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Ocado promotes product head Gibson to chief exec amid sales slowdown

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nline grocery firm Ocado has promoted its product head Hannah Gibson to chief executive after Melanie Smith stepped down at the end of August.

Gibson, who has been at Ocado for a decade, played a pivotal role in launching the company’s quick delivery service Ocado Zoom, which aims to get customers their shopping within 60 minutes, and is now expanding across the UK.

In her current role, Gibson sets the strategy for the Ocado Smart Platform business, which allows supermarkets to embed the online retailer’s technology and logistics into their online grocery businesses.

She will take up the chief executive role on 20 September, which is currently being held on an interim basis by deputy chief executive Lawrence Hene.

Former boss Smith announced suddenly in July that she would be stepping downafter just three years.

Her tenure included the announcement of the joint venture with supermarket Marks and Spencer in a £750 million deal which saw Ocado market M&S food online for the first time and deliver M&S products to shoppers’ front doors.

In spite of Ocado Group’s shares hitting an all-time high of £28.19 in September 2020 as lockdowns amid the coronavirus pandemic fuelled online grocery shopping, the shares have lost nearly half their value in the past three years, falling 48% to 711.8p.

And with the cost-of-living crisis squeezing household budgets, it’s likely that Gibson could have an uphill battle as more consumers seek out ways to cut down their outgoings.

In July, Ocado fell £211 million into the red in the first half of the year as soaring grocery inflation and the end of lockdown restrictions led to a slump in the value of customer orders.

Revenue for the first six months of 2021 fell 4.4% to £1.3 billion, led by a more than £100 million drop in retail sales as customers abandoned home delivery of groceries as Covid rules relaxed. The average shopping basket fell 13% on last year.

Tim Steiner, Ocado founder and chief executive of Ocado Group, said he was “confident” that Gibson was the right leader to deliver on the firm’s ambitions.

“At Ocado Group, we have consistently benefited from her outstanding leadership and laser focus on the customer proposition and I have no doubt this will continue,” he said.

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