The New Faces of British Shopping

·7 min read

LONDON — British retail is at a turning point.

Since January 2021 the numbers of international visitors buying luxury brands in the U.K. have dropped by 7.3 percent, which has resulted in a 1.8 billion pound loss, according to the Center for Economics and Business Research.

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In another report, the British Retail Consortium registered a 4.1 percent decline in sales compared to last year due to rising inflation, which currently sits at more than 9 percent. Inflation is expected to rise to 13 percent before the end of the year, according to the Bank of England — the highest the country has seen since 1980 and one of the highest among all developed countries.

The two unfortunate events of Brexit and a recession have stifled British retail. However, like U.K. politics, the heads of the country’s luxury, high-street and resell platforms are getting a shake-up, one that seems hopeful.

Nick Beighton will take over as CEO of Matchesfashion in August. He will be the company’s fourth CEO in five years.
Nick Beighton will take over as CEO of Matchesfashion in August. He will be the company’s fourth CEO in five years.

The stakes are high for luxury online fashion retailer Matchesfashion as it has faced a series of management upheavals since Apax acquired the company. Their latest chief executive officer Nick Beighton was appointed in July, succeeding Paolo De Cesare, who joined the company less than a year ago.

Beighton exited his post as CEO of Asos last year after helping to turn the business into a 4 billion pound operation. All eyes will be on him as he makes the change to a platform that only deals in luxury price points and designers.

“He tells you what he wants. There is no conversation,” said one former employee, describing his style as “fast-paced and brash. He’s very consumer-focused, and [a sales] volume guy.”

He’s known to be charismatic, but not necessarily diplomatic. “People love him. He’s a retailer and understands what customers care about,” another former employee said.

Beighton joined Asos in 2009 as acting chief financial officer and was a key part of the company’s success that led him to the top job in 2015.

He transformed the internal infrastructure of the company in less than a decade, driving the business toward technology by introducing features such as same-day delivery and a “Try Before You Buy” tool that grew the company’s sales by 18 percent in 2016.

Beighton’s vision is his best asset and it’s what’s needed at Matchesfashion to help the retailer grow back to the glory days it had under founders Tom and Ruth Chapman — and he has plenty of tools to work with, from technology, sustainable initiatives, an editorial team and both traditional luxury brands and new ones, to three London stores.

On the other side of British retail is department store John Lewis, which in 2020 closed eight of its stores including one at Birmingham’s Grand Central center that cost 35 million pounds to build and only survived five years.

Gazette, John Lewis, Partnership, Kathleen Mitchell, , Director, Director of Trading, Trading, JL&P, LS, Liam Salisbury
Kathleen Mitchell, commercial director at John Lewis who is responsible for hiring the first director of design for fashion, Queralt Ferrer.

The senior shake-up that’s been brewing at the company since May 2021 has been finally finalized — placing Steve Masterton in the role of director of online trade; Stephen Spencer as director of store of the future; Rosie Hanley as head of brand and marketing, and Kathleen Mitchell as commercial director, who was responsible for the hiring of John Lewis’ first director of design for fashion, Queralt Ferrer.

The pressure for John Lewis to amp up its fashion portfolio comes as a result of its competitors Marks & Spencer and Next taking a closer interest in the fashion arm of their businesses. Next’s pretax profits forecast for 2021 was 800 million pounds — an amount that’s double that of the John Lewis Partnership.

The appointment of Ferrer is a strong indication that John Lewis finally wants to take fashion seriously rather than just offering its customers designs that are available everywhere else on the British market, which Ferrer has had a part to play in as she was previously the director of design for Marks & Spencer’s womenswear and lingerie lines.

John Lewis’ first director of design for fashion, Queralt Ferrer.
John Lewis’ first director of design for fashion, Queralt Ferrer.

Ferrer launched Inditex’s Massimo Dutti fashion brand and helped the company’s rapid growth over a 17-year period.

“I was struck by her natural personal style and ability to translate an aspirational aesthetic for all of our customers to be able to afford,” said Mitchell, adding that the company has “reimagined the John Lewis & Partners collection across womenswear, menswear and childrenswear and will continue to do this in future seasons.”

Ferrer’s first collection for the retailer debuts next month with an aesthetic that’s more internationally appealing rather than just catering to English home counties. She’s staying clear of prints, but has still incorporated a minimal amount and the color palette offers muted and statement shades in neon pink and earthy greens.

Her Massimo Dutti days are not behind her as they are very much a part of her, especially when it comes to tailoring. “I learned from Massimo Dutti how to make it affordable for the customer in terms of shapes, concept, fabrics and wearability. Even though we sold a lot of tailoring, it was about showing the customer that it was cool,” said Ferrer.

Ferrer’s appointment could help bring glamour back to the British high street. The last time a high-street retailer had any ritz surrounding it was in 2013 when Annie Leibovitz shot the Marks & Spencer campaign that featured Helen Mirren, Grace Coddington and Karen Elson.

Meanwhile, John Lewis competitor Selfridges Group is seeing a shake-up after completion of Central Group’s acquisition. The deal includes the Selfridges Group’s portfolio — which is made up of 18 department stores, including Selfridges in London, Manchester and Birmingham, England; de Bijenkorf in the Netherlands; Brown Thomas and Arnotts in Ireland, and their associated e-commerce platforms and the properties in London, Manchester and five locations in Ireland will be integrated with Central and Signa’s existing portfolio of 22 luxury department stores and two new stores to open soon in Dusseldorf and Vienna.

The Selfridges Group will be led by Stefano Della Valle, CEO of Central and Signa’s luxury department store group in Europe, in an expanded role. Selfridges’ managing director, Anne Pitcher, will remain in the company’s leadership team until the end of the year.

Portrait of Selfridges Managing Director Anne Pitcher.MUST CREDIT PHOTO MATT WRITTLE © copyright Matt Writtle 2015.
Portrait of Selfridges Managing Director Anne Pitcher.MUST CREDIT PHOTO MATT WRITTLE © copyright Matt Writtle 2015.

All the fashion products in the world are now possibly available to purchase through fashion resale marketplace Depop, which was acquired by Etsy Inc. last year in a $1.62 billion deal. Depop has become the safe haven for twentysomethings, which account for 90 percent of the platform’s active users.

Etsy’s current chief product officer Kruti Patel Goyal is joining Depop as CEO in September, taking over from Maria Raga, who has been with the company since 2014 and became CEO in April 2016.

The change comes as Etsy Inc. wants to become more rigorous in the marketplace game and wants the same changes implemented at Depop. According to the company’s second-quarter 2022 results, Etsy added 6 million buyers and revenue grew over 10 percent despite macroeconomic conditions.

“I have no doubt Kruti is the right leader for Depop’s next chapter as we focus on nurturing its passionate community and improving the customer experience. She has guided Etsy through periods of significant transformation, with a proven track record of motivating teams to deliver results and advance our mission,” said Josh Silverman, CEO of Etsy Inc., in a statement.

Patel at Etsy elevated the shopping experience by shifting the product development culture and scaling the headcount at the company during her 11 years with the business. She previously overlooked the company’s seller services, corporate development, international and marketplace integrity teams.

She started her career as an analyst on mergers and acquisitions at Morgan Stanley in 1998 and has since held roles at media company Viacom as vice president of strategy and business development lead at licensing brand Product (Red), founded by U2 frontman Bono.

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