Powell doesn't like the word “legacy” – too pompous – but without doubt, his tenure's had some lasting effects. Under Powell's leadership, TWG has adapted rapidly and effectively to the advent of ecommerce. The company's full range of products has been available online since 2012, and several of its 2013 acquisitions were either pureplay businesses or those known for a strong online presence: Noel Leeming; Torpedo7; No.1 Fitness; Shotgun Supplements and Shop HQ.
When Powell took the helm five years ago, he says, the group was wrestling with how to get online. He felt the time was ripe to jump straight in, telling the team “Look, we’ve got to get online and we’ve got to get online quick.”
His decisiveness paid off. In 2011, Powell says, TWG's online sales were just $18 million – they're now at $150 million. He believes mobile devices and “the whole digital revolution” have changed the world. Selling and marketing is now “anywhere, any way, any time.”
TWG isn't an early adopter, says Powell: “Not a bleeding edge – not a leading edge even. We’re a fast follower.”
Powell is open to change, as long as it makes sense from the customer's point of view. He distinguishes between low-investment risks and “bet-the-company” situations, but if an idea is customer-driven and easy to test and trial, Powell isn't afraid to give it a go.
“A lot of things in this world are not a lot of money to make work,” he says. “They’re not like putting down a massive new concept store or something like that.”
Asked whether it's possible for companies to get carried away with digital innovation, Powell readily agrees. Google Glass never appealed to him - “To be honest, that's one I can say I was right about” - and he's currently struggling to understand the relevance of beacons and drones. The individual applications of drones are obvious to Powell, but he can't see how the infrastructure would work if every company adopted them for delivery in urban areas.
“I could be just not visionary enough! … I’m always ‘what does it mean for the customer, could we trial this quickly and understand it, could we see if it works?’”
Powell is certain that the dynamics driving customer behaviour haven't changed. At the end of technology is the customer, he says, who doesn't really care about technology. He or she just wants “What I want, when I want it, how I want it. And inside that, the 'it' is still product and price.”
The ability to initiate voluntary, two-way communication with customers through digital channels is going to be very important for the retail industry, Powell feels. He's excited about the ability to link customer data to transactions so that retailers can understand what customers are buying and where they're buying it, although he is careful to emphasise that such contact should be “cool, not creepy”.
Retailers are still finding out how far they can take the use of customer data, he says. And he believes those who remember to respect the customer as an individual and keep in mind their own reactions to brand contact can't go too far wrong.
“I think we’re all still trying to understand [brand contact] and how it works,” Powell says. “I think you understand it by doing it, hopefully not making too-big mistakes.”