Digital transformation isn’t just a buzz phrase to MATCHESFASHION.COM CEO Ulric Jerome.
It’s how he and his team have taken the high-fashion retailer from a UK-centric seller to an international brand. Jerome, speaking on the first day of Shoptalk 2018, told an overflow crowd that MATCHESFASHION has been working on its digital transformation for the past five years.
In that time, he said, it’s gone from being a brick-and-mortar-centered local retailer with nearly 100 percent of its sales in the United Kingdom to a global company with 80 percent of its sales outside the UK and with 95 percent of its business taking place online.
“They say that we stand for innovation,” Jerome said, referring to media accounts of the company’s rise. “And we tend to ignite the fire in every one of our customers. We do believe that the face of retail is inspiration. It’s about being inspired every second of the day.”
Day one of the annual retail trade show saw two of retail’s prevailing narratives — digital transformation and global expansion — collide in a series of talks. To hear Jerome tell it, you can’t have one without the other.
Retail’s digital transformation is about survival
Digital transformation is about survival. In the age of Amazon and with consumers taking control of how, when and where they shop, retailers need to develop and discover technology and technology partners that can help them provide an engaging and frustration-free customer experience.
The smooth experience needs to be the rule from start to finish, from searching and browsing to order management, fraud protection, fulfillment, shipping, returns, customer support and on and on.
Achieving the transformation is all the more important at a time when Amazon, Alibaba and other big players continue to take marketshare and manufacturers and brands are able to sell direct to consumers. It’s been said, and it’s not much of an overstatement, that a retailer’s sole reason for existing is to provide the customer experience.
If digital transformation is about survival, global expansion is about growth. Consider U.S. retailers, for example. Many have captured about as much of the domestic market as they can expect to attract. They need to go to new lands for new customers — and in fact the consumer class in a good number of those countries is growing faster than the consumer class in the United States.
MATCHESFASHION, for instance, now ships to 176 countries. The retailer has grown its international footprint by embracing a philosophy that can be easier said than done. Jerome says he doesn’t think in terms of online or in-store. He doesn’t care for the term “omnichannel.”
“For me, it’s just commerce,” he said.
And digital is at the core of that commerce. MATCHESFASHION’s digital site are as much magazine as they are product catalog. The website is filled with fashion shots and articles about fashion, from which shoppers can buy the products they read about. Jerome says 35 percent of the company’s revenue comes from customers who have interacted with the retailer’s content.
“What people want today is really original, really inspirational content,” he said.
Moving that content and commerce beyond one’s borders was the topic of a session called “Retail and Ecommerce Disruption in Europe,” during which Roger Graells, global online sales director for Spanish apparel retailer Mango, said there might be one universal truth no matter where you are selling.
“Customers are changing drastically and quickly,” he said, echoing Jerome. “As a business, what is important to us to understand that where you have to focus is the customer experience. And it doesn’t matter if the experience is offline or online.”
Understand international consumers and international competition
But what’s really important when expanding globally, is to understand not only the consumers in a new market, but the competitors as well.
“Every country has its particularities,” Graells said. “You have to develop your business understanding what these people are used to doing.”
Local language is mandatory, he said. Many consumers in The Netherlands speak flawless English, for instance, but your website needs to be in Dutch, he said. Payment methods are different from country to country. And consumers no doubt already have favorite retailers among the incumbents. Graells’ advice: Do better.
“Do market research,” he said. “Talk to people in the market. We travel to that country. Then we try to set up something from the beginning that can be really competitively locally.”
It’s a lot to get a handle on. Different countries come with different customs and expectations. Laws are different. The amount of data that is available can vary from country to country.
Ecommerce platform Magento has pointed out that in Europe, the quality of data available for online fraud protection varies by country. In Germany, property images on Google Maps are blurred making it difficult to use that data point. Denmark, on the other hand, has very solid property data. Fraud in the UK is different from fraud in France, Magento explained recently. And consumers in some European countries might have very small digital footprints.
It’s a lot to keep track of, but no one ever said retail was simple. And as the digital revolution rages on and the world becomes a smaller and smaller place, it is only going to become more complex.
Photo of Ulric Jerome by Mike Cassidy
Contact Mike Cassidy at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.