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: 07/30/2021

    What’s holding consumers back from adopting AR/VR shopping tech?

    Augmented reality has a lot of potential, especially in terms of allowing customers to see how products like furnishings look in their rooms, and there has been take up of the technology. Virtual reality, complete with headsets, is less appealing. It's a hassle, can be cumbersome, and often doesn't really add much value. I have seen virtual reality grocery experiences that the developers thought would be the next big thing. Frankly, the whole thing was terrible and it took way longer to order than going to a static webpage or even to a normal store. This comes down to the old truism with retail technology: start with the problem, then develop the technology solution; don't start with the technology and then try and find a "problem" to solve!
  • Posted on: 07/30/2021

    Amazon forecasts slower growth as it laps last year’s insane online sales gains

    Sales growth slowed, but Amazon still added $24 billion to the top line over and above last year's stellar increases. Net income rose by 48%. These are fantastic results and the disappointment from some quarters is largely a consequence of Wall Street's inability to understand that online growth isn't going to keep growing at an accelerated pace. Against this positive set of numbers, it is clear Amazon is dong a lot of things right. The biggest threat is something completely outside of its control: government antitrust investigations and policy shifts.
  • Posted on: 07/28/2021

    Weather forecast predicts retailers will face more record-setting heat waves and storms

    Could retailers do more to tackle climate change? Sure they could. How do they balance this with the need to remain commercial and serve consumers? That's the more complex part and it is a very difficult balancing act. To some extent, small actions -- such as reusing and recycling, using renewable energy to power stores, etc. -- are the best ways to make an immediate impact. Collectively those things do make a difference. From a trading perspective, the most immediate challenge is the disruption to demand. If traditional weather patterns break down, retailers will need to rethink their supply chains and have much more flexibility to quickly change to ranges which are suitable for the prevailing climate. On top of this is the issue of a more fragile supply chain if there are floods, droughts and other severe events across the world.
  • Posted on: 07/28/2021

    Will smaller retailers pay to use Walmart’s tech and transform their own businesses?

    This moves shows two things. First, Walmart -- and many other retailers -- need to recoup their massive investments in technology and need to offset the margin-erosion from the surge of digital. Some of this will come from selling services to third parties to monetize the investments. Second, it should put an end to the fantasy that Amazon has a "monopoly" when it comes to marketplaces and routes to market for smaller retailers and brands. This was never true, but it is even more of a falsehood now that so many other routes to market -- from Walmart to Kroger to Shopify -- are expanding.
  • Posted on: 07/27/2021

    Will the Delta variant keep shoppers and unvaccinated workers at home?

    Any backward step in the pandemic is concerning and the Delta variant has the potential to interrupt the recovery for retail and hospitality. However, I do not think this means a return to where we were last March and April; it is a much gentler step back. There are several reasons for this. First, vaccination rates are higher and those who are vaccinated tend to get only mild symptoms. Second, the death rate -- which is what scares a lot of people -- remains relatively low. Third, there are signs from the UK that the Delta variant is peaking well below forecasts and could diminish far more quickly than anticipated. Fourth, regardless of whether it is sensible or not, there are sizable groups of consumers who are over the pandemic and believe life must return to normal. Of course, all of this is up in the air as the pandemic is unpredictable and the worse the deterioration, the more sizable the impact.
  • Posted on: 07/27/2021

    Will ‘sound commerce’ make some noise?

    This is very interesting, not least because it represents another example of how media and commerce are becoming more blended. Commercializing the things we see, hear and experience is going to become much more significant -- although it needs to be user initiated as no one wants to be bombarded with constant notifications and buying suggestions. For this particular application, I suspect the market is niche as it will likely be restricted to those who are musical and are in the market for instruments. That is far from being a large segment of the shopper population, but for the site doing the selling it will inevitably drive more traffic and help generate sales.
  • Posted on: 07/26/2021

    Should retailers continue the chatbot deception?

