Reiss’ ecommerce director told delegates at Drapers’ Next Generation Academy about the changes in ecommerce he has witnessed in his 13 year career working for retailers such as Schuh and Boux Avenue, and where the premium retailer’s focus lays over the next few years.
You began your career 13 years ago. What would you say were your biggest challenges back then?
Our biggest challenges back then was what is still one of our biggest challenges today - back in the day most of your Debenhams’, your John Lewis’, their infrastructure was set up to run a store business, and the board level had a mind-set of driving profitability through stores. So I think my greatest challenge through the years has been just trying to change this mind-set and also to take a leap of faith – and it really takes the managing director and the financial director to take a leap of faith in you as a person – to be able to say shopping is changing, ‘why don’t we try this’. Through the years there has been a difficulty with retail directors understanding their role within this new world.
Is that changing now?
I re-launched Schuh.co.uk back in 2009, and at board level at Schuh we had a massive argument about whether we should put the relaunch [of the website] in the windows of our stores. The retail director said ‘no’, I obviously said ‘yes’, and it was up to the managing director to decide.
Did it happen?
Of course it did, yes. And it was brilliant for the business - we had to come out of the other side and say this is about how we service customers across all channels.
Back then the focus was all about online, are you now seeing similar challenges with social and mobile?
I think it is really understanding what mobile will do for you; it’s only really come about in the last couple of years. I remember back in 2007 Schuh did a mobile site and we were one of the first. I don’t think anybody every visited it. I think in 12 months we did about £400, and that was on a Nokia. Challenges are going to change, and [as for] how we manage social and mobile we’re very lucky in that we’ve got the ability to develop Reiss in-house, so we don’t have to go to agencies to add on parts to our desktop sites. So we have got a lot of ability to move resources to what’s actually working for us.
A lot of people are now talking about the single customer view. Is integrating all of those channels one of the biggest challenges that you see?
Absolutely, I think it’s a lot easier at Reiss for us to drive towards one customer view. Because we’re a premium brand when someone goes into the store they expect a premium experience, as they do when they go to our website, so they don’t mind giving us their email address. When I was at Schuh it was very different. 26% of sales came from online every year. And to try and get the email addresses from the customers that bought the other three million pair of shoes that were £40 was very difficult. So one customer view is really important to us. We put new software into the stores in terms of CRM to be able to capture that data, but we’re at the start of the journey.
Was there anything that you thought would be the next big thing that wasn’t?
Mobile in 2007, and social. Everyone talks about making social work in terms of monetising it, and I don’t think it is ever going to work. I think social is a chance to engage customers rather than make sales, and I think if you can engage customers, then you will make sales off the back of that.
How is the team structured at Reiss?
From my perspective you take the ‘E’ out of what I do these days, because it really is about commerce, not just ecommerce. So we have started to sit teams together, and for the first time we’ve got an SEO guy on the same floor as a designer [for example]. We’ve tried to really integrate all teams into the business. So we all sit together and then we can deal with things together. We also have a multichannel meeting every Tuesday at 12pm where every department in the business sits down and we talk about what we’re doing, so that everyone knows what is happening.
What roles to you have in the team, and what will you be investing in over the next few years?
We’ve got the conversion team and the traffic team. I think the big thing for us is understanding how web usability really moves on. If you look at most websites they do look pretty similar in terms of how they are structured. I do think there is going to be a revolution in terms of front-end usability and really trying to bring products out of the site and trying to engage people in a different way.