Topshop must keep innovating to stay ahead

The departure of Justin Cooke as chief marketing officer at Topshop isn’t too much of a surprise. When he spoke at Marketing Week Live this May, he talked about how excited he is by technology and that he would be keen to set up his own business. I’m almost surprised the brand kept him as long as it did – just over a year.

Lucy Handley

Cooke has now set up Innovate7, an agency with the strapline ‘disrupting industries’ and his role at Topshop has been taken by Sheena Sauviare, who has been promoted from her current job as global head of marketing.

Sauviare has her own plans for the business, including supporting start up tech companies to help Topshop innovate.

I imagine that being in marketing at Arcadia’s flagship brand is interesting, as I’ve heard staff say that owner Sir Philip Green doesn’t want to ‘piss his own money’ away on advertising. But I agree: the best marketing budgets are sensible ones that require creativity to get the most out of them.

Cooke’s attitude at Topshop was to try out the latest technology – for example the London Fashion Week catwalk that was live streamed earlier this year was inspired by Hawk-Eye (ball tracking technology used by sports including tennis and cricket) – and consumers could buy direct from the catwalk. They could choose to buy colours different to those shown at the fashion show and that in turn influenced what shades the brand later stocked in its physical stores.

The departure of Alex Tait is more of a shock. He joined five months ago as Arcadia’s group head of ecommerce but left this week. However, online shopping had been growing for the brand, up 22 per cent between 2011 and 2012, according to its latest results. With Primark now selling via Asos and bigger companies competing with it, his loss is a blow to the company.

It will need to act fast. Both Zara-owner Inditex Group and H&M have more stores than Arcadia, with 6000 and 3000 respectively versus Arcadia’s 2340, and smaller brands like Primark now selling online via Asos, competition is fierce.

Speaking at Marketing Week Live, Arcadia’s head of design Guy Smith said that the company “is not arrogant or stupid enough to think we don’t have to respond” to such brands. He talked about the idea of not stocking anything until people want it, giving the example of Amazon choosing to stock product when they know people want to buy it, as Topshop tried out with its catwalk ecommerce.

He added: “there is great value in being an innovator rather than a follower but you have to get the balance right.”

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