It’s a measure of the revolution taking place in retail that a senior Amazon executive like Ajay Kavan has chosen Matchesfashion for his first chief executive role.
With almost a decade’s worth of experience at Amazon supplementing a CV that includes senior positions with the likes of B&Q and Homebase, I’m certain Kavan would have been on the radar of high street retail giants looking to transform their digital capabilities.
But, as Sergio Bucher’s ill-fated tenure at Debenhams demonstrated, trying to breathe fresh life into a dying brand is a high-risk career move for an Amazon alumnus. It’s little wonder, therefore, that high-fliers like Kavan are increasingly attracted by smaller businesses with strong growth potential whose proposition is already tailored to the digital age.
Kavan currently serves as Amazon’s vice president of international special projects, a suitably cryptic job title that reflects the business’s willingness to give people the space to test new concepts. During a nine-year term, he launched Amazon Fresh in the UK, Europe and Japan, and built a number of key strategic partnerships with the likes of Morrisons.
Kavan is best known for his ecommerce expertise. He holds a degree in applied sciences and computer technology and spent his early career with Littlewoods Home Shopping Group, in many ways a prototype for modern online brands such as Matchesfashion.
But Kavan can also boast a solid set of core retail skills. Between 1999 and 2003 he was multichannel director for B&Q before leaving in 2004 to join rival DIY retailer Homebase as marketing and strategy director, exiting in 2011.
Matchesfashion represents Kavan’s first foray into high-end retail with a brand that describes itself as a “modern luxury shopping destination for the confident global fashion customer”.
Certainly, the business has come a long way since it was founded as a single boutique in Wimbledon back in 1987. Matchesfashion stores now complement a significant online business which offers an edited fashion range from over 400 designers.
At a time when many brands are trying to offer customers a holistic experience that incorporates shopping on the one hand with experiences on the other, Matchesfashion appears to have hit the sweet spot. Its London flagship combines a retail store with an event space that hosts frequent attractions including after-hours Q&As with leading fashion designers.
Its success has persuaded other executives to decamp from more traditional retail settings. Back in 2018, it hired former John Lewis group development director Tom Athron, who had been widely tipped as a future leader of the business, as its chief operating officer.
When he joins the business in March, Kavan will be tasked with scaling Matchesfashion’s offer and continuing to innovate in the luxury ecommerce space.
I suspect he won’t be the last industry leader to downsize his employer in order to upsize his ambitions.