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Meet the TRI Q&A: Neil Saunders

Get to know RETHINK Retail’s Top Retail Influencers through the “Meet the TRI” Q&A series! Dive in to learn about a member of the thought leader community and follow their work and insights across our content and their social channels.

Hi, I’m Neil Saunders, Managing Director at GlobalData.

Connect with me on LinkedIn!

“Tell us about your background.”

My first job was working for the John Lewis Partnership, a UK retailer which owns John Lewis department stores and Waitrose supermarkets. I was involved with strategy development looking at everything from multichannel to store relocation and new range and product development. I then moved into a consulting role at Verdict Research, where I helped a wide variety of retailers with their insight needs. A few colleagues and I then founded our own retail analysis firm, Conlumino, which was subsequently bought by GlobalData.

“Brief description of your current role and your space in the industry.”

I head up the retail practice at GlobalData where we have a team of hundreds of analysts worldwide researching all kinds of things about the industry. My main job is to work with clients – both retailers and those interested in the sector – to help them understand trends, markets, consumers, and competitors and to use that insight to make sound business decisions. We cover all areas of the sector across categories, channels, and geographies so we have a very varied and fascinating mix of work.

“What challenges/opportunities are currently facing retailers?”

The biggest challenge is change as the retail industry is facing a lot of disruption that is coming from numerous directions. The relative economic stability of the pre-Covid era has gone out of the window, and this means retailers are having to rethink their approach to business. The biggest opportunity is also change, because the various shifts are creating so many opportunities to do business in a better or more compelling way. Retailers than embrace change and that are not afraid to experiment can create a real edge.

“What hot topics or trends have you been seeing in the retail space? How do you support these hot topics?”

One of the biggest topics we are helping clients with right now is to understand how consumer behaviors and habits are evolving. A combination of shifting demographics, responses to inflation, and new patterns of working and living in the aftermath of the pandemic have created a lot of disruption. This is creating both big and small changes, some of which are temporary and some of which will become permanent. We assist clients untangle the complexity using a wealth of data from our consumer panel which we tease out with the skill of our analysts and a lot of data science tools we have built, before applying it to each specific business situation.

“How has the retail industry changed in the past 5 years? What do you predict will happen in the next 5 to 10 years?”

Generally, the retail market has become a lot more challenging. Trends move faster, competition is tougher, consumers are more fragmented, there are more ways of doing business, and so forth. This creates a lot of complexity and a greater sense of urgency. The basics of retail are essentially the same, but the execution is very different. I don’t see those basics changing much over the next 10 years and I reject fanciful views that we will all be shopping in the metaverse as they misunderstand human nature and behavior. However, I do think retail will continue to evolve. There will be much more automation both in stores and in warehouses, at the same time the human element around service will become more critical, there will be more options for personalization, stores will become more experiential, there will be more retail formats to address different needs, and so on. However, all of these things will be there to serve consumer needs and enhance the experience.

“Which resources do you use to keep up with industry news?”

I review all of the major news outlets every day to see what is being said about retail. I share a lot of these stories on Twitter. We also have our own retail news summary that is sent around every morning to keep our analysts and clients up to speed on what’s happening in retail. I use Twitter and LinkedIn to see what others in the industry are talking about. Once a quarter, I get to talk to a lot of CEOs and business leaders about their results and trading which is invaluable and very interesting.

“How do you continue to grow and develop as an influencer in the retail Industry?”

There are a lot of smart people in our industry who actively share, and it is always great to listen to their perspectives whether on social media, at conferences, or through the things they publish. I also go to the coal face – physical retail stores – at least twice a week to see what’s going on and to talk to people on the ground. You learn some very interesting things from those at the sharp end!

“What has helped you get to where you are and what advice would you have for others who want to set off in a similar direction?”

I think enthusiasm and curiosity – both my own and that of others in our industry – have helped a lot as it has driven me to do more and find out more. Having a background at a retailer is also extremely helpful as it allows me to apply insights in a way that is relevant and appropriate for businesses.