Emma Bonar from Karen Millen – Podcast Transcript

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Shaun Ryan:  [0:04] Hi, I’m Shaun Ryan from SLI Systems, and this is the Ecommerce Podcast. Today, I’m talking to Emma Bonar from Karen Millen in the U.K. Welcome, Emma.

Emma Bonar:  [0:13] Hi.

Shaun:  [0:15] Now, Emma, the traditional question to get us started: can you remember the first thing you ever bought online?

Emma:  [0:21] Wow. [laughs] Gosh, that must have been a long time ago. I suspect it was a book from Amazon.

Shaun:  [0:28] A book from Amazon. It’s a very common answer to this question.

Emma:  [0:32] Yeah, I’m sure it is.

Shaun:  [0:33] What was the most recent thing you bought?

Emma:  [0:36] Oh dear. Embarrassingly enough, Karen Millen clothes. I have to do test purchases. I end up keeping them all. It’s dreadful.

Shaun:  [0:46] But you like the product.

Emma:  [0:49] I love the products.

Shaun:  [0:51] Fantastic. Emma, can you give me a little bit of background on yourself?

Emma:  [0:56] Sure. I’ve been working in ecommerce for about ‑ well, I’ve been working in web for about 12 years now. Started off working for the metropolitan police at Scotland Yard running their website in the very early days when most people didn’t even have an email address. [1:15] It was actually a complete surprise that I was running a website because I’d been doing online research in the library, and I thought I was going to be working in the press office. On my first day, they showed me into this little room and said, “Here you go. You’re running a website. Off you go.”

[1:32] I thought, “OK. Better go and buy a book on HTML.” It was obviously a fantastic way of learning. Nothing like really being flown in and learning on the job. I taught myself HTML in a week.

Shaun:  [1:44] Wow. What sort of content did they have on their website back then?

Emma:  [1:48] Very little. It was mostly contact numbers for local police stations and a little bit of news from the press team. We did quite a lot of development around alternating the news content and setting up proper email contacts. [2:10] In those days, my email address was newsscotlandyard@metpolice, and I used to get people reporting the most horrific things that they’d seen on the Internet. They’d send me things to my email account. I stopped opening attachments entirely after about the first week. It was horrible. Yeah, there’s some naughty stuff out there.

There were some really fun bits. Because it was so early on, they were quite keen to let coppers design their own websites, so I’d train them how to do it, they’d go away, then buy something off [inaudible 0: [2:32] 02:46] some page and come back with some horrific thing full of flashing lights and music, and that would go onto the corporate website.

Shaun:  [2:55] It was the early days. It was the Wild West.

Emma:  [3:00] Yeah. Times have changed.

Shaun:  [3:03] When did you first get into ecommerce?

Emma:  [3:07] I started at Bupa in about 2002 and helped setting up their health insurance‑purchasing online system, which was also fairly complex. Obviously, trying to sell health insurance products online with no… [3:27] Of course, those were the days of dial‑up, so you’d do a click‑to‑call. Someone would click and put their phone number, and then they’d have to disconnect from the Internet so that someone could call them back. So, the whole purchasing online thing didn’t work all that well at that stage.

Shaun:  [3:45] Yeah, that’s all part of the trial and error, isn’t it?

Emma:  [3:47] Yeah, absolutely. No one thought of that at the time.

Shaun:  [3:52] How long have you been at Karen Millen?

Emma:  [3:57] Two‑and‑a‑half years now.

Shaun:  [3:59] Great. Can you tell me a little bit about Karen Millen? What are you guys doing? How long have you been around?

Emma:  [4:08] The brand’s been around for 30 years. It’s our 30th anniversary next year. Started off selling shirts as a sort of party plan and then it expanded to I think we’ve got around 300 stores worldwide now. Our online store is by far our biggest store. We went transactional in 2007, and we’ve probably quadrupled what we were taking in 2008 by now, so it’s really exploded. [inaudible 0: [4:23] 04:38] out there.

