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Nobody’s Child: ‘Start with the idea that you know nothing’

Becoming a truly digital business begins with the acknowledgement that “You know nothing”, says John Allen, CEO of womenswear ecommerce site Nobody’s Child.

“As a management team, you have to start with the idea that you know nothing,” Allen told the Drapers Digital Festival today. “If you are prepared to be wrong then you are already in the right position. You will start to have the right approach to a ‘learning’ culture.”

He stressed that, for modern businesses, being digital was no longer about simply being online – but is instead about intelligently connecting people, products and things: “It has to be about artificial intelligence and machine learning. Nobody is doing this perfectly yet, but this is what digital will be both today and for many years to come.”

Allen highlighted several areas across both customer-facing and back-end operations as the brand’s focus points.

Customer service through social media, interactive messaging, shoppable content and visual search are priorities in customer-facing functions. In back-end operations, the focus is on the integration of buying and design to optimise designs and make them as commercial as possible; “anywhere” inventory (knowing where all pieces of inventory always are); and scale and distribution.

To achieve a truly digital business, digital should be fully integrated into organisational structures, and innovation should be central. Allen noted that shifting ideas of responsibility is an important tool for businesses.

“Who owns digital in a digital business? No-one: it is fundamentally a core part of what you do,” he said.

He noted that this multifunctional approach was equally important in fostering an innovative culture in businesses: “Innovation should be at the centre of the business. Function and innovation are one. Innovation is part of the day-to-day delivery of the merchandise as well as the technical product. This needs to be the case across the business.”

“Being digital is about survival,” he added. “Economic stress is the new norm. Global stress is not going to change or go away. You have to work on the idea that it’s only going to get worse. The idea of a building a digital business is to help you survive that.”

As retail continues to move at pace, Allen stressed that building an innovative, multifunctional culture is key to placing digital at the heart of a business. “Your business will have fewer, but more highly skilled, technically savvy, product-focused people in the future than it does today.”

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