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Multi-Channel Retail Demystified Q&A

Posted on 2/02/2015 by Emma Dadswell

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The Speakers:

John Lewis (JL) Sue Green
Farfetch (FF) Sian Keane
Forever 21 (F21) James Hudson
 
 
John Lewis is a very successful retailer certainly in terms of UK stores and there must be organic sales online abroad. Are there any plans to launch language specific websites for overseas customers?
(JL) On our website we do offer some of our products online across most of Europe.  If you go onto our website it tells you where we offer our services. At the moment it’s bricks and mortar in the UK, we talked about it a couple of years ago, but at the moment there’s continued investment in the UK shops and online.
 
Farfetch is a growing business but you have a really strong set of values. How do you hold onto that set of values as both a growing number but also cross-culturally?
(FF) Cross-culturally we don’t have as many problems as we do keeping the values alive in general. We do quite a lot of work when people start in every country to make sure that they’re really aware of the values. Also our C-Level team write values roadshows and workshops partly so they can connect with employees locally but also so we can keep refreshing.
 
Can you give an example of a question you would ask to show that someone holds the value ‘Be Human’?
(FF) ‘Be Human’ isn’t just being nice; we’re not a charity we’re a business. But all of our business is made up of people, our customers, our boutiques… For example our boutiques in Italy are passed on from generation to generation. It’s about being empathetic but also making tough decisions. We ask ‘how do you work in a team environment’ and look for how people answer concerning teamwork, or we might ask about if you needed to have a difficult conversation how would you approach it and if they answer in the Farfetch way they get a tick!
 
A lot of our HR clients are facing a balance between managing the expectations of existing staff against the engagement and attraction of all of the digital talent that you’re trying to attract?
(JL) From a retail perspective our sales assistants are living the Omni-channel experience. ‘Love to Sell’ is part of their training, whether you’re 5 months in or 35 years in they’re coming on that journey with us so it’s not quite as challenging. From a head office perspective it’s slightly more challenging. For partners working on the shop floor wanting to move into  the head office especially it’s a bit more of a challenge as  they see it, live it and breathe it as it’s rolled out to the customer but what we’re doing is the forward thinking/innovation piece. Our Board is slightly more evenly balanced now with our long term and newer partners facing fewer challenges- they are there but they’re fewer. Everyone gets that retail is so fast paced that we have to bring in new talent but it’s also great to have done 25 or 30 years- you get a badge! If you’d have asked me 5 years ago I would’ve said it was much more challenging. Going back to the Customer Behaviours, because they’re crucial to us, everyone understands that John Lewis is about building relationships and we’re definitely moving in the right direction. 
 
Farfetch has grown from having 20 employees in the UK to almost 600 globally. Larger companies would have structures in place for this, but how did you get do it without that infrastructure in place?
(FF) With not very much sleep and an amazing internal recruiter! I had a great guy who built an incredible direct hiring team and of course we use Handle for any other recruitment we do. We’ve done that in every office, for example our second hire in Japan is a HR Manager and we’ve grown it from there, it’s just a lot of passive sourcing really. 
 
Were you hiring from the top level down to establish each team?
(FF) It was never that simple!  It was like we need someone, this team’s falling apart. We did that for about 18 months and in the last 6 months we started to put a lot more structure and control into it. We started to make a structured business.
 
Did you find that when you were hiring you needed to get the business pumping and just had to take people on board fast?
(FF) We wouldn’t do that, when we went against it and brought people on board as we were in a panic, didn’t work out. People that we over interviewed and put through the mill because weren’t sure didn’t work out either. I think you know. 
 