Shaun:  [4:40] That’s fantastic. You’ve got, how many stores did you say?

Emma:  [4:44] Around 300.

Shaun:  [4:45] Three hundred. And what countries are you operating in?

Emma:  [4:48] Everywhere. I think we’ve got a store in New Zealand and Australia. We’ve got 12 in the States. We’ve got quite a few in Saudi, loads in Russia, 13 off in Eastern Europe, and just around here, Europe, and 100‑and‑something in the U.K. But, I think it was last year that the number of international stores that we have overtook the number that we have at home.

Shaun:  [5:14] Wow, so it really is a global brand now.

Emma:  [5:18] Yeah, it is, which we’re trying to reflect online, although at the moment we only deliver to 20 countries.

Shaun:  [5:25] Only 20.

Emma:  [laughs] [5:27] Yeah.

Shaun:  [5:29] That’s still a pretty good effort. Is your website all in English, or do you have different ‑ I suppose most of those countries you mentioned are English speaking.

Emma:  [5:37] Actually, the majority of the jurisdictions that we sell more in tend not to be English speaking, but we don’t have the ability to completely internationalize the site at the moment. We have own‑language home pages, and we have custom services and test conditions and delivery information in five languages. [5:59] But, apart from that, it’s all English, which is definitely a bit of an issue, and certainly the plan for next year is to launch in five different countries own‑language sites.

Shaun:  [6:10] OK, wow. That must be a big effort to try and keep up, because I know just trying to keep accurate and compelling…

Emma:  [6:22] Yeah, [inaudible 0:06:23] point of view, it is a bit of a nightmare.

Shaun:  [6:25] Trying to do it in English is a challenge, let alone trying to replicate that effectively.

Emma:  [6:31] Yeah, especially when you have to do things quickly, when you’re trying to respond to user behavior. So, you change the home page and then you go, “Damn, I’ve got to it in five other languages as well.”

Shaun:  [6:42] Yes, you really need a system. You said the online store is your biggest store. Can you share with us how much you sell online per month?

Emma:  [6:52] Gosh, per month. That will be quite astonishing. Well, I suppose on an average week we make around $200,000 net, whatever that averages out.

Shaun:  [7:10] So about four times that per month. That’s great. You’ve quadrupled since 2008. Do you see that sort of growth continuing in the upcoming years?

Emma:  [7:17] It’s continuing. It’s not continuing as fast. I don’t know whether that’s economic downturn or whatever the factors are. We’re doing quite a lot of site surveys at the moment to try and figure out what people are using the site for, and there seems to be a move towards people researching online and then going into stores. [7:36] Obviously, from my point of view it’s a shame because it doesn’t look so good for my bottom line. The brand as a whole is doing incredibly well, and the website seems to be responsible for quite a lot of that.

Shaun:  [7:47] You’re in charge of the online store. You don’t get any credit or recognition for the influence the online site has for the offline purchases.

Emma:  [7:57] No, sadly not. I’ve been trying to figure out a way of measuring it so that if a customer could tell the sales assistant why they came into the store and I could get a little credit against that sale, that would be perfect. But no, there doesn’t seem to be a way of doing it. [8:13] We’re working on integrated CRM at the moment, and once that’s up and running, we’ll be able to measure that sort of thing more easily or at least be able to track people that we know shop online when they shop in stores, which at the moment we can’t do.

Shaun:  [8:26] Right. So, if someone’s logged in and they’re part of a loyalty scheme you can then link them together.

Emma:  [8:32] Yes, exactly. We’ve got a VIP program at the moment for the top‑spending customers, which is a very limited group at the moment. We’re planning to roll it out a lot more widely once we’ve got CRM set up properly. [8:43] But, with those customers, because they’re known in the stores and I know who they are online, we can actually track their behavior quite intensively, which is quite interesting.

