Why six retail execs got pink slips in their Christmas stockings

The holiday departure of six Bed Bath and Beyond executives seems odd, but makes perfect sense, says Maryville University's Dustin York.

Bed Bath and Beyond CEO Mark Tritton (Getty Images)
Bed Bath and Beyond CEO Mark Tritton (Getty Images)

Five Bed Bath and Beyond executives departed the company Tuesday (another resigned last week) prompting many to wonder why such a massive corporate upheaval was taking place in the middle of the bustling holiday season.

While the timing seems odd, the upheaval is completely normal.

The six executives included the chief merchandising officer (a post the company’s new CEO Mark Tritton previously held at Target), chief digital officer, chief marketing officer, chief brand officer, chief administrative officer, and general counsel.

Data from Harvard Business Review shows us that the Tritton’s cuts were somewhat consistent with similar C-suite layoffs made by outsider CEOs who typically fire individuals in marketing, HR, and legal roles.

And though the layoffs aren’t unusual, especially considering the retailer’s recent struggles, they still send a mixed message to the public. What is Bed Bath and Beyond and its new CEO trying to achieve?

It’s simple: Bed Bath and Beyond is going to make changes, and they’re going to be in digital and experiential.

In a statement, Tritton said the company would be "balancing our existing expertise with fresh perspectives from new, innovative leaders of change, will help us to better anticipate and support our customers in their life journeys and shopping needs."

Those "innovative leaders" are likely to embrace digital, and they’re going to guide Bed Bath and Beyond down the same path of e-commerce transformation that innovators at Domino’s, Walmart, and Amazon have already trod. These brand leaders have shown that bold digital initiatives, such as Domino’s GPS-powered pizza-tracking service, don’t have to conflict with existing retail practices and customs.

The in-store shopping experience should also be a focal point. For examples of a brick-and-mortar trendsetter look no further than Apple. While Bed Bath and Beyond uses a floor to ceiling style of merchandising, Apple houses the majority of their inventory in the back, unseen by customers. The entire store is a check-out line with a mix of products to try and approachable product experts to make the experience enjoyable.

While the in-store experience initiatives Bed Bath and Beyond unveils remain to be seen, they will likely target the evolving shopping and digital trends of members of Generation Z. Research shows this generation not only expects digital but also enjoys brick-and-mortar shopping more than any other generation.

What is already measurable is the 11% jump in the company’s stock prices shortly after it announced the departures. And considering that the average Bed Bath and Beyond shopper is unaware of who the company’s CEO or C-Suite is, it’s safe to say that both investors and the public hold no qualms over this executive shakeup.

Dr. Dustin York is Director of Undergraduate and Graduate Communication at Maryville University.

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