ASOS, the online retailer which targets 20 somethings is now bigger than Marks and Spencer. Look at the two company’s respective jobs force, and spot the stark difference.
Marks and Spencer was founded in 1884, often known as the Queen of the High Street, but to spot its significance you may need to go back further, to words spoken by a bloke called Napoleon Bonaparte, apparently he used to be quite famous. And he once said that Britain is a nation of shop keepers.
And if he was right, then maybe M&S symbolises this more than anyone.
But the M&S share price has been as flat as an M&S brand of cola opened during the store’s heyday for much of this century. Today its market cap (value of shares times their the number in circulation) is £5 billion.
ASOS, founded in the year 2000, hit the stock market in 2001 and is now worth £5.15 billion. Shares are up 20- fold in the last five years.
M&S has had a difficult century, at one point, 12 years or so ago, Philip Green went close to buying it. Shares have doubled - roughly - this century, but right now are less than half the 2007 peak price.
If you want to be mercenary about this, you could say shareholders should have accepted the Green bid, although judging by the fate of BHS, once owned by Green, the work-force may not agree.
And that brings us to the point.
M&S employs 85,00 people. ASOS employs 4,000.
Whether you think ASOS deserves its £5 billion plus valuation depends on your view of the world.
But it is clear that the future of retail is AI and big data and ASOS is embedded in that way, M&S, maybe 116 years older, but it can learn much from ASOS.
But this all begs the question what about jobs.
We keep hearing about how technology creates new jobs, as many as it destroys, about how the number of bank teller jobs increased after the introduction of the ATM, but there are not so many bank teller jobs today and if the future of retail is AI, big data, virtual reality, online, robot assistants, and avatar assistance in virtual reality, robots in warehouses, exactly what will the 2.77 million people who work in retail do?