Shaun:  [8:53] Yes, I have a feeling that once you do that, the online stores’ importance is going to rise considerably. I remember seeing a presentation from Macy’s ‑ and I’m trying to remember where it was at, whether it was eTail or Internet Retailer show in the U.S. where they actually did some research into how many offline purchases were influenced by the store. It was phenomenal. It was like ‑ gosh, I forget the number.

Emma:  [9:21] Gosh, you have to find out. I really would like to see that. [laughs]

Shaun:  [9:26] I will find it. It’s like 50 or 80 percent or something like that. It was an astounding number of purchases were influenced.

Emma:  [9:35] It’s not in any way surprising, now, is it? I certainly shop like that now, and I’m sure that the majority of people don’t just shop online or just shop in stores anymore.

Shaun:  [9:46] No, exactly.

Emma:  [9:48] So, a way of measuring it would just be great.

Shaun:  [9:50] I imagine if it’s working correctly, you’re also driving traffic. You’re encouraging people to visit the offline stores to visit the online store as well. Is there promotion of the online store in the physical stores themselves?

Emma:  [10:06] A limited amount, I think I’d say. After I started, it took me about a year to get the URL put in the windows and on the packaging and on the bags, and that’s pretty much all we’ve got at the moment. [10:20] Certainly, the stores’ attitudes have changed. They used to see the website as a bit of a threat, I think. Certainly I’ve got stories of people going into Karen Millen stores and hearing the shops say, “Oh, I wouldn’t bother to trying the website. There’s never anything on there,” or, “It takes a very long time to be delivered. I wouldn’t bother. We’ll just find it from another store for you.”

[10:43] But, I don’t think that’s happening so much now. I think they’re beginning to recognize the value of it ‑ it drives people to the stores ‑ finally.

Shaun:  [10:51] So how do you get new people to your site? How have you achieved that growth?

Emma:  [10:57] All the traditional online marketing techniques. We do quite a lot of work with affiliates, obviously PPC and SEO. We’ve just started trialing behavioral targeting, which is interesting. It’s a little bit spooky. I keep getting questions from people going, “Why are we advertising on random sites?” [11:18] “Oh, I didn’t realize we were.”

Shaun:  [11:22] So, this is display advertising you’re doing?

Emma:  [11:28] Yes.

Shaun:  [11:29] Is this like retargeting?

Emma:  [11:31] Yes, it is. It’s based on what you’ve been looking at on the site, and you’ll see it again. It’s actually remarkably successful, considering how spooky it is. It is remarkably successful. It’s worked on me in the past as well. I’m a marketeer and I know all about behavioral retargeting, and I still fall for it.

Shaun:  [11:49] It’s useful. You may forget that you’ve ‑ well, you get distracted. You see an ad for the site you were on previously, and it’s useful. It doesn’t work very well for me, because I’m very often visiting our customer’s site to look at the site.

Emma:  [12:05] Yeah, you’re seeing completely random things that you’re not interested in at all.

Shaun:  [12:08] Yes, so I may get women’s fashion, for example, being retargeted to me. It’s just not working. But, I think I’m the exception there. [12:15] So, who are you using to do that? What service are you using for your behavioral targeting?

Emma:  [12:22] We’re working with a company called MyThings at the moment on a six‑month trial to see just how successful it is. But, at the moment I’m really [inaudible 0:12:30] to the results.

Shaun:  [12:33] Great. What do you see as the biggest opportunities you have online?

Emma:  [12:37] Certainly international expansion. We’re launching a separate U.S. website in November, which will be [inaudible 0:12:47] from the U.S. and managed out there as well. Obviously, that’s a massive market and should be quite successful for us. [12:55] But, it’s a bit of a challenge because we don’t have the brand recognition out there that we’ve got in the U.K., so there are some interesting issues, certainly in terms of the traffic marketing techniques that we use here just aren’t going to be anything like as successful in the States.

Shaun:  [13:13] Yes, they’re different markets.

