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: 07/13/2020

    Will Boomers and Gen X keep shopping online post-pandemic?

    Given that most non-essential shops in the U.K. were forced to close for a prolonged period of time, it is unsurprising that more people - of all age groups - shopped online. As things reopen, online shopping penetration will decline from its peak. However, it will remain elevated both because some older shoppers have enjoyed the online process and because of lingering health concerns. Untangling the two dynamics will be difficult and we won't fully understand the lasting impact until we are on more stable ground in terms of the pandemic.
  • Posted on: 07/13/2020

    Starbucks becomes latest retailer to make masks mandatory

    Sadly, I am sure that this will lead to some conflicts. A small minority seem to be hellbent on creating a huge fuss over masks. This is unpleasant for other customers and especially for staff. However it's really simple: if you don't like a retailer's mask policy then don't visit and go elsewhere or stay home. Despite the hassle it may create, Starbucks has a right to enact whatever policies it sees as necessary for keeping its staff, customers and the community safe.
  • Posted on: 07/10/2020

    Is consumer arrogance driving word-of-mouth recommendations?

    I find the idea that conventional marketing will disappear in 10 years rather ludicrous. Sure it may become less important, sure it may evolve and become different, and sure it will be part of a wider mix. But disappear completely? No, I don't buy it. On top of this the idea that everyone trusts influencers is a non-starter. Our own studies have shown people have a very mixed degree of faith in influencers and many, including younger consumers, positively hate influencer marketing and view it as fake and inauthentic.
  • Posted on: 07/10/2020

    Retailers need way more fulfillment space to keep up with booming online sales

    Now that online is accelerating, there is no doubt that more fulfillment space is needed. However it is a question of where and how this space is configured. Sure, big commercial distribution centers will be required in many cases. However retailers are increasingly looking at micro-fulfillment centers located in existing stores. We will likely see a blend of the two to service increased demand.
  • Posted on: 07/09/2020

    How blemished are beauty retailers by COVID-19?

    Overall, the pandemic has been unhelpful to beauty sales. However performance is very patchy. Cosmetics and beauty products associated with socializing and the work environment have plummeted as those activities have been curtailed. However some of the more heath oriented products - such as skin care - continue to perform well as consumers are still concerned with wellness. There has also been an uplift in sales of aromatherapy products as people indulge themselves during a time of stress. And then there are hand washes where sales are off the chart. The challenge for beauty retailers is understanding how patterns of demand will evolve so they can adjust their assortments and promotions accordingly. The good news, however, is that there are still growth spots in beauty.
  • Posted on: 07/09/2020

    Will doctors prove a cure-all for Walgreens competitive ills?

    Is this a good move? Yes. Is it innovative and pioneering? No, not particularly. Walgreens has a lot more work to do in becoming a destination for health and wellness over and above its prescription and standard health business. Adding doctor offices to some existing stores will help marginally, but to get superior growth the group needs to rebuild its core proposition. Too many stores look sickly, the retail offer is weak, and it hasn't built enough credibility in non-doctor wellness services. Now that the international division is in free fall, the U.S. business is key to future prospects. Time to invest and innovate!
  • Posted on: 07/08/2020

    What roles will store displays play in retail’s new normal?

    The one thing retailers should do - which some have and many have not - is remove fixtures in the middle of aisles which create pinch points for consumers. I realize these are great for selling but they are annoying at the best of times, and not really suitable for social distancing. This must be part of a wider effort to reduce clutter in stores which is ultimately a good thing: attractive displays and stores should not be crowded with stock. Less is often more.
  • Posted on: 07/08/2020

    Will Walmart’s best shoppers ditch Amazon Prime for Walmart+?

    It is important for Walmart to get consumers into its ecosystem and, given the penetration of Amazon, that means poaching some customers from Prime. However from the details released about the Walmart+ program, it does not look all that compelling. Amazon offers way more benefits with Prime, including access to digital content like movies and TV shows. It also allows accounts to be integrated with devices such as Echo. Walmart is doing none of that. It's just a glorified delivery subscription with some fringe benefits. In my view, Walmart is headed in the right direction but it needs to work much harder to outsmart Amazon. That means innovating and doing its own thing, not just trying to emulate what Amazon does.
  • Posted on: 07/07/2020

    Can remotely managed mobile-marts safely bring groceries to areas in need?

