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: 02/20/2020

    Are loyalty cards key to online-to-offline attribution?

    Loyalty schemes are an effective way of enhancing a retailer's understanding of how consumers purchase across channels; indeed, it is one of the reasons Target has been pushing Target Circle. However it is not perfect. People forget to scan their cards or apps. Not everyone is a member of the scheme. And so forth. But on balance, it does yield some good data and insights -- if retailers know how to use and take advantage of it!
  • Posted on: 02/20/2020

    Consumers hate paying for shipping more than just about anything

    Unfortunately for other retailers, Amazon has set the pace of delivery and everyone else is in a race to keep up. The problem is that Amazon can afford to absorb enormous shipping costs and its scale means it can build its own logistics solutions. Most other retailers are in no position to do the same so they find their margins severely squeezed. Given that consumers are not likely to change their minds and suddenly find paying for shipping attractive, retailers need to find ways of reducing costs. This might be by encouraging or incentivizing collection from store, it might be by making more effective use of stores as spokes in the delivery network, it might be about testing minimum values for free shipping, or it might be about subscription schemes. Ultimately the scale of the problem needs to be reduced. However, the genie is out of the bottle now and there is no going back. Margin erosion from higher shipping costs is here to stay.
  • Posted on: 02/19/2020

    Would Lumber Liquidators floor customers with a new name?

    I would like to see an analysis that conclusively shows the name still carries baggage from the 2015 issues and that this deters customers. Personally, I am skeptical that it does in any meaningful way. That also means I am skeptical that a name change would resolve all of the company's issues. Lumber Liquidators does need to compete more effectively in the market, but I don't think a name change is at the heart of this.
  • Posted on: 02/19/2020

    Shoppers have a love/hate relationship with self-checkouts

    A lot of this comes down to personal preference and it is best for retailers to provide options for both assisted and self-checkout. That said, many retailers need to work harder at making self-checkout easier for customers. The biggest issue here is weight sensors which are annoying because they frequently don't work properly. Target doesn't use them and it makes the process much smoother with far fewer interventions by staff.
  • Posted on: 02/18/2020

    Does Peapod’s retreat from the Midwest spell trouble for e-grocery?

    It underscores the fact that online grocery is not particularly profitable, especially for retailers that don't have profitable stores to counterbalance the margin erosion from online. This dynamic is becoming worse as more players enter the market and as free, fast delivery is increasingly expected by consumers.
  • Posted on: 02/18/2020

    Can Body Shop build a better workforce with an open hiring policy?

    There are some benefits to this method of recruitment. However for customer-facing positions, I think interviews are useful as they allow retailers to assess personalities and ability to cope with various situations on the shop-floor. Admittedly, training plays a large role. However having good people to start with always helps. The bottom line is that customer service is particularly important in beauty and The Body Shop can't afford to fall behind in a very competitive market.
  • Posted on: 02/18/2020

    Walmart’s Christmas wasn’t humbug, but it was less merry than expected

    This wasn't a great quarter for Walmart, but neither was it a disaster. The company more than held its own in e-commerce and continues to attract large numbers of consumers through its doors and to its site. The main problem is that growth was concentrated in low-margin segments such as e-commerce and grocery. This and a lackluster performance in higher-margin areas like apparel meant that operating income was down sharply. 2020 needs to be the year when Walmart doubles down on generating returns from its various investments and in which it bolsters poorly performing areas like clothing. Walmart has the firepower and determination to do this. It won't be one of the losers in retail.
  • Posted on: 02/14/2020

    How will Jetblack lessons inform Walmart’s conversational commerce efforts?

    It is great that Walmart experimented with Jetblack and that it tried sometime new. I am sure there are many learnings it gleaned from the venture. I take two things away from it. First, in a market like NYC which is already saturated by choice, it is hard to scale this kind of service - especially among consumers who probably already subscribe to Amazon Prime and other subscription offerings. Second, while conversational commerce has a role to play, that role might not be best suited to more discretionary spend on impulse purchases. I think the volumes are too low as people are also happy to use other methods for purchasing - like surfing online and looking in stores where they can more easily see and appreciate products.
  • Posted on: 02/14/2020

    Is it time for retailers to move beyond fulfillment and on to experience?

