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Shop Direct’s Baldock on ‘repurposing’ the business

Outgoing group CEO of Shop Direct Alex Baldock has said he turned the business around during one of UK retail’s most “rapid and far-reaching transformations”.

Baldock will leave the business at the end of this month, and group finance director Derek Harding has been appointed interim group chief executive in his stead.

On his departure, Baldock said: “I’ve been honoured to lead this team through one of British retail’s rapid and far-reaching transformations. We have repurposed a declining, unprofitable catalogue business for a digital age, [turning it] into a business with accelerating growth and sixfold increase in profits.

”This allows me, in very good conscience and good cheer, to hand over the reins to an exceptional leader in Derek Harding, under whom I’m sure the business will continue to thrive.”

Harding told Drapers that under his leadership, it will be “business as usual”: “We will continue to focus on continuing to provide the right brands to customers and more investment in both customer experiences and our credit offering over the next 12 months.”

Group revenue at Shop Direct jumped by 6.3% during the seven weeks to 22 December, driven by strong performances from lifestyle site Very, and from electricals.

Clothing and footwear sales at the etailer, which operates Very, Littlewoods and Very Exclusive, were up 1.4% compared to 2016.

Kidswear was highlighted as a particularly strong performer after rising by 10%, while sportswear enjoyed 8% growth.

Baldock said the pureplay etailer was well positioned to weather the current tough economic climate: “Inflation is coming through [and] making real wages stagnate, which is having an impact on customer confidence. But there is also a shift away from bricks and mortar to online, so we’re well positioned, to an extent.

“It has been a tough market – retail is not getting any easier. But the business is in great shape and will be in good hands [with Harding].”

Harding added: “Inevitably I’m concerned about the market – I’m not complacent about it – but we have a resilient model where [our mobile strategy] is concerned.”

The news comes amid a host of departures and changes in Shop Direct’s top team in recent months. Among these, Drapers revealed that chief information officer Andy Wolfe and head of digital transformation Paul Hornby are to leave the business.

”The business is fast moving and evolving,” said Harding.

“There are always going to be people joining the business. We’ve had a number of new recruits over the last year or so while people have been leaving, which is no different from any other business. I’m sure there will be other departures over the next 12-18 months and good additions to the team. There are opportunities to promote from within and people going onto new opportunities. It’s business as usual, as far as I’m concerned.”

He added: “We’re putting a lot of focus on mobile and data, and creating new jobs in data and analytics and the way we approach customers. You’ll see this happening – the London hub is growing and filling up with people. Inevitably activities and jobs change. I don’t necessarily see a fundamental step-change, but I can see the types of jobs we have evolving over the coming years that will necessitate redundancies and new recruits coming in.”


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