End of an era for Burberry: what the experts say

Leading fashion retailer Burberry will have a new leader next year when Angela Ahrendts departs for Apple and is replaced by Christopher Bailey, who is set to take on the dual role of chief creative and CEO.

Ahrendts will assume the position of senior vice president for retail and online stores at Apple after more than seven years at the helm of the British fashion business. During that time Burberry has been viewed as a leading innovator in terms of its eCommerce operations and in-store technology deployment.

Essential Retail caught up with a selection of retail commentators to analyse the role the departing CEO has played and what the future holds for Burberry.

Paul Martin, retail expert and former managing director of Planet Retail, said: “I think she has been a great success at Burberry. She has transformed the organisation into a real innovator in fashion retail and the most successful British fashion brand.

“Real credit is deserved for Burberry's international expansion under her leadership, especially into the emerging markets.

“Burberry has really embraced in-store technology and enhancing the customer experience. It has successfully managed to keep the iconic, traditional brand image while at the same time become a modern, innovating multichannel retailer.

“It will be interesting to see how Chris Bailey will operate going forward. Obviously he has played a major part in the recent success story. But going forward he will be straddling two roles – his old position as chief creative officer and as CEO. Straddling two roles can often lead to a lack of focus and I would imagine this will only be interim as you really need two people for these two pivotal roles.”

Spencer Izard, research manager at IDC, said: “Since taking on the reigns at Burberry, Angela Ahrendts has taken steps to ensure that, from a technology perspective, that the in-store and online experiences were truly an aligned omnichannel platform backed by a strong and efficient supply chain management capability to ensure the creative-driven products could be manufactured to quality and scale consistently.

“This hire by Apple demonstrates a keen understanding of fully linking its in-store and online businesses as one omnichannel platform for the first time - from both a management perspective and technology perspective.

“In addition the success Ahrendts has had in managing the profile of Burberry into being seen as a 'must have' brand across both established and emerging markets is a significant factor. She has had success in the expansion of Burberry into countries like China, which are important markets for Apple.”

Ian McGarrigle, executive board member at IORMA (International Omni Retailing Members Association), said: “Angela Ahrendts, together with Christopher Bailey, brought enormous success to the Burberry brand across many areas thanks to their shared vision.

“An important part of that vision was that Burberry should connect with its customers via online and social media. In this, they were pioneers because not only was this completely cutting-edge for the luxury sector, but for retail more generally at that time. By adopting the very latest thinking and technologies to connect with customers and enhance the physical and online store, it's fashion shows and use of social media, Burberry became established as a truly international and omnichannel brand. In that, it set the pace for most retailers and continues to be admired the world over.

“Christopher Bailey was very much at the heart of this vision and strategy, so there can be few fears that this approach to building the brand won't continue in the same way.”

Jessica Fioriti, associate analyst at Verdict Research, said on her company blog: "Ahrendts, who has revitalised the Burberry brand, driven global expansion and led the way in digital innovation in luxury fashion, is leaving Burberry in excellent shape, making now a good time for her to take on a new challenge.

“Ahrendts has developed a strong reputation for creating innovative and technologically advanced Burberry stores and brand image, so her appointment at Apple signals a renewed focus on its retail proposition – especially having had a vacancy for the retail chief executive role for the last year following John Browett’s swift departure.”

What do you think? We are keen to hear the industry’s opinions on Ahrendts’ imminent departure and what she has achieved in her tenure at the fashion retailer, in terms of technological development. Comment below or contact us on Twitter @EssRetail.