UK bricks and mortar retailers lack relevant e-commerce experience at board level, claims report

Apr 22, 2016 | CITY A.M

British retailers lack relevant e-commerce experience on the boards, a new study by a leading global executive search firm has found, putting them at risk of falling further behind by their online-only rivals.

According to DHR International, only five per cent of executive directors at the leading UK-listed bricks and mortar retail companies have an online background, placing the high street at a competitive disadvantage compared to online-only retailers.

The report explains how many traditional retailers have recognised the need to bolster their e-commerce expertise, but, as yet, have struggled to recruit talent at board level to help transform their businesses. 

DHR International adds that during the early days, many retail boards underestimated the pace at which e-commerce would alter their industry over the next two decades.

Consequently, high street retailers have only recently shifted their focus towards online shopping in a bid to compete with internet-only retailers, such as ASOS and AO World, and are now competing for talent to boost their digital offering.

DHR's research come after a separate report published at the World Retail Congress in Dubai today claimed that 90 per cent of current retail boards will not be fit for purpose in five years’ time.

Executive search firm Green Park said its findings, based on interviews with leading directors in the sector, suggested that many of the retailers today are made up of chief executives and boards that have gained experience in only one discipline, such as retail store operations or product.

Jan Westerink, partner in DHR International’s consumer and retail practice, said: “In hindsight, traditional retailers responded too slowly to the challenge of e-commerce but they now recognise they have to add senior people to their online operations. Retailers need to get their e-commerce offering right or risk losing market share.”

“In-depth knowledge of the e-commerce sector at board level will be invaluable in developing a multi-channel approach, which is key for the future of the retail industry. For instance, many fashion retailers are adopting similar online services to ASOS in order to keep their share of the market.”

Top board-level executives with e-commerce background

Laura Wade-Gery Marks & Spencer's multi-channel director, who is currently on maternity leave, joined the board five years ago after heading up

Mark Newton-Jones Mothercare's chief executive was previously head of Littlewoods owner Shop Direct, which he changed from an ailing bricks and mortar retailer to an online pure-play. 

Mark Lewis John Lewis's retailer director joined the department store group as online director after previously heading up Collect+ and eBay UK.

Jon Rudoe The former Ocado executive sits on Sainsbury's operating board as digital and Technology director and has helped accelerate its digital expansion, which includes its current plans to buy Argos. 


For the full City A.M article written by Kasmira Jefford click here.