    I see omnichannel and multichannel as industry shorthand to describe a connected or cross-channel approach. This is necessary as, traditionally, retail operated in the physical space with online bolted on - something that was (and sometimes still is) reflected in the way retail operations were configured. However, as far as the customer is concerned the term is redundant. The customer doesn't think in terms of channels, they operate seamlessly across multiple touchpoints and ways of interacting with brands and retailers. Unfortunately, making the process effortless and invisible to the consumer requires an enormous amount of work in bringing everything together behind the scenes!
  • Posted on: 02/13/2020

    Will technology even the last-mile playing field with Amazon?

    This kind of technology certainly helps as it gives smaller retailers the power of scale through collaboration. However, the success of this ultimately depends on economics. Amazon spends vast amounts on shipping and is happy to absorb the margin hit. Other retailers are in no position to do that, even if they can secure efficiencies through this kind of technology. That's the real competitive challenge and hurdle to overcome.
  • Posted on: 02/13/2020

    Grocers are given failing marks on food recall transparency

    It sounds to me like PIRG is criticizing the lack of transparency and consistency in how food recalls are communicated. This is opposed to the actual policies themselves, which PIRG has not be able to fully understand because retailers won't speak about them. I guess this does raise questions over how easy it is for consumers to discover information. However, I have to say that it is not exactly a robust methodology from PIRG if they cannot base their findings on actual facts. Whole Foods, who they criticize, for example, does regularly post food recalls on the notice board in my store, so there is a policy there even if the company didn't explain it to PIRG.
  • Posted on: 02/12/2020

    Will the FTC redefine anticompetitive behavior after its big tech acquisition inquiry?

    No, I do not think the impact is negative on retail. Most challenged retailers and consumer brands are in that position because of their own shortcomings, not because of the ascendancy of Amazon or any other technology firm. Sure there may be issues around privacy, data use, and security among the technology players but blaming them for failed retailers’ inability to get the basics of retail right isn’t credible.
  • Posted on: 02/12/2020

    Will Pop Up Grocer bring discovery to grocery retailing?

    I can see this working, especially in more affluent neighborhoods. Most consumers like discovering new things and so long as the range is well curated and regularly changed there is plenty to keep people coming back. Of course, the concept isn’t necessarily suited to fulfilling everyday grocery needs but that’s not its purpose and is actually a point of differentiation. This is food shopping for interest and fun.
  • Posted on: 02/11/2020

    Will Staples’ new concept Connect with small business owners?

    It is good to see Staples pivoting from selling "things" to selling "services." I can see a range of these ideas being useful, especially things like professional podcast studios and co-working spaces. That said, there are other options out there so Staples will need to work hard to create awareness and to differentiate. Given that the spaces are all in existing stores - which will continue to make some money from selling other products and services - I see this as helpful in generating a reasonable ROI. The problem with companies like WeWork is that they invested very heavily in expensive property, took on debt to do so, and overexpanded in a wave of hype. This doesn't really apply to Staples, whose plans I see as being far more modest and grounded in reality.
  • Posted on: 02/11/2020

    Brandless halts operations. What went wrong?

    The biggest issue here is that the economics of the business did not stack up. Generally, grocery is a low-margin business that necessitates very high volumes to turn a profit. Brandless' volumes were simply not good enough to generate a reasonable return, hence the attempts to push up prices - to levels consumers would not tolerate. On top of this, the online model eroded margins still further meaning the company made big losses on every single order. The move into retail stores was interesting and could have helped resolve some of the issues, especially as it helped to increase exposure to more consumers. However, in order to be successful Brandless needed to stand out and that means being a brand, which they always claimed they weren't. The failure to square this circle was at the heart of the company's issues.

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