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Incoming senior retailers appear to signal strategy changes at leading UK multichannel retailers

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Sharon White, incoming chairman at the John Lewis Partnership, this week warned of job losses and store closures in her first staff council meeting in the new job – and said that the business should reposition itself as “owning the ethical and environmental agenda”.  She added, in comments reported by The Guardian: “I think in 2020, the partnership values are more important than ever. More than 10 years since financial crisis and as a country we are still asking: is business doing its role to create a good society, goods jobs and decent pay?”

The hint at how the John Lewis Partnership will reshape its strategy came in the same week that it hired Nina Bhatia as executive director, strategy and commercial development. Bhatia will join on February 17, reporting to White as a member of the new joint executive team that will run both Waitrose and John Lewis. She joins from connected home business Hive, and also previously ran a British Gas home services business. 

On her appointment, Bhatia offered some more insights into the future John Lewis Partnership strategy. She said: “Working with partners across the business, I look forward to developing a strategy for the partnership that is relevant to our customers, is built on trust and delivers commercial value.”

John Lewis is not the only retailer that appears to be looking at running retail differently. Marks & Spencer this week announced the hiring of Katie Bickerstaffe as chief strategy and transformation director. Bickerstaffe was previously a non-executive board member at M&S and a former chief executive of Dixons Carphone UK and Ireland. She was also previously chief executive (designate) at energy supply and services business SSE. 

M&S chief executive Steve Rowe said that her “experience in leading roles at UK food and non-food retailers and track record of delivering large-scale change will be invaluable as we accelerate our transformation.”

Bickerstaffe said that M&S had “huge potential” and that she was looking forward to helping “step up the pace of the transformation”. 

It’s early days as yet to know exactly how John Lewis and Marks & Spencer are likely to change their retail strategies going forward. But it seems that these leading retailers are very much reconsidering their direction of travel at a time that has been dubbed one of retail crisis by the Centre for Retail Research. Across the industry, retailers are closing shops as customers make more of their purchases online, and amid the extra complications of Brexit. This year alone, the CRR predicts that more than 17,000 shops will close. 

Elsewhere, Pets at Home has a new non-executive chairman. Ian Burke is also chair of Studio Retail Group and a non-executive senior independent director at shopping centres group Intu. In his new role, Burke will help to deliver the Pets at Home customer – or pet – centric, data-led strategy that combines services and stores. 

Image: InternetRetailing Media/Paul Skeldon

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