This is a short piece I posted on LinkedIn shortly after I left Heal’s at the end of 2021. I wanted to summarise as concisely as I could some of the biggest learnings of my recent career in retail and eCommerce. It got a great response with almost 50,000 views, about 50 times my usual number! Here it is with only a slight edit.

After six eventful years at Heal’s (and a somewhat scary 36 years since I first stepped onto the treadmill) I’ve decided to take a short sabbatical from full-time work. As I stride off into the wide blue yonder, here are some brief reflections on the last three or four years:

  1. It’s never been more important to be a strong brand that delivers something of real value to your customers. In a world of almost infinite choice, people need ways of navigating the market when looking to buy and will rely more and more on brands they trust. Establishing what you stand for and communicating that to your customers is critical at all stages in the buying journey.
  2. Lockdown has been great for eCommerce, but it remains to be seen how good it is for retail overall. The high street was already reeling and has taken another blow. There’ll always be a role for physical retail, but it will likely act more as a brand showcase and less as a tool for direct revenue generation.
  3. eCommerce technology is over-rated. There’s a lot of tech out there that is basically me-too or is built to address problems that don’t really exist or matter. Try not to be seduced by functionality that you don’t need and won’t be able to properly exploit. Focus instead on tech that has a direct positive and measurable impact on your customers’ experience, and that you and your team are able to get full use out of.
  4. Spend a lot of your time finding the right partners. It’s difficult, particularly for small companies, to build strong in-house capability in all areas. Focus on being excellent at what you need to be excellent at – e.g. product development, content production – but leave the rest to the experts. When you do look for partners, find those that you can rely on to be genuinely committed to your success, not just their own.
  5. We should all be a little worried by the relentless rise of FAANG (Facebook/Meta, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google/Alphabet). Their domination of the digital marketing landscape is a real concern for brands looking to grow at reasonable cost.  Ever tighter privacy regulations won’t help either, so all retailers will need to get smarter in driving awareness and traffic.
  6. On a personal level, network as much as you can.  The eCommerce market is full of smart, generous people who are happy to share their experience and knowledge. I’ve avoided a couple of bullets based on conversations with peers and hope I’ve helped others make good decisions.

That’s it for now. Happy new year and best of luck in 2022.

Original posted on LinkedIn in January 2022