Pushing forward

We discuss all things omnichannel with Gerald Dawson, director, finance, operations, e-commerce at Weird Fish

RS: How long have you been in your current role and what have been the highlights thus far?
GD: One year. I was previously at Long Tall Sally and what drew me to Weird Fish was that the business has bags of potential. We’ve been moving at pace for the past year, changing various things and knitting systems together in terms of the whole omnichannel offering. We’ve replatformed, for instance. It has been high speed change, which has been good fun, challenging and stressful.

RS: Are you an omnichannel or a multi-channel man?
GD: I don’t really care, you can call it what you like. No consumer in the history of the world has ever said, I’m going omnichannel shopping. They just care about the product, service and how it’s delivered.

RS: What are the biggest challenges currently facing your business?
GD: Broadening brand awareness; the customers who know us love us. And continuing to knit together the systems; we have a website that’s good but there is room for improvement as to the level of service it gives. I’m trying to push that forward with regards to delivery options, Click and Collect, integration with platforms, payment options, boosting the checkout process. There is lots of stuff we’re working on which will be good for the customers. We’re doing OK as we’ve got a high net promoter score and third party reviews that are 99 per cent positive. That’s great but my job is never to be happy.

RS: You mentioned Click and Collect. You have 11 stores, what would the model be?
GD: We’re looking at CollectPlus and all those other ‘deliver to a convenient location’ services. So that as well as the stores.

RS: What are the biggest opportunities for your business?

GD: Just doing more for the customer; rather than how we can increase conversion rates or monitise more things, I tend to look at it from the customer perspective, how can we be more relevant to them and find new people and give them a great service? We tend to follow on technology roll-outs as we’re a small company, we can’t take flights of fancy with money we don’t have. We tend to see what customers like and follow that. So, Click and Collect, platform integration, these are huge opportunities for us, as is knitting everything together; if you walk in to a store, for instance, staff can see your whole online order history. And if you go online you can see your retail transaction history. I guess we call it omnichannel, but it’s really customer service.

RS: Who is your typical customer?
GD: We don’t really have one, but it’s more of a lifestyle than an age thing, wholesome, outdoorsy living. Walks on the beach in the middle of winter, bike rides, making the weekends really special, that’s what we’re about.

RS: In terms of technology roll-outs etc, what have you got planned for the next 12 months?
GD: We’re currently working with ChannelAdvisor on the platforms to give us more international reach and improve our UK experience for customers. We’re also looking at an international delivery solution. We currently ship to around 50 countries but we’re working on multi-currency payment options and increased delivery options. International is about six per cent of our online sales right now, but it’s a real opportunity. We want to give those customers a better service, so they don’t have to pay in pounds and pay duty and so on. Tablet ordering in-store and, as previously mentioned, Click and Collect. There are also lots of plumbing issues, how our email database integrates with our customer database, making sure they talk to eachother.

RS: Is the future of retail mobile, online, physical stores or a mixture of all three?

GD: You can’t separate them. The future of retail is what consumers want. It’s a mug’s game to predict it. Ten years ago the future of grocery retail was bigger and bigger hypermarkets, but now the future is food shopping five or six times a week. Who would have predicted that? Consumers will work out what they want and it’s the job of retailers to be relevant to their consumer set and, particularly for a business of our size, not to worry too much about futurology and all that malarkey. Clearly mobile devices are driving huge change, but ultimately it’s about having a great product, finding people who want it and then giving them a great service with that transaction. No matter how fancy your website is, you’ll never sell a bad product.

RS: So there is still a role for the physical store?
GD: Absolutely. We’re really into finding new fabrics and making clothes out of them, that doesn’t always translate well to the online environment. Clothing is still predominantly driven by the physical store. It’s exceptionally hard to make that work online, end-to-end, although it obviously has a part to play in that journey. You can’t take the store out of the loop yet and I think we’re some way from that. Humans are creatures who like to use all their senses and they’re also very social creatures. Online is the very antithesis of that. It’s a tool and needs to be seen as that. It’s a means to an end, it’s not the end itself. Sometimes people in the technology journalism sector get excited about technology for technology’s sake.

RS: How would you describe the shopping experience provided by your company?
GD: It’s my job to be unhappy about everything we do, but our customers rave about our website and service. Replatforming in November meant that it’s now responsive. Sell a good product and the rest is detail.

RS: What are the challenges of delivering an omnichannel customer experience?
GD: It’s bloody hard as you have to knit together systems; it’s time and money, mostly time, you have to do things sequentially. We don’t have project teams so can only do a certain amount of things in a year. And you have to do them in an order when actually you want to do them all at once. There’s the need to be sequential because of internal resources. Steve Jobs said, the art of leadership is working out what not to do. And that’s very true. Start a few things and do them well and don’t get frustrated at what you can’t do.

RS: What omnichannel trends do you see emerging in 2015?
GD: Black Friday will be a big story again this year. Particularly in fashion it was an opportunity to make up for a diabolical October, so lots of retailers went big on it and consumers responded. We see it as an exciting opportunity and not a bad thing, although there were huges issues with logistics, as seen with Yodel and M&S. A lot of people got a big scare so managing the peaks is a key thing this year. Elsewhere, I think it’s a case of a continuation of trends. The PC has died and been replaced by tablets. One of our challenges is we use PCs in the office but our customers use tablets. Another omnichannel trend is around delivery; customers want a multitude of delivery options; we’ve added a lot of cost in to that as retailers and the competition on free or low cost delivery and a plethora of options and contact points, has made it quite a low margin business. I don’t know if anyone will try and break that trend and rationalise it, but there is a challenge for retailers to balance all the options with the cost of providing them.

RS: Is Amazon the dominant force here? I’m thinking of its recent launch of Prime Now in select areas of Manhattan. Two hour delivery is free and one hour delivery is available for $7.99. That raised a lot of eyebrows as to how they can make it pay.
GD: They don’t need to as they retail at a loss and are happy with that. Of the top 50 US e-commerce retailers, 49 of them are businesses that have a website, one of them is just online and that’s Amazon. If the other 49 are multi-channel, worry about them. Amazon’s whole pitch is price and service, they’re not about product, you can get what they sell elsewhere. They’re the new Argos. But I’ve got a product you can’t get elsewhere. And that’s what most retailers have, from Weird Fish to Burberry and all points inbetween, we’re selling a unique product and are in control of our brand experience. We don’t have to offer one or two hour delivery slots. On that side, Amazon to a degree can be ignored.

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