Shop Direct CEO: seize chance to know your customer better than ever

Customers are now increasingly willing to trust retailers with their data but businesses must use the information to offer them value otherwise they will "cut you off", was the message from Shop Direct CEO Alex Baldock last week.

Addressing the delegates at an industry conference in London, the boss of the multichannel retailer said the online world provides significant opportunities for retailers to better understand their customers' preferences, although he acknowledged that there is "no such thing as typical any more" in terms of the shoppers' purchase journey.

"Everything leaves a trace – people talk about big data and this is what grabs my attention," he told the crowd at the British Retail Consortium's annual Retail Symposium event.

"The customer is giving us a chance to know her better than ever before."

Baldock admitted that the process to personalise the customer experience, which is a tactic high on Shop Direct's current agenda, is no easy task – but he argued that the fast-changing retail landscape should be seen as an opportunity for businesses operating in the sector because shoppers are providing them with more points of engagement as they interact with brands through a greater number of channels.

Shop Direct, which owns, and others, as well as operating a financial services arm, reported its first annual pre-tax profit for a decade in 2013 – with group sales of £1.69 billion helping boost its bottom-line figure to £6.6 million.

Around half of the company's customers now shop on multiple devices, with tablets reportedly becoming increasingly important.

Online sales in the 12 months to 30 June 2013 represented 80% of all business, with mobile channels catering for almost two-fifths of that activity – and rising. The retailer is on record as saying that it wants to invest in medium- to long-term innovation, as well as delivering more customer-unique email marketing and online product recommendations.

Areas that underpin this strategy, according to the CEO, include developing sophisticated data science, engaging the whole workforce with the wider business goals, and ensuring the organisation stands for something.

"The connected customer is bringing big changes and it is happening at dizzying speeds that make our heads hurt," he noted.

But Shop Direct is seemingly looking to seize the chance to grow its business further and increase its relevance by leveraging the footprint new retail technology can create.

Baldock commented: "As a lender – as well as a retailer – we have a ton of data. We're aiming to transform from an old-school catalogue retailer to a world class digital retailer."

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British Retail Consortium