    The main objective of most consumers is to have their issues solved or their questions answered. If chatbots can do that effectively, then most people have no issue in dealing with them. However, chatbots are still incapable of dealing with every situation and human intervention is sometimes required. The skill here is to recognize these situations and quickly transfer to someone who can help, perhaps noting the transfer from bot to human.
  • Posted on: 07/26/2021

    Has Ben & Jerry’s gone too far with its stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

    In my honest opinion, brands are entitled to take whatever stand they wish and consumers and other businesses are entitled to respond accordingly. That's the way a free society, where freedom of speech is prized, should work. Too many people have lost sight of this principle and are only tolerant of speech and viewpoints that chime with their own views -- especially when it comes to corporations. That's not the way it works. As for the stand taken by Ben & Jerry's on Israel, I don't agree with it at all -- but I respect others have different views to mine and have every right to act on their principles.
  • Posted on: 07/26/2021

    Macy’s should have stayed local

    I think there is some merit in this argument but, for me, the bigger failure has been Macy's inability to keep track of what the customer wants, innovate accordingly, and invest in new solutions and propositions. Sure, some of that is a consequence of consolidation -- I am sure local chains would have remained more in touch with what shoppers wanted -- but most of it comes down to having the wrong focus and poor management. After all, Target isn't exactly a localized retailer, but it has done well by adapting to the times and allowing some local nuance where required.
  • Posted on: 07/23/2021

    How will COVID-19 shape future consumers?

    Generation Covid? What a terrible term! No generation should be defined by something as negative as a pandemic - especially if the cohort stretches well beyond the next few years. As for the impact, yes, there will be some. However my view is that things such as human contact and interaction will eventually normalize, simply because most people want and need them. In that respect, the peculiar aspects of the pandemic, such as isolation, should not be seen as permanent shifts and as the new hallmarks of a generation. It's far more pertinent to look at underlying trends the pandemic accelerated such as working patterns, digital and so forth. Those things will have a much more significant impact longer term.
  • Posted on: 07/23/2021

    Will an enhanced rewards program turn Gap’s customers into ‘lifelong loyalists’?

    Loyalty schemes only work if there is something worthwhile to be loyal to. In the case of brands like Old Navy and Athleta, I can see this working. However at the Gap brand and, to a lesser extent, Banana Republic, so many underlying issues have yet to be resolved. Until they are, no scheme or program will be particularly effective. Putting that to one side, creating a unified scheme across all brands is sensible from an efficiency, data management, and ease of use perspective.
  • Posted on: 07/22/2021

    Beauty shop-in-shops are trending

    Beauty is big business and, before the pandemic, the category had some of the strongest growth in retail. That growth will come back once things normalize. It is not surprising, therefore, that many mainstream retailers want to grab a slice of the action. Target has already excelled in beauty, with its store refurbishments and partnerships with DTC beauty brands allowing it to capture share overall and from younger consumers in particular. The partnership with Ulta is designed to deepen Target's expertise and allow it to push more into premium beauty. I expect it to succeed. Similarly, Kohl's - which has lacked a serious beauty offer - should accrue benefits from its collaboration with Sephora. J.C. Penney, I am not so sure about. It needs a beauty offer to replace Sephora but the wider issues with its brands and stores may impede progress. As for Macy's and other department stores, much more effort is needed in beauty to arrest their long-term decline. Macy's owns Blue Mercury so has a vehicle for growth - but it really has not been good at using this and integrating the expertise and excitement into its department stores. And behind all of these physical changes -- the very innovative DTC brands will continue to boom!
  • Posted on: 07/22/2021

    Should retailers reconsider bringing their HQ staff back to work?

    Given where we are in the pandemic, I do not think this is the time for companies to demand people return to work. Even when the pandemic is over, it is very clear that many employees want more flexible working arrangements and I think businesses are going to have to adapt and respond to that.
  • Posted on: 07/21/2021

    Madewell is set on becoming a leader in the circular economy

    Sustainable credentials or participation in the circular economy will not, per se, be a driver of success. The critical ingredients of success are what they have always been in retail - product, price, etc. However where these things are optimal, having a sustainable business is an important consideration that can positively impact how the brand is seen and the loyalty consumers show to it. Madewell currently seem to view this as more of a brand and ethical play rather than a revenue driver. That's probably the right attitude to go in with but, at some point and on some level - whether through improved loyalty, increased brand equity, or via direct sales - the initiative has to make a commercial contribution.
  • Posted on: 07/21/2021

    Will a new private label be a good fit for Macy’s customers?

    Good private label apparel is beneficial in two ways: it enhances margin and it creates some exclusive differentiation. As such, it is something Macy's should have seriously tackled years ago - but better late than never! From what I can see, the “And Now This" range looks on-point from the perspective of being a casual collection suited to the more relaxed way people are dressing. However its success will depend on execution and I have some concerns here. First, how it looks in-store is important and, sadly, Macy's is not renowned for its merchandising skills. Second, how far down the chain does the range get rolled out, as it seems like some regional stores - which are in desperate need of a boost - may not get the product. Third, this has to be part of a much bigger effort of reinvention and must be seen as a small solution, not the solution to Macy's ills.

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