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Editor's Comment: Walmsley is well-equipped for the challenges ahead

Keely Stocker

It didn’t take long for David Walmsley, former director of digital at Marks & Spencer, to resurface. Just three weeks after his departure from M&S was announced, it was revealed he will join House of Fraser as chief customer officer.

Replacing Andy Harding, Walmsley has a tough job ahead. The market faces challenging times and HoF has a huge multichannel operation. But his previous roles have by no means been an easy ride: Walmsley is a veteran when it comes to digital, having worked at Microsoft Encarta over 20 years ago, before the likes of Asos, Net-a-Porter or Facebook were even born.

In 2007, Walmsley moved into his first big retail role at John Lewis, as head of web selling and customer services and launched John Lewis fashion online. His experience at the department store will have taught him how to manage a multitude of categories online against the backdrop of an old school bricks-and-mortar retailer.

After two years at Dixons Retail, Walmsley joined M&S in 2011 as director of digital. M&S’s problems with its website relaunch in February 2014 are well documented and Walmsley has since admitted it was not the smoothest process. However, speaking at Drapers Digital Forum in April this year, he argued that M&S had made a “good start” in its transformation into a digital business following this “challenging” period.

Giving an insight into his priorities in a digital role and an indication as to the type of strategy he will bring to HoF, Walmsley said at the time: “As retailers we have to make it faster – it can never be slower for the customer. Our shoppers are telling us they want us to save them time and not to waste their time.” He added that getting into a “mobile mindset” and personalising the offer for shoppers were fundamental to the future of any business.

Walmsley has said on numerous occasions that his strategy is always based on customer first and connected retail. That makes him the right choice for a chief customer officer role. However, his character is quite different to that of Harding’s. Industry insiders have described his approach as fairly top-down - bordering on authoritarian - which was a good fit for M&S. It will be interesting to see how this goes over at HoF.

During Harding’s time at HoF, he launched a site with a mobile-first approach which can be seen clearly in the design of the navigation. He was also instrumental in the complete restructure of the team to become customer-focused and meet the demands of changing customer expectations, which included the introduction of the chief customer officer role.

Whilst Walmsley has department store experience, as well as many years at the digital helm, it will be interesting to see how he tackles a role that includes managing the marketing, customer insight and brand side of the business, alongside ecommerce specialists and digital trading positions. 

 

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