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The collapse of luxury fashion retailer Matches has dominated headlines in the retail world since owner Frasers Group put the brand into administration last month.

The news of Matches’ demise came on the heels of other difficult news for luxury e-tailers, as former rising star Farfetch announced lay-offs of 25-30% of its workforce and its would-be acquisition, Yoox Net-a-Porter, faced widening losses.

At Day 2 of the Retail Technology Show 2024 in Olympia London, former CEO Dr. Nick Beighton – an ecommerce veteran who previously headed up ASOS – reflected on the luxury brand’s struggles in a keynote conversation with Andrew Busby, Founder of Redline Retail.

Despite the difficulties that Matches found itself unable to bounce back from, Beighton struck a positive note as he looked back on his time as CEO.

“It’s not a secret that Matches was struggling for five years. We took it – and I brought a team in – because it was a great British ecommerce business, it was fashion.

“…I knew right from the start that it would be a risk,” he added. “But the way I saw it – when I joined ASOS, there were less than 200 people; it was the smallest company I’d ever worked for. That was a risk then, too. Sometimes you take a risk and you want to make something better. That was why we did it.”

Beighton believed that Matches was “making progress” with its turnaround when it was placed into administration, a little over a year into his tenure as CEO. “We were doing great stuff: repurposing the brand, repurposing technology, repurposing the culture – and we were really enjoying it.”

He stated that putting Matches into administration “wasn’t necessary, in my opinion”, but acknowledged that the move was “[Frasers’] choice” as owners of Matches.

“The bigger we get, the smaller we have to be”

It’s no secret that, despite their greater resources, big businesses often struggle to be as nimble as smaller companies, and Matches was no exception.

“One of the curious things that we found was that the bigger we got, the less innovative we seemed to get,” reflected the former CEO. This was despite the fact that, by Beighton’s own assessment, innovation was “embedded within” the culture at Matches.

“We fought against [the slowing innovation] by reconnecting with the mission we were on, reconnecting with our purpose; making the best of it. … It was about keeping focused on why we were here.”

Overseeing and coordinating a huge organisation also required a level of concerted effort to keep things focused, communicate, and maintain transparency. “One of the principles we developed was, ‘The bigger we get, the smaller we have to be.’ … You had to work differently at communication. You had to work differently at keeping people connected.”

“Work on culture”

Beighton also reaffirmed the truth behind the adage, originally coined by management consultant Peter Drucker, that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

“You can get more great stuff done with people who are motivated and understand what they’re doing – even before you’ve actually asked them to do it.

“So, work on teams; work on culture; don’t put control mechanisms in place – put freedom mechanisms in place.”

The future doesn’t rest on one channel

Despite the draw of social media channels like TikTok, which can often seem like the only place to be for online sellers, Beighton cautioned retailers against relying too heavily on a single sales avenue – be that social commerce, or any other.

“I don’t think there’s going to be one channel for commerce. … The best model is store, ecomm, social … within that, if you have personalisation on steroids with AI, lower cost of handling products and producing product in your back office through AI – you’ve suddenly got a lethal model.

“I think a composite of all [channels] is the best approach; nobody’s got the right mix of everything. No-one knows where that is. If you’re building the most resilient retailer, [you need] all those channels, heavy AI, huge machine learning to optimise all the back end processes.

“People want product, they want experience; they’re not just going to go straight to TikTok or Instagram. They’re not just going to go straight to a store. They want access how they want it, when they want it, on any channel that they have.”

Econsultancy runs training and learning academies in digital marketing and ecommerce.