Eye on eCommerce: Stuart Hill, CEO, WNDirect

In an age where next-day – and even one-hour – delivery is becoming more prolific and expected from retail customers, where does this leave the long-distance players? The companies which are responsible for shipping online orders to the other side of the globe?

WNDirect’s CEO Stuart Hill, told Essential eCommerce there is still a split in customer preference when it comes to getting product quickly at a price, versus shoppers who will always value the most cost-effective delivery solution that meets their time scale. In fact, he says standard and super-saver delivery offers are taking a very large percentage of online orders. 

“If you look at the cost of a retailer holding 100% of stock everywhere, the burden on the P&L is not sustainable,” he explains, saying local products are becoming a popular option. “Retailers are moving into SKU-based local stock, which can be offered to the customer quickly, while the fuller assortment is still available, but in a less time-defined manner.”

He says very few retailers are making money from eCommerce. “And that’s not going to change overnight.” So the burden on retailers to offer speedy fulfilment options across the globe is just too much on their bottom lines. 

“But I do think there’s a way of merging both,” he mused. “A customer in Australia orders a dress online from a UK fulfilment centre, once the order is placed – and this is where delivery providers play a key role – it offers consumers a choice, why not offer to re-route the parcel two days into the delivery process? So when it lands in Australia offer the same day delivery, but at an extra $3 – that will be the future.” 

Hill argues: "The in-flight solution gives consumers flexibility, that’s key for the next two years, based upon where they are and how they feel at that point of delivery.”

Hill founded WNDirect in 2012 after a four-year stint at Asos where he was head of international operations and prior to that head of customer logistics. Hill actually started out his retail career on the shop floor in John Lewis, before working his way up to help build JohnLewis.com. 

“When you build a website, translating the website abroad is fairly easy and so is getting the necessary payment methods through partners,” he says. “But getting the parcels out there costs a lot of money.”

He says the only options were to use the expensive express network or putting a parcel in the post, which would take 20 days to arrive on the other side of the world.

“Retailers building a brand internationally were often hindered by time-definite delivery services, so I had the idea initially to bridge that gap,” he says. “The whole philosophy is to make the international delivery experience from a retailer’s side as easy as delivering a parcel domestically, while the customer experience is as if they received the product from a domestic website.”

But international delivery has been anything but easy for retailers, especially when it comes to the paperwork which accumulates from duty declarations.

“The traditional way of sending a parcel meant you had to have multiple labels, classify your skew data within the export data to classify who had made the product – when the parcel turned up it looked like it had been halfway around the world, with multiple brands associated with that last mile, and this also meant tracking the order would be confusing.”

WNDirect partners with hand-picked couriers in the 108 countries it now operates, and Hill says it would always take a lot of time investigating who in the country was the best in terms of eCommerce B2B delivery as well as the individual delivery nuances of each region.

“We started with the US and Australia and we wanted to get each country right, get into that detail about the customer expectation, then roll out to other countries, rather than sending everything everywhere from day one,” says Hill. 

“In France, the whole Click & Collect solution was very big, very early. Yet in the US market, if you wanted to pick your order up from a shop, people were thinking you were talking in a foreign language.”

He also describes how Russia prefers cash on delivery and is very traditional stemming from its catalogue background, while Germany’s preference for cash on delivery takes the service one step further with open invoicing, which leads to returns as high as 50-60% in the fashion sector. 

“We’re very IT-tech-innovation-centric at WNDirect,” insists Hill. “What we want to do – and keep doing – is always look at problems the retailer faces and come up with an IT solution to solve that, rather than just being a logistics provider.”

WNDirect is now 86% owned by the GeoPost Group – which is the parent company of DPD. Hill says he finds it refreshing that a French government-owned company gives WNDirect the flexibility to stay neutral in the market. 

“We talk about partnerships and we try not to be a supplier with a big stick and hit our suppliers on the head to beat them on cost – we’re not always the cheapest, but we offer value for money.”

Hill explains how competitive the landscape now is, saying the market has changed massively since WNDirect’s inception only four years ago.

“But I think retailers are much more savvy to watching the marketplace and seeing a lot more choice. But the customer experience is at the heart of what retailers want.”

WNDirect offers that experience by being able to integrate one-touch into Click & Collect solutions, which at the checkout is the hardest point to develop, notes Hill. 

“User experience and how you interface with your customers is still key.”

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