Why Burberry’s CFO Means Big Change for Harvey Nichols

burberry cfo to join harvey nichols

On February 17th, Stacey Cartwright will become CEO of the Harvey Nichols Group, an appointment which could dramatically alter our perception of the famous luxury department store.

Cartwright was previously Chief Financial Officer and Executive VP of Burberry for nine years, during which time she helped raise the annual turnover from £676m to an astonishing £2bn. She was also instrumental in introducing the brand to Middle Eastern and Chinese markets.

Why is this exciting for Harvey Nichols? While sales might still be strong for the brand, its online presence isn’t as effective (now in year two of its five-year e-commerce strategy) with some overly ‘quirky’ attempts at marketing. Offline, it doesn’t always deliver the added customer experience we are increasingly used to, relying on glitter and ‘new money’ to bolster sales. This is especially true in Leeds, whose claim to fame for several years was the ‘Knightsbridge of the North’. With new retail spaces opening up, this old guard of luxury shopping needs to be reborn.

Cartwright’s appointment to CEO offers plenty of exciting opportunities for this luxury brand.

1. Revolutionising their digital presence to reach a new consumer

Although not explicitly mentioned in fashion press, Cartwright was a key decision maker at Burberry during the period in which they became the go-to digital model for a luxury brand. Their approach to online content is sparkling: beautiful imagery, live shows, behind the scenes content and collaborations with top tech brands like Apple. This isn’t new for the high street (notably Asos and Topshop) but luxury brands are much slower to adopt these changes in the fashion consumer’s access to products and brand. Cartwright’s understanding of the digital development process will undoubtedly help to revolutionise Harvey Nichols’ online presence and the way they interact with a new breed of consumer.

Alongside this is the understanding Cartwright will bring from Burberry that innovation is important to financial stability, attracting aspirational consumers and retaining repeat customers.

2. Developing and pushing patriotism as a USP for overseas markets

Burberry’s reinvention as a truly British brand was essential in their entrance to China and the Middle East. The desire for luxury products in these emerging high spend markets – predicted to be 20% of the global luxury sales in 2015 – means a brand’s USP has to stand out against the competition, which Burberry has successfully done. There’s huge potential for Harvey Nichols to leverage their Britishness in order to do the same. However, it’ll be interesting to see how Cartwright juggles this potential with the retailer’s product – international luxury designers all under one roof – and what other USP might be used to expand further into these spaces.

3. Consolidating disparate marketing for a stronger proposition

Currently, as with many brands, individual Harvey Nichols stores conduct marketing and customer experiences in different ways. In Leeds, this includes discounted shopping evenings, press events and the very exciting LFW menswear designer showcase. However, not everything hits the mark (especially when in conjunction with the larger Victoria Quarter) and can lack innovation. This is especially important in a city where style is eclectic and customers are savvy to new tech, new looks and new standards of customer experience that ‘add value’.

Cartwright’s appointment has the potential to consolidate these fragmented efforts under a much clearer brand proposition, offering as unique, creative and inspiring a customer experience as the windows in Harvey Nichols so often advertise. These innovative experiences would reach an emerging UK audience of young professionals with the money to spend who are currently disenchanted with a lack of fresh ideas.

Tweet me @ebsnare with your thoughts: does Harvey Nichols need a brand refresh? Or does it already have an audience robust enough to sustain profit in a time of change?