News UK’s commercial director of operations, Tracey Hart, has outlined the news publisher’s approach to supporting stores in her first interview since taking ownership of its retail operations.
Speaking to Better Retailing, Hart said she was glad to be back in retail for the first time since leaving her last retail-facing role at the Daily Mail in 2014.
Describing visits to roundspeople she has undertaken since being appointed to oversee retail last month, Hart said: “That’s what I love about the retail business – going out to meet the retailers. It’s great so many have welcomed me back. I’m looking forward to meeting a few more and getting to know their world again.”
Home news delivery
Hart said the focus of News UK’s field team “is very much on home news delivery”.
Discussing the 13 weeks of free delivery promoted on the Sunday Times, she said: “[Reps] are making sure that’s really visible in stores, helping retailers to drive customers on to Deliver My Newspaper (DMN).”
On business customers, Hart added: “If there are businesses that have dropped out, it’s about asking if they are ready to come back.
“We are telling retailers, ‘We can get you leaflets, we can help personalise these leaflets and we can support you to get out there in reintroducing your service.’”
The restructure of News UK’s retail team comes as other publishers have opted out of using News UK’s DMN service.
Asked about the future of DMN, Hart said: “It’s part of the overall review of everything,” but said news publishers were “always stronger together”.
Solving delivery-time issues
Asked how News UK would keep stores stocking newspapers, Hart recognised the importance of fixing late deliveries, responding: “Particularly for the roundsmen I’ve spoken to, this is still their frustration. Everyone understands when issues such as the Queen dying or lots of snow happen, the network could be challenged. Outside of those exceptions, we should be consistent.
“Having been out of this area for a good eight years, it is still the same things that the retailers are complaining about. It’s not just about News UK making that difference – it is about the industry. It’s a big tanker to turn, but that’s something we’ve got to get together on.”
Hart said the first step to finding improvements would be The Fed’s upcoming news summit, which will be hosted in News UK’s headquarters.
The comments came in a month that saw many titles – including some of News UK’s – hit fewer than 50% of scheduled arrival times into wholesale, yet often close to 100% arrival by wholesale cut-off times, with ‘bunching’ at depots often latening stores deliveries.
Asked if publishers and wholesalers were working to the same targets, Hart said: “What we need to get to is that agreement. We’ve all managed our businesses independently, and ultimately, we’ve got to come together now make it work.”
Hart continued: “Depots have come out. We’re all trying to optimise and we’re all under huge pressure, but we still need to make sure retailers are happy and want to keep having our category.”
Price increases and protecting retailers
Inflation hit newsprint earlier and harder than most sectors, causing frequent increases in retail prices in 2022.
Asked if the trend for price increases was set to continue, Hart answered: “Whether it’s the newsprint, the aluminium plates, or the ink we use, they’re all very volatile, with things going on in the world. That’s challenging for us to keep managing it. The only thing I can stress is our focus is to protect the retailer as much as we can.”
Supermarkets and technology
Just before Hart took up oversight of retail, Aldi pulled its trialled reintroduction of newspapers into stores.
Hart said the move was “expected”, but “disappointing”.
Last month, Smiths News said it expected news publishers to follow suit.
Asked about the potential change, Hart told Better Retailing: “I don’t have any plans at all to put it into place yet, but I understand it. I’ve spoken to a few multiples, and they need to take cost out of the process.
“How does that look so that it works for all parties? I don’t know yet. I understand their frustration.”
Digital vouchers, which are being adopted by News UK’s rival publishers, are another technological advance billed to improve processes for stores.
Hart said News UK had looked at it previously and added: “If it helps retailers, it’s worth considering.”
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