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Kate Walmsley

Topshop’s mobile-optimised site is yet to launch, but sales from mobiles are already soaring. No wonder head of ecommerce Kate Walmsley relishes the digital opportunities.

Rails of clothes clutter the corridors of the Topshop office in central London, with mannequins propped up beside desks in the open-plan area, and boxes piled high bursting open with chunky knits and sequined skirts. But the chaos is left behind once Drapers enters the office of head of ecommerce Kate Walmsley, where the desk is spotless and the atmosphere serene. 

But Walmsley’s calm environment and demeanour belie the hive of activity that surrounds the ecommerce arm of the Arcadia-owned chain. Earlier this month, Topshop confirmed that mobile sales, including those from iPads, accounted for 8% of all online sales – compared with an average 3% to 4% for other retailers that offer m-commerce – with mobile sales multiplying by three to four times over the past year. And this is without a mobile-optimised site. Yet.

“It’s coming soon, very soon,” says Walmsley. A transactional app will launch at roughly the same time, although she declines to give dates. The excitement about these advancements is palpable. “We feel quite strongly about those propositions and the growth within those channels is unprecedented and irrefutable.”

Walmsley has been with Topshop for three years, having previously worked at digital agency AKQA. “I had a concern at the time about going to work in-house that it would be too slow, but I could do with a couple of slow days,” she laughs.

One of Walmsley’s primary charges is, which provides shoppers in 106 countries with the chain’s full offer, which is updated with more than 350 new products each week. It attracts

2 million unique visitors every week, of which 50% come back daily. has a team of merchandisers analysing online trends, but the best-sellers tend to be the same across online and in-store. “Occasionally you’ll have a product that is faster in a particular market, either due to seasonal differences or because it’s been highlighted in the press,” says Walmsley. “But on the whole things that are successful for the brand overall are successful everywhere.”

Bricks and clicks

Those that purchase online compared with in-store differ in two primary ways, explains Walmsley. The first is age, as attracts a slightly older customer, partly because of payment methods such as credit cards and partly because older customers are more time-pressed. The accessibility of the website also means online shoppers are more international than in-store shoppers.

Outside the UK, Walmsley says France, Germany, Australia and the US are the key ecommerce markets, and to capitalise on overseas customers Topshop is looking to launch localised sites for Germany and France. China and Hong Kong are proving fast-growing ecommerce markets, and Walmsley admits the site provides an opportunity to test the water overseas before opening stores.

About 90% of UK bricks-and-mortar customers also visit the website (although they don’t necessarily buy from it). Therefore Topshop launched an online stock checker in March to help customers find product in their local store. The natural next step would be click-and-collect but Walmsley is reluctant to disclose any plans. “You can imagine where we can take [the stock checker], and what we might want to do with it,” she says. “Click-and-collect is on the map, but it’s not something that would be this side of peak [Christmas].”

As for the competition, what does Walmsley think about Aurora Fashions, which owns rival chain Oasis, extending its offer of 90-minute delivery to most customers by next February? “It is definitely something that will be under review and something we need to investigate,” she says, shrugging off the competition. “I think the challenge for us, and the industry overall, is that there is so much opportunity everywhere you look. It comes down to prioritising the cost and the resource it takes balanced against what the customer benefit is or the benefit to the business. It’s endless.”

Five-star service

Walmsley is keen to keep innovating, and in May launched ratings reviews on the site. “Not only do we see that products that have ratings convert faster than products without them, but also the feedback and the learning that we get from the reviews is good,” she explains.

In September, Topshop launched its own channel on micro-blogging platform Tumblr featuring street style shots. Each picture has a caption with web links either to show how to recreate the look using Topshop product or, if an item is a Topshop piece, to that particular piece on its site. Walmsley says the Tumblr launch has not only driven sales directly but also through referrals from other members of the Tumblr family.

Walmsley believes Tumblr’s viral characteristics have a real advantage. “It’s the same for all of our social media channels, whether it’s Facebook or Twitter,” she says. “It’s not just about that last click or the direct traffic we can drive back to the site, but also the potential reach for that story. You trust your friends.”

Topshop’s core audience of 16 to 24-year-old women avidly consumes social media and the retailer says it has the largest number of fans on Facebook of any UK fashion retailer – 1.7 million.

It does not have a Facebook store and, although Walmsley doesn’t rule this out, she sees no value in putting the entire range on Facebook. “You’re going to create a potentially weakened, lesser experience within Facebook than on your main site.” She believes a curated shop could prove more beneficial.

With official figures showing that almost 1 million 16 to 24-year-olds are unemployed, Topshop’s customers will be feeling the pinch. Walmsley says to entice younger shoppers, Topshop launched an app with mobile gaming service SCVNGR aimed at students. The app rewarded challenge completions with free gifts, discounts and competitions. It has also offered additional discounts for students over the past few months on top of its standard 10% off.

Walmsley says over the next few years, becoming a truly multichannel retailer will be key for Topshop. She will look at how it can take online content and share it across all platforms, including using more iPads in store. “We’re thinking about [all the] places [where our shopper] might be where it makes sense for [her] to make a transaction, or at least be introduced to the brand. We’re looking at how we join up those dots.” 


2008 Head of ecommerce, Topshop

2007 Planning director, AKQA, New York

2005 Planning director, AKQA, San Francisco

2001 Planning director, AKQA, London

2000 Senior planner, Citron Haligman Bedecarré (now AKQA), San Francisco

1997 Account planner, Anderson & Lembke (now McCann Erickson)

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