Powered by Alex Baldock’s relentless focus on mobile, digital and personalisation, Littlewoods and Very owner Shop Direct has blossomed as the UK’s second-largest pureplay online retailer, behind Asos. Like-for-like group sales across grew by 5.6% to £1.93bn for the year to 1 July, while underlying pre-tax profit was up 10.2% to £160.4m.
Among recent innovations, Shop Direct has outlined plans to launch an artificial intelligence-powered, “natural language” version of customer service chatbot Very Assistant within the MyVery app, with the goal of developing it into a personal shopper for each customer. The business also intends to apply AI to its credit decision-making process next year to produce speedier, more bespoke outcomes for shoppers.
Yet, despite leading it through a fifth consecutive year of record sales and underlying profit rises, Baldock slips down the Top 100 this year after announcing his intention to leave Shop Direct next summer. The abandoned sale of part or all of the business appeared to be the main driver behind this decision. We await news of his next move with interest.