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Brave retailers taking risks and why it matters

Why taking retail risks matters

As a young child you might have jumped across a ditch and cleared the muddy water by a shoelace. As a teenager you might have tried to blag your way through a maths exam but didn’t pass. You won some, you lost some. Whatever the outcome, you had the courage to take a risk.

The bravest retailers are just like you. Their refusal to be left behind by our rapidly changing society pushes them to make decisions that require a significant amount of courage.

The boss of an independent trading company once claimed that ‘he who dares, wins’ and the following retailers would undoubtedly agree.

Courageous retailing comes in all shapes and sizes but who should be considered as the bravest of them all?

Shop Direct

First distributed in 1932 and at one point reaching a print run of 25 million a year, the famous Littlewoods catalogue was entrenched in UK consumer shopping habits for several generations.

However, as demand for the mail-order bible dwindled, Shop Direct Group faced up to the realisation that to remain relevant, it was time to bite the bullet.

In the spring of 2015, the catalogue was thrown by the wayside and a new digital-only dawn was ushered in. Within six months, the group announced a 78% increase in pre-tax profits to £71.7m and in 2017 celebrated receiving its second successive OC&C Pureplay Etailer of the Year accolade at the Retail Week Awards.

A string of post-catalogue digital innovations show that 2015’s bravery was no one-off – this is one of the UK’s most courageous retailers.


In April 2017, after nine months of searching, Debenhams chairman Sir Ian Cheshire plucked Sergio Bucher from Amazon to run the department store chain.

Considered a left-field choice by many, Sir Ian’s brave decision to bring the creative, innovative Bucher into a stale, tired environment should be applauded.

A staunch believer that stereotyping a single customer is a pointless pursuit, Bucher’s appointment took a great deal of courage. Bravo, Sir Ian.


Boohoo may have opened temporary Christmas pop-up stores in New York for the past couple of years, but there is just one etailer that has truly jumped the gap from online to offline – Missguided.

Opening its first store in Westfield Stratford in December 2016, the teenage female fashion brand dived head first into creating a physical expression of its sassy, bling online presence with pink monster trucks, an oversized pink flamingo and unicorn-headed mannequins centre stage.

The opening of a second store in Bluewater in June 2017 suggests that the bricks-and-mortar bravery is anything but misguided.

Sports Direct

Sports Direct’s announcement that it aimed to become the “Selfridges of sport” was labelled “bold” and “bizarre”, and with solid reasoning.

A chequered recent history has done little to improve the reputation of the retailer and the announcement of a new strategy, light of detail, could have been a disastrous decision.

However, a new partnership with upmarket Japanese sportswear brand Asics and senior market analysts admitting that 25 new generation stores are a lot more profitable than existing outlets suggests that Mike Ashley’s leap of faith may well have paid off.


A year on from Sainsbury’s acquisition of Argos and critics of the momentous £1.4bn deal are being proven wrong. Numerous fears voiced by the City have been allayed as the fledgling partnership continues to benefit both parties.

Having reached its in-store roll-out target of 250 six months ahead of schedule, thoughts are already turning to what’s next.

Has the risk paid off? Sainsbury’s Argos chief executive John Rogers describes the Amazon–Whole Foods acquisition as a “ringing endorsement” of the Sainsbury’s Argos model. Enough said.


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