New Look chair Mike Coupe’s three big retail lessons

New Look chairman and former Sainsbury's CEO Mike Coupe reveals some of his key lessons for retail success at The Retail Technology Show. 

New Look chair Mike Coupe's three big retail lessons
"In the end retailers buy things, create them, move them and sell them."

Retail is simple, don’t overcomplicate it

Technology may move forward and the way customers shop changes, but Coupe insists that fundamentally the way retailer’s work will remain the same: “Retail is very simple – we tend to overcomplicate it,” he says.

“In the end retailers buy things, create them, move them and sell them.”

Coupe, who joined New Look in September last year, adds the impact of Covid on retailers and the supply chain disruptions that have followed has led some businesses to lose sight of those retail basics.

“In the future, whether products are physical or virtual, the basic principles are the same,” he says.

To be good at some things, you have have to be bad at others

Coupe believes that to be good at some things, you have to be bad at others.

He uses airline Ryanair as an example and points out that in order to be the most price competitive, it has opted to fall behind in other areas, in the airline’s case – service.

“They make a virtue out of being bad,” he says, adding that even their CEO jokes about charging for the toilets onboard.

While their lack of service is obvious they do “one thing relentlessly well and that is that they promise you the lowest prices wherever they fly”, says Coupe.

Coupe says retailers face a dilemma in decide what they can afford to be bad at.

He explains that for luxury fashion retailers, pricing is an area they can be “bad” at, in favour of upholding top notch designs and quality, which for those operating in the discount end of the market, price and efficient supply chain is a non-negotiable.

Coupe says most businesses should focus on doing fewer things better and accept that “you can’t do everything for everybody”, as it becomes harder the more you mass market everything.

Make the right decisions at the right time

“The biggest failures of leadership I see is the absence of decision making, wanting to know more before making decision,” Coupe says, explaining this can often simply slow down businesses.

The retail boss says that during his time at the helm of Sainsbury’s, he was “dealing constantly with ambiguity” adding that as you become more senior, the decisions that need to made are less obvious.

He says that must not prevent leaders from making decisions, even though sometimes the wrong calls will be made.

Resilience and courage are paramount when leading big businesses, he says.

“You have to be able stand by those decisions and articulate why you made your choices in the court of public opinion,” he explains.

Coupe insists that Sainsbury’s bid for Asda in 2019, which was ultimately blocked by the CMA and cost the supermarket £46 million was still “the best choice” to make.

He adds that Sainsbury’s acquisition of Argos was also “a brave decision at the time” which has since paid off.

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