Have you come across any challenges for your consumer brand vs your firm brand and does that affect your candidate attraction?
(JL) I think it does. When we talk to new partners that join us the consumer brand is quite seamless most of the time, the reality when you come into 171 Victoria Street where we’re based is it’s a bit 1970s! Reality is sometimes you wait a few days to get your laptop. We are working to get the employer brand on an even keel with the customer brand. Having said that we have invested a lot of money in our Head Office ‘online floors’. We take feedback from partners to understand what felt like to come in having been a customer. 
(FF) From our point of view brand awareness is our number one priority. From a consumer point of view most people stumble across Farfetch, but that’s going to change very soon. From  an employer point of view we haven’t even scratched the surface so there’s a massive amount of work to do in every country, were literally just been recruiting like crazy but it’s something that were going to do this year.
(F21) I’ve been fortunate to work for businesses that have a strong consumer brand but you’re equally cursed and blessed with that because for example at Net-A-Porter people think it’s going to be like devil wears Prada and be all glossy and obviously it isn’t like that at all. Similarly with F21 we have 450 stores in North America we’re in every major mall so we’re very front of mind and we have a specific demographic and people assume it’s going to be 21 year old valley girls which it’s definitely not. So for me you have to have an authentic employer brand and forget your consumer brand- you allow your opinions to sleep. 
 
Forever 21 was started by The Changs in a downtown LA shop, how do they go from there to being the leaders of a global business?
(F21) It’s perhaps the same story that happens with lots of entrepreneurial people. You can grow for a certain amount of time from right place right time and hard work but you have to realise your limitations. Natalie at Net was brilliant at that, she knew what she was great at and knew what she wasn’t good at and hired a team around her which meant that they grew very quickly which is why net grew so quickly so fast. It’s taken 30 years to get to where it’s taken Net 10 years. It’s taken longer but now we’re aware that we need to start to build am expertise 
 
How do you make sure that the remuneration you have on offer is fair globally?
(FF) You do want to be fair but at the same time you do want to adapt compensation to the local markets. There’re some things we do equally for all employees , for example we get (or don’t get) a company bonus and it’s the same for every employee globally, so for some people its enormous and for some it’s tiny but the fact is everyone’s getting the dame thing. 
 
What happens if you move people country to country?
(FF) We’re keeping that at bay as there might be people who want the opportunity to move to London but it’s a loss of talent for us in the other market. We do have internal movement but we don’t widely suggest it. We have moved people from Portugal to London and vice versa, but we’re conscious of where it’s tough to find people. 
(F21) For us it depends where it’s coming from.  If it’s employee driven we would support them, but they would be paid local contract- if you’re moving from London to Seoul you’d get paid local contract, for example. If it’s us that want someone to go, they get the full expat package
 
How has Omni-channel impacted on your own development- what are the challenges, thinking of your team?
(F21) I was very fortunate because early in my career I had the opportunity to work in a global way. It rounds you out- business is increasingly global and having had the opportunity to work in different markets makes you a more credible professional and it’s second nature to me to think about time zones and how to manage people in LA, london and you get used to making yourself available and arranging your work to accommodate that. I insist that all my weekly one to ones are on video so get that face time. I think unless I started thinking like that a decade ago I wouldn’t be able to give the same experience to my team.
(JL) For me, having been with JKL all my working life the journey is a great one. I’m just as excited today, probably more so, than I was all those years back. When I started as a trainee in Peter Jones (I sold ‘Lady Di’ a Hairdryer!) we had a different board and used to close at 1pm on Saturdays. As I was walking out people would be banging on the door! We didn’t advertise until 2010, when we started to think about that multichannel journey. It’s been really interesting for me personally and it’s really exciting. From a team dynamic and challenge perspective it’s pacey and we have to be all things to all people on a recruitment front. Our model is a shared service model since last may so we’re trying to work with processes, assessment and the tools for JL shops, Waitrose supermarkets, Waitrose cookery school and we’re trying to do it one best way. 9 months in we are still facing challenges, pace and change always keeps you on your toes.
(FF) Improving resources... Delivering global projects locally: so we had to have a whole HR team brought in to adapt to markets and people who are really different. Our CTO (Founder) decided to build the site and he tells a story about trying to get some boutiques on board and starting from his bedroom before they put the phone down he said ‘don’t you know I’m going to be a multi-million pound business one day!’. The other thing is we have to make HR resources fun. If I had to deliver a boring programme of recruitment training our employees would turn off- it’s great for our team to do lots of fun stuff!
 
