She may helm Oasis, but Liz Evans insists that a day in store is still the best source of knowledge.
When I started out, we didn’t have online,” says Oasis’s Liz Evans, as she tweaks an almost-perfect rail at the retailer’s Argyll Street store in London. “Technology is giving us the opportunity to enhance the shopping experience. The fundamentals of retail haven’t changed, but the pace at which people want things has changed. Shopping isn’t just a functional experience anymore; stores are about creating an experience.”
Despite her reign as managing director of the womenswear chain, Evans doesn’t lock herself away in an ivory tower. Today, she has gone back to the shopfloor for Drapers, but you can tell she spends a lot of time there already – two days a week in fact, either in an Oasis store or a competitor’s.
With her youthful looks, she could easily be mistaken for a shop assistant.
“That falls really nicely when you put it on,” she advises a customer, who is holding up a dress.
The customer comes first
Evans began her retail career at Marks & Spencer, an experience that taught her to put the customer first. “When I left school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to go to university but I wanted to work in retail. That’s where I still get my buzz; with retail, you get an instant reaction,” she says. “You have to have a desire to be close to the customer.
I don’t know how anyone can do this job from just behind a desk.”
At the fitting rooms, she proudly points to one of the sales assistants, who is advising a customer on how best to wear a particular dress. “There’s nothing like being in a fitting room. Maybe we’ve got the lining wrong on a garment, for example. I don’t need to look at a report to see what the best-sellers are; you can find that out by being in a store on a Saturday,” she says, before picking up one of the many iPads dotted across the store and expertly demonstrating how shoppers can browse the entire Oasis collection. “You used to be entertained by magazines near the changing rooms, now it’s iPads.”
But Evans admits that Oasis’s focus on technology had its teething problems. “We were getting so excited about online, but the store managers saw it as competition because it was taking sales from their stores,” she explains.
“So we brought them together. Now we can attribute an online sale to a particular store. We were asking [store managers] to embrace multichannel but we didn’t give them the tools to do so.”
In the Argyll Street store, staff carry hand-held mobile scanners so customers can purchase items without queuing at the tills; the receipt is emailed to them.
Again, Evans is a natural with the technology, but where she shines is at the tills. “Did you find what you were after?” she smiles at a customer, as she neatly packs the purchases. “And have you shopped here before?”
There’s no doubt that Oasis parent company Aurora Fashions is at the forefront of technology, but as Evans shows, technology should facilitate the art of retailing, which comes down to one thing only: knowing and satisfying your customer.