The ecommerce industry is made up of great brands and behind those brands are some great individuals. Here our resident ecommerce expert Patrick Obolgogiani puts the important questions to Lewis Hamilton, now Head of Ecommerce for prestigious British tailoring firm (and Nosto client) Turnbull & Asser. We find out how Lewis' background has helped him get to where he is today, more about his current role, as well as his opinion on the changes the industry has undergone...
How did you get into the world of eCommerce?
I started working at my local Topman part-time whilst at university. I was on the fitting room at the beginning but moved quickly into the deputy store manager role – this quick movement was recognised by the store manager who suggested I should try to get into the management and graduate training program. I went for it, got in, and was awarded ‘most influential person on the course’ - this gave me an opportunity to have a head office placement for two weeks which was in the creative department. It was my first real office experience and I loved it – I knew from then I wanted to stay in this environment. And so I purchased a monthly train ticket from my home town to London rather than a two week pass… I used this in my favour and requested either to be refunded the two weeks or stay another couple of weeks within the head office placement. As they say, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. They agreed for me to stay and my mentor at the time, Emma Murphy, told me about a vacancy in the Topman.com team. It was quite new at the time, just three people were in the team – we grew to around 35 by the time I’d left five and half years later!
What the biggest challenge you had launching Topman.com in the US?
The biggest challenge was attracting visitors from the states. We had a niche following there thanks to Topshop’s larger following, but engaging with men digitally always feels that little bit more difficult. We partnered with some very cool influential magazines and bloggers as well as engaging in some mainstream publications and it really took off from there. It was all part of a larger strategy to test the market’s potential – and helped to pave the way for a flagship store in New York a couple of years after our ecommerce launch.
You were selected in Drapers' 30 under 30 in 2014 for your work at Topman.com and Hackett. What do you think was the key for getting their attention?
I think having been part of the eCommerce team at Arcadia had a big part to play – I was in a unique position – just 20/21 years old, but part of such a small but influential team allowed me to think creatively, action ideas quickly and prove that the decisions we took were the right ones. There was just two of us launching Facebook, Twitter, the blog and setting up things like live-streaming for London Fashion Week (before LC:M) - I am not sure that opportunity will come around again but it was fantastic for me. Then moving to a relatively senior (management) position within a higher-end brand (Hackett) and helping to make a success of their digital proposition put me in-front of Drapers.
Lewis' appearance in Draper's 30 under 30.
How does luxury eCommerce differ from the high-street counterpart? Are the metrics different?
Hugely. The KPIs are essentially the same but the numbers and the way they swing are extremely different. I tend to find, taking away the Burberry’s of the world, that high-street brands seem to be more technologically aware, and at the forefront of development. These businesses have integrated multi-channel into their offering much quicker than luxury, and luxury brands are only now really catching on. However – I believe it ’s service and content metrics that will differ most between the two. Luxury brands tend to have to romance a product to a much higher degree than their high-street counterparts – consumers are looking for a story to support their ‘investment’, so a purchase might take a week from first look to checking out. Service is the same – you wouldn’t want your £175 shirt being left out in the rain by your courier with nothing but a plastic outer bag – it has to be personalised, premium and reflective of the brand whereas in high-street ecommerce, just getting the goods to the consumer in the quickest time possible is the key concern.
Luxury brands tend to have to romance a product to a much higher degree than their high-street counterparts – consumers are looking for a story to support their ‘investment’, so a purchase might take a week from first look to checking out.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen happen in eCommerce over the last 10 years?
The whole landscape has changed. Essentially the biggest developments to me have been the use of mobile to browse and shop, as well as the amount of data we can access and use as brands. This has led to sites being easy to use from literally anywhere in the world, and have enabled us as ecommerce marketers to make every visitor’s experience different to the next. How brands have adapted their own approach is a very different thing – some have been more innovative than others but there’s some fantastic developments taking place at the moment.
What’s your most interesting challenge currently at Turnbull and Asser?
Our most interesting challenge is probably finessing the balance of content and commerce. Our new responsive site is very content hungry – so much so that we’re almost becoming ‘publishers’ - so for us it’s how we drive sales from that content and also how do we tell the many stories of this 130 year old English brand in new and exciting ways. I am very lucky to work with such enthusiastic people who help to tell those stories so well, and also to work for a brand which has such an illustrious history (and future!)
For us, it is all about planning. Before launch, we made sure that the team were equipped with what they needed to succeed – our copywriter and social media exec had a good quality camera, time to visit and review events locally – then we engaged with a freelance graphic designer who works with us 1-2 days per week to keep the site and communications ‘fresh’.
Turnbull & Asser's new content hungry site.
This is us dipping our toe in the water of content creation and so far it’s working relatively well for us. As a luxury brand we have to ensure we put the same craft and care into anything we do – from making shirts to curating our homepage. So we plan our photography shoots very carefully – we need to get 30+ seasonal high-quality creative images just for our website, each and every season. This takes time, care and very talented people to achieve within a modest budget. As we have learnt, if you don’t have the assets available, it’s very difficult to be consistent across all digital channels.
If you’d be now just starting your career in ecommerce, what would you tell yourself?
I would suggest that if you don’t come from a traditional retail background, try to spend time on the shop floor of the business you’re working with to understand the product, the customer and the service offered face to face. Trying to emulate this online is extremely difficult but will be made much easier once you’ve really got to grips with the shop floor experience. Oh…and keep pushing forward!
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