Big Interview: on agile working methods

Notonthehighstreet’s ‘test and learn’ culture allows the e-tail marketplace to scale its technology rollout as demand requires.

After unprecedented levels of traffic to in recent years, technical director Yoann Martin says the business is reliant on having platforms which are able to respond quickly to troughs and peaks.

“We were one of the lucky retailers to stay up during last Black Friday,” he says. “It’s all about responding to the demand and having the elasticity and capability.”

“If a physical store had the same situation with 50,000 customers they wouldn’t be able to speed up the store,” says Martin, who prior to Notonthehighstreet spent over a decade between and Net-a-Porter. 

The online marketplace has witnessed significant growth and now has a range of over 170,000 products from over 5,000 small creative British businesses. And this quick growth has been possible because it has full control over its IT infrastructure which was built in-house and is continuously improved.

Martin says Notonthehighstreet as a business understands investment in its IT platform is key to growth and the business also encourages innovation and creativity which he says makes it a “fundamentally different” place to work.

“It’s really about transforming that platform while innovating. And that for me, it’s amazing.”

Test and learn

The skilled technology team has a culture called ‘test and learn’ which enables agile ways of working, found commonly in smaller start-up companies.

Martin explains that new digital features are deployed quickly and then tested with customers  ̶  both  business clients, as well as end-user customers purchasing items from the marketplace sellers  ̶  before the technology team iterates and makes improvements using live feedback.

“The ability to test features and see how our customer base reacts and responds allows us to tailor, customise and optimise that customer experience,” he says.

“We can measure traffic to see if a particular feature has worked or not. Although we don’t see our customers physically, it is data we can actually capture really quickly.”

“Tech is at the centre of what we’re looking at here and that agility of software product and development really underpins everything,” he adds. “When you are able to deploy it as many times a day as you want, it really gives you an edge on your competition.”

New capabilities

While it is not dependent on large IT vendors for its infrastructure, the pureplay e-tailer is able to use this agile working method to deliver smaller vendor projects quickly and efficiently. 

One such capability is the introduction of PayPal in May which was in response to customer demand for a greater choice of payment options.

Meanwhile, in April, Notonthehighstreet became one of the first retail businesses to incorporate a new online live chat technology from software provider Zendesk to boost efficiency within its customer service team.

The e-tailer is also working hard at improving online fulfilment. “We recognise how important that is for our customers and it’s really important to bring a personalised approach to our delivery offering,” adds Martin.

But at the same time Notonthehighstreet is also looking to dip its toes into bricks and mortar.

While the e-tailer is not looking to open its own stores, it is exploring partner opportunities to take its brand from clicks to bricks which could include possible pop-ups or concessions. One such opportunity is expanding its partnership with Transport for London, where up until now it has created ‘Baby on Board’ merchandise for expectant mothers travelling on the Underground.

But through all the innovation and additional services it is quickly deploying and testing, Notonthehighstreet’s technology team always keeps the customer firmly in mind.

“We do not assume we know our customers better than the customers know themselves,” he says. “But we put the customer at the centre of everything we do.”

What’s Hot on Essential Retail?