with the Supreme Court’s decision. Regardless of the merits of vaccination or the intention of the mandate, this was government overreach on a grand scale that represented egregious interference in the personal decisions of individuals and in the policies of companies. That said, each company is entitled to set its own policies and standards. Some may choose to increase insurance for the unvaccinated and/or reduce benefits like sick time - which, for example, IKEA has done. Much, of course, depends on the progression of the latest variant. If, as seems to be happening in the UK, it represents a move from pandemic to endemic we can hopefully start to put all of this contentious debate behind us.
  • Posted on: 01/13/2022

    Can Penney’s new leadership (finally) transform the business?

    Good appointments. Good people. Good skills. Absolutely rotten retailer. On the ground there is virtually nothing that looks good about J.C. Penney. Stores are worse than ever. Assortments are unfocused and bland. There are very few solid initiatives. With the consumer economy set to tighten, I just cannot see a path forward for J.C. Penney. That said, I wish everyone well and I hope that they prove me wrong!
  • Posted on: 01/13/2022

    Big Lots has big expansion plans

    Prior to 2020, Big Lots was a reasonable but far from spectacular performer. Despite a number of strategic initiatives, it struggled to get total sales growth above the low single digit level. However the pandemic changed that: it brought new shoppers both because of out-of-stocks elsewhere and a greater desire for value. Expansion of ranges in growth categories like home furnishings (helped by the Broyhill furniture brand acquisition) also helped to increase transaction values and conversions. Given the rampant inflation and a more value-for-money oriented mindset, there is an opportunity for Big Lots to build on its success over the past couple of years.
  • Posted on: 01/12/2022

    What tech must restaurants put on their menu of services?

    Given its length, The Cheesecake Factory digital menu would need to be delivered as a Kindle book!
  • Posted on: 01/12/2022

    Are brand and product messages in conflict?

    An obsession with finding a "higher purpose" for brands that really don't need them came under fire yesterday when a UK investment manager criticized Unilever. He said: "A company which feels it has to define the purpose of Hellmann’s mayonnaise has, in our view, clearly lost the plot. The Hellmann’s brand has existed since 1913 so we would guess that by now consumers have figured out its purpose (spoiler alert – salads and sandwiches).” There is truth in that view.
  • Posted on: 01/12/2022

    What tech must restaurants put on their menu of services?

    With respect, I don't think that QR codes for menus or payment at table is a major reason people select one restaurant over another. The biggest reasons are factors like cuisine type, price, quality and so forth. That said, technology that adds convenience and reduces friction is useful in enhancing the experience for those that like such things. The important point to make is that not everyone likes menus on phones, etc. so it's important to provide options.
  • Posted on: 01/12/2022

    More Americans are making Target runs

    The reason for this is very simple to explain: Target makes itself a destination worth visiting. There is always something new to look at from brands to collaborations, there's a great variety across many categories (Target is a true department store in a way that traditional department stores are not), stores are nicely merchandised and a pleasure to shop, customer service and the in-store energy is good, and there is strong value for money (important in a time of inflation). As I said, it's simple to explain. but very difficult to get consistently right -- which Target does.
  • Posted on: 01/11/2022

    Will JD.com’s robotic shops shake up retailing in the West?

    This is like the UK's Argos model but fully automated - which is a smart move. However, like the Argos concept, it can be a soulless shopping experience which lends itself to more "essential" and "convenience" products that people don't need to experience before buying. There is definitely potential here, especially in how automation is being used, but this isn't the predominant future for retail.
  • Posted on: 01/11/2022

    Reality hits omnichannel retail with a hard truth

    Separate physical and digital businesses can create seamless experiences but it is more difficult to engineer - hence the reason Saks has a bazillion operational agreements and protocols between its two entities. That isn't efficient and doesn't bode well in the longer term when the different businesses may wish to diverge. This whole article also ignores the elephant in the room: why is it necessary to split the businesses? This isn't about creating more value for the customer or a better experience or allowing more investment to flow to digital. This is a financial move that allows Wall Street to over-inflate digital valuations and profit from it while devaluing stores that play a critical role in supporting the brand. Long term it is a recipe for disaster.
  • Posted on: 01/10/2022

    Wellness has become fashionable at Saks

    The health and wellness market continues to be boosted by the pandemic. Credit to Saks for recognizing this and creating a specific offer around this trend. That said, while I am sure the focused area of the website will get some traction, it's pretty basic - no editorial, doesn't feel different from the rest of the site, doesn't feature many exclusive products. Fortunately, the live events will add an element of excitement and interest but Saks needs to do more of this if it wants to carve out a place in the very crowded wellness space.

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