Emma:  [13:16] Yeah, absolutely. At the moment, I predominantly do brand PPC, and it works very well for me, but there’s no point doing that in the U.S.

Shaun:  [13:26] Because no one’s searching for your brand.

Emma:  [13:28] No one knows who we are.

Shaun:  [13:30] So, how are you going to get around that?

Emma:  [13:34] Well, I’ve been doing a fair amount of research into competitors out there. I’m looking at what they’re doing. I think it is interesting, because everyone has this perception that the U.S. is so terribly far ahead of everyone else with what they’re doing online, and I’m not sure that they are. I just think that they’re doing it in a slightly [inaudible 0:13:50] way. [13:52] I think we’re going to repurpose the site slightly so it feels a bit more commercial, because in the U.K. we’ve tried very hard to come in as a designer brand. It feels very designery, and it’s not in‑your‑face sales, whereas I think in the U.S., everybody’s just selling at you from the first page. I think we’re probably going to have to go more in that direction. It’s a bit of a shame, but if that’s what people expect…

[14:15] We’re also going to work with the same affiliate management company that we use over here in the U.S., and we can hopefully piggyback on some of the relationships we’ve got with sites in the U.K. who have sister sites over there. So, even though they may not know who we are, we will be able to talk to them through our U.K. partners.

Shaun:  [14:35] Excellent. That’s a huge opportunity. I imagine it’ll take up a lot of your time. Can you tell me a little bit about your site itself and the technologies you’re using? What ecommerce platform are you using?

Emma:  [14:51] It sits on BT Fresca’s ecommerce platform, as many ecommerce sites over here do, and we’ve been with them since it went transactional.

Shaun:  [15:02] OK, great. What else are you using? What works, and what else are you looking to put in?

Emma:  [15:10] We are integrating with a CRM platform as I speak, in fact, which is BT Expedite, so a bit of a BT crossover going on there. What else do we use? My mind’s just gone blank.

Shaun:  [15:29] Well, that’s OK. We can come back to that. What are your biggest problems at the moment? What are the things that are keeping you awake at night?

Emma:  [laughs] [15:38] Obviously, the challenge of driving more sales and making effective use of the marketing channels that we’ve got which has no cost. Email does very well for us, but I think it can be working much harder. We’re working quite hard on analysis and testing to see where the opportunities are. I think the problem that I have with it is sometimes it just seems to be quite random when it works. It’s quite difficult to tell. Weirdly, the best time for me to send an email seems to be between 8: [15:59] 00 and 10:00 in the evening.

[16:15] Is my Karen Millen shopper sitting there with a glass of Chardonnay on her laptop in the evening shopping? I think she is, so I need to find a good way of targeting my Chardonnay shoppers.

Shaun:  [16:27] That’s interesting. I know for a lot of our customers we’ll see the shopping peaks happen during the workday. So, people are shopping from their computers at work, and then it drops off a little bit outside of work hours.

Emma:  [16:45] Yeah, we definitely see that around lunchtime. There’s a peak there. But, the biggest peak is definitely when everyone’s at home. We still get quite a lot after midnight, which I guess are the post‑pub shoppers.

Shaun:  [16:57] That could be quite a different shopping experience again, couldn’t it?

Emma:  [17:01] It really could. I should really look into that and see whether the order values are much higher. “I’ll get three of that dress.” [laughter]

Shaun:  [17:12] What size team do you have in your ecommerce operation running your online store?

Emma:  [17:20] Not nearly big enough. I’ve got a content editor and a creative assistant who takes the photos of the products and uploads them and does a little bit of design work, and then two merchandisers, and then there’s me. [17:39] There’s a group IT resource that we can tap into as well. There’s a developer who we use quite a lot, and then there’s someone who manages customers and sends our emails.

Shaun:  [17:51] With a fashion site, I imagine, you’re continuously bringing out new stuff. How often are you releasing new products?

