5 Minutes With John Tranter, Home Trading Director, Argos

Earlier this month Argos launched its first ever consumer pop up in the heart of London. The Retail Gazette spoke to Argos' home trading director John Tranter to find out what was behind this move and what's in store for the future of the company.

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Describe your role and responsibilities at Argos

In my role as Sainsbury’s Argos Trading Director for Home, Furniture, Events & Papershop, I head up the Design, Buying and Merchandise teams across both brands. My teams are responsible for developing a winning commercial proposition which our customers love.

What got you into retail in the first place?

If I’m honest it was pure luck! I studied Economics at Manchester University and on completion of my degree I returned home to live with my parents. It was then that I applied for a merchandise role at Argos which I thought looked interesting and was lucky enough to be successful.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

I’ve spent over 15 years at Argos in numerous divisions including Buying, Merchandise and Business Development and have worked within branded and own brand categories.

More recently, I spent six years at Sainsbury’s within Online, working on category management and then went on to lead the formation of the commercial strategy of the combined group. As a result, this his has given me widespread knowledge of all aspects of both brands and retail as a whole.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Retail is ever-changing so there are challenging aspects on a daily basis! What is most on my mind is the structural change taking place in the retail market and how we need to adapt and change so that we continue to win.

We’ve recently brought the Argos and Sainsbury’s category teams together, introducing a consistent Buying, Merchandising and Design structure across the group, which gives us the buying capability to continue to win in the future.

And the most rewarding?

Working with so many great people in our teams to develop products which customers love using in their own homes!

Congratulations on the pop up, what is your thinking behind this move?

Centred around the concept ‘designed for homes that are full of life’, we hope that this pop-up will bring our collections to life and showcase Argos Home in a way never seen before.

Our in-house design team has created exceptional pieces for the home, with influences from around the world, and we want to give customers the opportunity to experience our beautiful homewares and furniture in a unique way.

Is your pop-up a reaction to a wider shift in shopping habits?

We place retail and digital innovation at the heart of our business and whilst this is key, we think it’s also important to explore new ways of engaging and inspiring our customers and this pop-up allows us to do that.

How has Argos benefited from its recent acquisition by Sainsbury’s?

When Sainsbury’s bought Argos in 2016, this presented a great opportunity to bring the Argos offer to even more customers and we now have 250 Argos stores inside supermarkets.

The introduction of an Argos store in a Sainsbury’s supermarket has proved extremely popular with customers, increasing footfall and boosting sales in the supermarket overall. Customers are also starting to benefit from making our ranges accessible to both Sainsbury’s and Argos customers.

Earlier this year, we made Tu clothing available through Argos online and in the first week alone over 150,000 customers visited the new Tu@ Argos section on our website.

There are lots of efficiencies we are driving behind the scenes that customers don’t see, such as joint buying and direct sourcing as a Group, but which benefit them as we save money which we can reinvest in making shopping better for them.

How is Argos working to handle the wider challenges in the industry?

Last year was the toughest in retail for the last 25 years and like other retailers, we’re facing into some hefty challenges – reduced consumer spending, shrinking markets in some product categories, the uncertainty created by Brexit, rapid growth of the discounters and the ongoing dominance of Amazon.

But we’re performing really well – we’re growing market share and outperforming the market. We also recognise the importance of future-proofing our business.  Around 60 per cent of our business today starts online and over 70 per cent of those sales are on mobile devices and this is continuing to grow.

That’s why we’re investing heavily in tech to ensure we’re at the forefront of retail technology, using innovative technologies such as Augmented Reality, Machine Learning and Voice to improve the way our customers shop with us.

Earlier this year we created 150 permanent new roles in our digital and tech teams, demonstrating the importance we place on growing and nurturing our own tech talent.

What have we got to look forward to in the coming months from Argos?

We’re fast approaching our peak trading period which is our busiest and most exciting time of the year and we’ve been working hard to be ready for this.

In July we launched our new AW18 range offering a host of fantastic ranges across homeware and furniture, electricals and tech and toys, and we’ll have more great deals and new product launches as we get closer to Christmas.

Black Friday remains a major event for our customers and we expect it to be very popular this year.  We can’t say too much about our plans right now but we’ll have some cracking deals for customers looking for a bargain.

As a digitally-led business, we’re also working hard to make the latest technologies available to customers to make shopping with us even easier.  Only last week, in a UK first, we announced the launch of ‘Voice Shop’ with Google, which allows our customers to check availability for and reserve 20,000 products by speaking to the Google Assistant.

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