In a week that has seen Tesco CEO Ken Murphy make his first significant appointment in the shape of new finance chief Imran Nawaz, a less high-profile but potentially just as significant hire caught my eye.
Retail Week recently revealed that Next’s head of digital trading, Gemma Lumsden, has joined M&S in the newly created role of head of optimisation and analytics.
Lots of retail leaders talk a good game about the critical importance of data optimisation and analytics, but with so many CEOs coming from a bricks rather than clicks background this kind of posturing is not always reflected in their investment in high-calibre digital talent.
Things are starting to change, however. At the end of last month, The Very Group announced the appointment of Steve Pimblett to its newly created role of chief data officer. Pimblett will report into chief technology officer Andy Burton – himself a key figure in the company’s digital transformation under Henry Birch – and will oversee The Very Group’s approach to data across all areas including strategy, science, analytics and engineering.
Lumsden, meanwhile, will be tasked with leading the analytics, website optimisation and SEO teams at M&S and ensuring the website offers “a cohesive and consistent” experience for its customers.
Both appointments point to a growing awareness among businesses – and not just retailers – that those who win in a post-Covid era will be the ones that best understand the ever-changing needs of their customers and deliver against those needs thereby driving long-term loyalty and retention.
To do this, retailers need to have visibility of real-time customer data as well as the ability to analyse that data effectively and use the insights generated to develop the best possible customer proposition. People that can help achieve this, both through their own technical capabilities and their ability to build coherent, data-led strategies, are understandably in high demand.
Retailers therefore should not, and increasingly do not, scrimp on their investment in digital talent which means paying competitive salaries, often setting up London tech hubs (for those headquartered in the regions), and giving more senior employees the freedom to mould their own teams.
These points become even more important given that retailers are competing for talent with businesses in other sectors, such as technology, financial services and consumer industries, that also put a high premium on data analysis and insight. Pimblett is a case in point. While Lumsden is from a more traditional retail background (former employers include Holland & Barrett, Asda and Blacks), Pimblett joins The Very Group from connected car technology firm Wejo, having previously held senior data roles at listed online gaming company Betsson Group and Moneysupermarket.com.
Besides technical expertise, senior-level ecommerce professionals also need to have advanced interpersonal skills to be able to translate highly complex technical information into easy to understand layman’s language so that everyone in the organisation, from the shop floor right up to the boardroom, understands their work and buys into the value of it.
Returning to Lumsden, M&S has often been characterised (perhaps unfairly at times) as a laggard when it comes to digital capabilities. But it is slowly building a competent team, strengthened by the recent hiring of former Asda executive Stephen Langford as head of M&S.com.
Lumsden’s former employer Next is renowned for its ability to marry an effective back end logistics operation with a seamless front-end customer experience. M&S will be hoping she can sprinkle some of that magic dust on its own operation as it aspires – in the words of boss Steve Rowe – to become an “online winner”.