Some retailers court the limelight – frequently on the conference circuit, highlighting their innovations in the press, and regulars at networking events, conscious of their next job role. By comparison, Next is almost secretive and its people less mobile. Lord Wolfson, as a pre-eminent retailer and leader of a major PLC, comments on issues such as Brexit, but otherwise it is relatively closed and its partners are generally discouraged from declaring any relationship. This surprises because Next is a retailer that genuinely has much to be boastful about. Results have always been strong, its operational underpinnings are robust, it has many great people and it delivers what the customer wants. In physical stores it continues to deliver a great experience (visit Longwater if you get the chance) and it makes bricks and mortar work better than most.
Next’s long experience in catalogue shopping gave it many structural advantages as the world moved to multichannel, which it played better than most others. It has retained benefits from that, from customers who’ve had expectations set around delivery fees, through to customer data that combines its shopping and financing businesses. However, a characteristic of digital is that it drives change at an accelerating pace. Early benefits accrue to those who’ve got the right infrastructure, but all large retailers are starting to get their single views of stock and of customer in place, pay down their technical debt on heavily customised big-box software and create their cross-functional teams, KPIs and service design behaviours. With this new competitive landscape looming, Next can be seen as slow to build these digital behaviours and develop a real depth in customer experience. The clichés around test & learn and fail fast, the culture of customer-led design and UX testing, and the moves to Agile development and (critically) continuous integration and deployment that characterise the successful modern firms are not commonplace at Next.
While fulfilment and contact centre capabilities are strong, in UX and CX strategy, cracks appear. Whether it’s missing a guest checkout, having limited YouTube content, the lack of PayPal support, the absence of Collect+/3rd party drop-off points, or missing very many best practice UX elements, it’s clear that Next is falling behind in its online design. While mobile is 63% of its online stores, Next also can do much more to support a mobile-first mindset and responsive capability. In-store, we see neither the assisted-selling that delivers so much of M&S’ digital sales, or the innovation that others experiment with (its beautiful sofa wall graphic in Longwater could learn from John Lewis’ 3D sofa work).
An area where Next clearly has continued to lead has been in International. With almost 30% of its store estate outside of the UK, Next’s very strong digital international offering (spanning 18 distinct sites and supporting 34 languages) is unsurprising. As it explores partnerships with marketplaces and invests further into Russia and China, it is clear that it has the strategic ambition to become one of the big winners in these major overseas opportunities.
Questions can be asked around just how digital Next is and whether the “new normal” in omnichannel is becoming part of its DNA – retaining a distinct Next Directory division separate from bricks & mortar is telling. But it is undoubtedly clear that in traditional retailing it retains its strength and expertise and that for the big opportunities opening up globally, it is positioning itself well.
The simple scoring from Transform is based on whether or not five services are offered by the retailer in the UK with a score of 0 for no and 5 for yes. On this basis, Next scores 20/25.
Collection in-store: Yes
Mobile app: Yes
Mobile web: Yes
iPad app: Yes
In-store tech: No