In our recent Spotlight on Retail interview, we spoke to Andrew Stevenson-Thorpe, Co-founder and CTO at ISAWITFIRST (ISAW).
Andrew shares his insight on the important role technology and innovation has played in improving customer experience and meeting customer expectations and demand.
In addition to his responsibilities as CTO and Co-founder, Andrew is also responsible for the overall warehouse logistics and commercial partnerships. In this interview, Andrew shared with us, how the Love Island partnership helped with the growth of their brand:
“ISAW started life in early 2017. It was an extremely well-funded, fast fashion, start-up business with a really aggressive go to market plan – we’ve got a real pedigree in fast fashion!
“It’s probably worth mentioning our ongoing partnership with Love Island, which we’ve now sponsored for the last 3 seasons. When we sponsored them the first year we were still a relatively unknown brand, but after, there were not many in that demographic who hadn’t heard about us. This year is going to be a little bit different; we will be the official merchandise provider for Love Island in addition to being the Exclusive Fashion Sponsor of the actual show–the initial range will cover clothing, bedding and sunglasses—it’s super exciting!”
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A good customer experience
Customers mean everything to ISAW, which is why a good customer experience is at the core of their business and a key driver for technological innovation. According to Andrew, good value and the latest trends, coupled with an unbelievable shopping experience and a great after service are all crucial elements of a good customer experience. In his own words:
“We shouldn’t forget we’re only here by the gift of our customers. And of course, the simple answer is it means everything. If you can’t provide a good experience to the customer, then you’re dead!
“So, what is our customer looking for? I guess three things: On trend products – (when I say product, I’m not just saying clothing because we’re diversified) – we’re not only a female fashion retailer, but now do menswear too. We’re also moving into household goods which will sell everything from chairs, bedding to candle sticks.
“The customer is looking for the latest trend as soon as it becomes available or ideally before it becomes a trend. They’re also looking for value.
“And finally, they’re looking for an unbelievable shopping experience – whether that be on the website, through the app or through live video streaming.
“Another crucial element of the customer experience is having a great after service. For example, if our customer buys something that is not right for them, you’ve got to give them a really easy way to get that product back to you and for them to be refunded without any delays.”
Related reading: Perfecting agile channel strategy in the evolving world of retail
A data driven approach to engaging with customers
At ISAW, a data driven approach by measuring key metrics is really important to measure the success of customer engagement. As a result, they are always looking at ways to refine their existing channels as well as looking at new innovative ways to engage customers.
“Well, we’re constantly refining it. We’re a data driven business and we’ve got a team of people who look at every number for every step of the journey.
“To demonstrate, I’ll give you some numbers around this. For most ecommerce websites the average conversion rate is just above 2.5%, our standard is 3.9%, which tells me instantly that we’re doing okay!
“We also have a dedicated team desperately working to get us to 4%. It’s a key metric for us as it shows us that customers like the service.
“To get back to your question, we’re not only refining the sales channels that we use, but we are always looking for new ways to engage customers (I can’t think of a single marketing channel that we’ve not tried!)
“We are about to launch and promote our brand on an exciting new video steaming app called OOOOO, I describe it as QVC meets Tick Tock! Essentially, it’s an entertaining ‘TV channel’ that lets customers buy things live on the channel they’re watching. They can also engage with the presenter and ask questions for example, ‘can you show me that dress from the back please’. We have a huge range of influencers and presenters to do the ranges on this platform and we will be broadcasting the ISAWITFIRST channel on there all day long. I’m incredibly excited as it’s an evolution of our proposition to customers.
“Although we are going to be the first major fashion retailer to do this, I think it’s going to be one of the biggest trends to hit retail in the next 5 years, it’s the most engaging thing that I’ve seen for years.”
We asked Andrew what some of his biggest challenges were and how he overcame them. He explains that making the right choices, learning quickly from mistakes and hiring the right people is really important.
“A challenge is distractions. When your business becomes successful, you get a lot of people knocking on your door. Lots of things can appear to be exciting, but you’ve got to be careful with the choices you make and the projects you spend time on.
“But that energy and modus operandi is good if you’re picking the right things. Of course, we have made mistakes, but we have learnt from them, and we had to learn quickly. It’s really about bouncing back.
“We started with 5 people in the business and now there are 450. When you’re hiring at that kind of scale, you can’t afford to make mistakes, but when you’re hiring so quickly, there can be a temptation to reduce your standards because you can’t immediately find the right people – it’s key to hire smart and driven people!”
Meeting customer needs with short term goals and personalisation
To be agile and adapt quickly to the needs of old and new customers, Andrew says it is important to have shorter near-term goals in addition to the long-term big picture. Digital commerce and personalisation AI is important to tailor towards different segments of their customers.
In Andrew’s own words,
“Some of the big organisations talk about a year-long plan or even a five-year plan. I’ve got a target for a year to tell me where I want to be revenue, cost margin, and conversion wise. But my plan doesn’t go any longer than three months because the world is changing every three months!
“Digital commerce and personalization AI needs to be mastered. For example, when I serve a customer, they shouldn’t be the same, they should be different for different segments of customers. Ideally, it should be different for each individual based on our channel – based on what we know about them, their buying history and the product they’re looking at.
“So personalisation AI is important because it shows you really know and care about your customer; what they like and what you’re looking for. It enables us to give the right pricing and try to really master customer experience perfection.”
Advice to other start up retailers
We asked Andrew what advice he would give to other start up and scale up retailers.
“Sometimes, you’ve got to just do the simple things really well and then pick what appears to be the exciting things in the innovation very, very carefully.
“When it comes to making decisions, make them quickly but always assess the risk. For example, for our partnership with OOOOO, we came in and within 24 hours of completing the deal, we had worked out a plan on how we were going to execute this. There’s a lot of retailers (particularly the bricks and mortar retailers) who would take 3 months to do that deal and would perhaps spend up to a year planning it. But you can’t do that in this game. Covid has had a huge impact on retailers and forced many to start investing in more of a digital-first approach – retailers need to speed things up and stay ahead of the game.”
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