    This is an interesting concept that may be of use in lower-density rural areas where it is not feasible to build a full line grocery store. That said, I wonder what the economics look like. If the aim is to help lower-income families, then prices will need to be sharp -- especially if the concept is to compete with dollar stores which have made a massive push into rural locations. Admittedly, dollar stores are not all that comprehensive with their fresh and perishable offerings, but they are improving.
  • Posted on: 07/07/2020

    Macy’s plans for the Christmas rush

    As an individual day of trade, Black Friday has been on the decline for a long time: the proportion of sales made on that date have been falling while the significance of days around Black Friday have been increasing. This year will simply accelerate that trend. While we don't know what the pandemic situation will be like in November, it's probably safe to say that retailers won't be encouraging massive crowds in their stores and nor will many customers be comfortable with that. As such, the Black Friday event will be more subdued, more digitally driven, and more spread over a longer period of time. That has implications for managing online capacity, margin compression from higher logistics costs, and the role stores play in supporting sales and fulfillment. I don't think the holiday season as a whole will be an unhappy one for retailers, but it will be a challenging one.
  • Posted on: 07/07/2020

    Has the pandemic changed shopping behaviors forever?

    All of the behaviors identified by EY were already present before the coronavirus hit and, as such, have been impacting retail for quite a long time. While the pandemic may have intensified some of these traits, I don't see it as having created them. I am sure that there will be longer-term shifts in behaviors because of the period we are now in, however, they will be blended with existing trends and some new non-pandemic related changes. I am also very skeptical of predictions of consumer change based solely on survey data. What consumers say they will do -- especially in the midst of a crisis -- is not necessarily what they will do at the other end of it. Admittedly it is very hard to make predictions but a more blended approach using consumer data, actual retail sales data, qualitative observations, references to history and so forth is needed to come up with a more balanced opinion. And even then it is only an opinion as, in truth, none of us really knows what lies in the years ahead.
  • Posted on: 07/06/2020

    Has COVID-19 exacerbated online return challenges?

    Returns have always been an expensive and complex part of online. The pandemic has added additional steps to the process for both consumers and retailers, and that has only added to the cost. Moreover, the higher rates of online shopping mean more returns in volume terms and as a proportion of orders - the latter mostly because there are more people unfamiliar with digital shopping trying out the service. There is no way of completely avoiding the cost but part of the solution lies in better visuals including videos, more accurate sizing information, good reviews, and so forth. The more accurate information that retailers provide to customers, the lower returns are because people know and understand what they are buying.
  • Posted on: 07/06/2020

    Will Wegmans need a post-pandemic makeover?

    Once again, we need to be careful in extrapolating actions taken during the pandemic into longer term post-pandemic trends. During the height of this crisis most retailers and shoppers became less concerned with choice, and more concerned with simply being able to get the products they needed. That already has reverted, and will continue to revert, as supply chain pressures ease and shopping habits revert to normal. That said, due to margin pressures from a whole variety of sources there is no doubt that most grocery retailers will be looking to make operations more efficient. Part of that means eliminating SKUs that do not pull their weight - either in terms of profit or the differentiation they provide. So yes there will be some consolidation and rationalization, but it doesn't automatically follow that the wide choice offered by Wegmans - or others - will simply disappear. After all, it's part of what makes the chain unique.
  • Posted on: 07/02/2020

    Are automated freight trucks ready to carry retail’s heavy load?

    Automated delivery and trucking will come. It is just a matter of time before the safety and technical issues are fully ironed out. This will be a major breakthrough in supply chains and will reshape the economics of fulfillment for retailers - something that has been a weak point in the growth of online.
  • Posted on: 07/02/2020

    Amazon’s traffic is way up, but others are doing even better during the pandemic

    Amazon is starting from a much, much higher base so of course its growth will be slower. A lower percentage of an already massive number is numerically higher than a higher percentage of a much lower number. Using this logic, Amazon's increases actually look impressive. Of course, this does nothing to diminish the success of other retailers. Both Walmart and Target have invested heavily in digital solutions and are reaping the rewards. The online space is more competitive than ever and there is no doubt Amazon will need to work harder to defend its ground. That's good news for the consumer.

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