Emma:  [17:59] We have new launches every week, which is around 30 products every week, so it’s really nonstop. There’s never a point where you can go, “I’m just going to take a bit of breather this week and analyze what’s going on with the site,” and sort out all those little nitty usability issues that you know you’ve got but you never get around to doing. There’s never a point when you can do that.

Shaun:  [18:20] What are your most popular products on your site?

Emma:  [18:25] Dresses, by a very, very big margin. At the moment, dresses are making up around 60 percent of the mix. It does reflect the bricks‑and‑mortar stores to an extent, but actually it’s a bigger proportion than it is in bricks and mortar.

Shaun:  [18:39] Do you learn anything from your users on your online store? Do you get any insights from them that can help the overall direction of what you should be selling?

Emma:  [18:55] Yeah. Certainly we use on‑site search results to determine what we’re going to be promoting in emails. We know lots of people are looking for maxi dresses, which has the number‑one search result. I’m sure everyone’s saying the same thing. It’s been the number‑one search result for about the last six weeks, which is a bit of a challenge for us since we don’t really sell them. I think we have one. [19:23] But, we can use that sort of data. We also use what people are talking about on Facebook quite a lot to decide what we’re going to push in our marketing.

Shaun:  [19:31] Right. You have your own Facebook page where people are telling you what they’re looking for?

Emma:  [19:39] Yeah, we do. Karen Millen girls are quite very cool. They like to tell us what they think. I’m actually very lucky, because they’re passionate about brands, and they love talking about it. [19:49] We’ve got about 18,500 fans on Facebook at the moment, and it’s growing really rapidly. It’s so active. We have to monitor it all the time, because if you don’t respond to their questions and what they’re saying, they start complaining about the fact that you haven’t responded.

Shaun:  [20:06] Wow. Is that your job, or have you got someone else who’s constantly looking at Facebook?

Emma:  [20:11] It’s my content editor’s job, but it’s only part of her job. Really, it’s getting to the point where I think it’s becoming a customer services issue. I’m pushing for Twitter and Facebook to both be managed by customer services because most of the things that people are saying, if they’re complaints ‑ they’re things about deliveries being delayed and stuff like that ‑ I would be referring them to customer services anyway. So, it just cuts out that middle step.

Shaun:  [20:38] Yes. That’s interesting. Now, just before we wrap up here, I was looking on your site and I noticed you’ve got an iPhone app. Can you share with us how that’s going?

Emma:  [20:49] We’ve had a lot of downloads ‑ I can’t remember the number off the top of my head ‑ particularly from the U.S. I’m really happy about the fact that people are carrying my logo around on their iPhone, even if they don’t use the app. But, people are launching the app quite frequently. [21:05] We haven’t really done a whole lot of push with it, so I think there’s a lot of development we can do with that in trying iPhone‑specific offers and things. But, it’s creeping up. It’s very, very small. It’s like one percent of sales coming from the iPhone app at the moment, but I’m expecting it’s going to rise quite dramatically.

Shaun:  [21:25] Interesting. How about mobile and Gmail? Do you have a mobile version of your site, or do you see people buying from mobile devices?

Emma:  [21:35] They’re definitely buying from mobile devices. We’re creating a mobile version of the site, but not until next year, unfortunately. There’s a lot of BlackBerry use out there. We try to do a separate BlackBerry version of the email that goes out, because we know that a large number of our users are using them. [21:53] But, of course, it’s a bit disappointing when they get onto to the website and it doesn’t really work that well on a mobile.

Shaun:  [22:00] Yes, I imagine. Emma, you’ve got a whole lot of stuff happening and a whole lot of opportunities ahead of you. It’s been a very interesting story.

Emma:  [inaudible 0:22:12] [22:11] booked it.

Shaun:  [22:14] I’d just like to thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it very much.

Emma:  [22:17] You’re welcome.

Shaun:  [22:19] That was another episode of the Ecommerce Podcast. I’m Shaun Ryan from SLI Systems. Tune in next time.