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Sienne Veit, group product and platform director at Kingfisher

1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business?

In the middle of June Kingfisher announced a new strategic direction, Powered by Kingfisher, under our new CEO, Thierry Garnier. Our intent is to become a more digital and service orientated company, with our stores at the centre. We will continue to develop our own exclusive brands as a differentiator, and leverage the strengths of each of our retail banners to cater for diverse local customer needs in our markets.

Within that plan we see two clear opportunities relating to my particular area of the business, e-commerce: to grow e-commerce sales and to build a mobile-first, service orientated customer experience.

The opportunity for us lies in putting our stores at the centre of our e-commerce proposition. We have a network of over 1,360 stores in nine markets, so we are well positioned to use them to provide support for in-store online order picking and fulfilment through click & collect, in-person returns, and fast home delivery. Our Group e-commerce sales penetration in the 2019/20 year was 8% (up from 6% in 2018/19), but when you take Screwfix out of the mix, it was around 3% on average for our other retail banners. This isn’t proportionate with their brand recognition and scale of their physical footprint. Likewise, our conversion rates could be higher. We see significant opportunities to increase conversion and e-commerce sales.

We want to make it easier for our customers to shop with us – online and in-store. We will do that by building a mobile-first, data-led and service orientated customer experience. It’s amazing what you can do on a phone these days, and mobile is at the centre of our customers’ home improvement journeys and experiences; from finding inspiration to planning, purchasing, building and installation. We believe mobile will remain the focal point of the end-to-end customer journey and experience.

2. What is the biggest challenge to your business?

From a digital and e-commerce perspective a big challenge is data. Capturing good quality customer data, which gives us one view of their needs is vital so that we can really help them to realise their home improvement projects – whether they are talking to a colleague in-store, shopping for paint on a mobile phone, planning a kitchen from a laptop in a coffee shop.

3. With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far?

I’m really proud of everything I and my teams have achieved over the years. The one thing that I would do differently is to open up the world of engineering and digital to people of more diverse backgrounds and to ensure that even those who don’t necessarily have the right educational or technical background have the opportunity to explore and develop rich careers in digital.

4. What is the future of the physical store and the high street?

We see the future as being a mix of the physical store and the digital/online experience. The two are interlinked. The move to online shopping has been accelerated by Covid-19. We saw our own online sales increase four-fold from mid-March, and in the last week of June alone, our customers placed 1.5 million online orders.

But the crisis also proved the resilience of the physical store. In April, as we reopened under new government guidelines, our stores very quickly became mini warehouses: well-positioned, in densely populated areas to support our click & collect and home delivery offer. In effect we accelerated some of the e-commerce plans we had already begun implementing at the beginning of the year.

Now that some of the restrictions on shoppers are beginning to ease, our stores are returning to the places where customers can come to look and feel the product, plan their projects and talk to our colleagues about how to complete them, albeit from behind a mask. A home improvement project is an emotional as well as financial investment, however big or small. We believe that the need to look at and to touch products, to speak to colleagues about a project won’t change. For that we will always need our stores.

The speed with which customers expect their orders to be available also supports our view of physical stores as assets. With a store network of our size, we are well-placed to leverage this and compete with other major players on faster home deliveries.

5. What technology-related plans have you got for the next 12 months?

We are prioritising the roll-out of the group’s digital technology stack, enabling more efficient and agile digital capabilities, supported by a more balanced local-group operating model for IT.

6. What other retail businesses do you admire?

The temptation here is to name a big brand, however I admire all the small corner shops and other businesses that very quickly worked through the challenges of Covid-19 to provide service to all their customers, and to make special provisions for NHS workers and vulnerable, house-bound customers. I have seen excellent examples of exceptional creativity in the face of adversity that we should celebrate.

7. If you hadn’t been a retailer what would you have liked to do?

I love the excitement of retail, but had I not found my home in creating great products I would have been a journalist.

8. Who would you place in the Movers & Shakers in Retail?

I’d like to see frontline workers (the shelf stackers, cashiers and delivery drivers) who saw us through the past three months shoot to the top of the movers and shakers.

This is one in an ongoing series of profiles with individuals that are featured in the annual ‘Retail Insider Movers & Shakers in Retail Top 100‘.