Striking the balance – the key issue facing every high street retailer

Blockbuster, HMV, Jessops are just a few of the recent high street casualties of the ongoing digital disruption, the list could go on. This makes Arcadia’s appointment of digital veteran and Marketing Week columnist Alex Tait as group head of e-commerce all the more telling.

Ronan Shields

News of Tait’s appointment broke earlier this week. As a seasoned veteran, who also serves as chair of ISBA’s digital, data and direct action group and previously held high-powered digital roles at the Post Office and AmEx, this is certainly a big name appointment.

The fact Arcadia took six months to make the appointment – Tait takes over from Graham Morrell who left in October last year – demonstrates the magnitude of the role and just how seriously the group, which house some of the UK’s largest brands including TopShop and Burton, is considering e-commerce and its long-term importance to the company.

Reliable sources have told me that Arcadia’s e-commerce team is charged first and foremost with the task of ‘Kill ASOS’ – the online success story of the fashion retail sector. This is a company led by the bullish Sir Phillip Green after all. 

Besides this being an amusing anecdote, it does further demonstrate the realisation within the Arcadia ranks that unless its gets its e-commerce proposition right, then some of its brands risk joining the list of casualties I began this piece with. A scenario few would like to see.

Of course, what Tait, and any other e-commerce head at an UK high street retailer, will have to prioritise is striking the correct balance between the legacy of the chain’s high street footprint, essentially the foundation stone of its brands, and its online channels. No mean feat plus an obstacle ASOS has not had to hurdle meaning it can compete on cost.

With this in mind it’s clear there’s a lot of ground to cover before we can even begin contemplating declaring pure-play online retailers like ASOS dead.

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