What HR issues do you face to keep that younger ‘generation y’ group motivated and their feet on the ground?
(FF) It’s a tough challenge for us. You walk in and they say so I’ve been here for 3 months, when will I get promoted? The way we handle it is to try to get people’s roles to grow laterally rather than growing up as we don’t have a massive hierarchy so it’s giving people new opportunities projects but we do have to have some tough conversations because it’s about keeping grounded because they’re not going to be CEO in 6 months.
(F21) There’re a number of things you can do. Mentoring is key, but it’s about getting that match right. The right mentor with the right sparky generation y person can reinvigorate someone and help them get some perspective. You also have to give generation y people the bandwidth to explore outside their roles. A great example from the Net-A-Porter case is that we had a lot of gen y people in our in house studios in UK, US and China and we realise that they didn’t want to be promoted they wanted to build a portfolio etc. so we started to allow them to use the studios in their down times so not necessarily to our benefit but to help them to get a job elsewhere in the industry and it’s about recognising that this generation is going to churn through quicker and it’s about recognising that and celebrating those departures rather than saying ‘oh god someone’s leaving’ . So it’s about changing our mind-set.
(JL) We face exactly the same challenges. We have 100000 employees across the JL partnership including Waitrose and we’re doing some research the moment with the second jobber grads, What they’re saying is they don’t want the job title per se but they want to be part of something exciting it is challenging- sometimes they come in to do a certain project and they go. It’s about being honest and upfront, people do it in the partnership, but it’s not going to happen in 6 months and that’s the reality. We listen and we do develop talent, but it’s managing people’s expectations. That’s one of the frustrations, is that people will come and go and others will go on that journey with us but I don’t think anyone’s quite nailed it yet.
 
Do you take more people on on contracts? There seems to be a shift towards that as a lifestyle choice recently.
(JL) From an online perspective we are losing talent to go off and do contracting as you can earn a lot more money doing that way. They don’t have the security of John Lewis paying for your holidays and when you’re sick and getting a bonus every year based on profit, but we are starting to see go off to go to start-ups and go do contracting work, but we tend to go out and recruit people on a permanent contract rather than hiring contractors.
As a start-up or larger company you might not have the right number of roles available for the excellent applicants that apply, how do you address those situations?
(F21) The recruitment team have to build relationships that will work in the future for us. We’re all adults right? It’s about transparency and honesty; we need to keep the dialogue open.
(JL) It’s frustrating when you see a great candidate and you haven’t got the right job for them but it’s about networking and we’ve got a great network, e.g. on LinkedIn we have 120000 followers for JL. We review our internal talent on a yearly basis and we know that there’s not the opportunity to recruit internally in areas like online and IT so we know that we have to go out and capture that talent. We do tend to keep close contact for those candidates that it’s not quite the right time for them and we go back, that tends to work for us.
 
How do you make sure you get continuity across the different sites to get the right people with the right skill-sets and attitudes in the right places?
(F21) This is where internal recruitment really makes a difference. You’ve got values and you’re recruiting against those values. I always used to say at Net-A-Porter that gut feel is often just as valid as all the other things you’re recruiting against. I always used to say ‘would you want to have a drink with this person?’  And if the answer’s no then why would you entertain hiring them as you’re going to have to sit next to them 40 hours a week.
You can only build that kind of consistency when you have an internal team at the site. We did make some mistakes and it’s only when you’re all over it and you’ve got someone that really understands the culture that you get it right, it’s harder the bigger you get.
 
So support from the top line to give you the consistency is really important?
(F21) Yes, at Net-A-Porter we had 15 in the corporate recruitment team which meant we had management people in every region. Now I just keep the plates spinning!
 
We would like to thank our speakers for their expert input on the evening and look forward to holding further informative networking events in the future.