Digital transformation, the power of payments, and staying agile

David Williams, former Deckers omnichannel director, and all-round CX guru explains digital transformation in practical terms

Digital transformation is a term that’s thrown around a lot these days. As a retailer, you know you need to evolve, but what does that mean in practical terms?

To learn more, we sat down with David Williams. With 15 years’ experience in ecommerce, David knows his stuff. He’s worked for Charles Tyrwhitt and Bowers and Wilkins before moving to Deckers. There, he spent eight years optimizing the customer experience (CX) online before moving to omnichannel – championing change and digital transformation all the way.

Headshot of David Williams

David Williams, Omnichannel director, and all-round CX guru

You've been in ecom from the start - what lessons did you learn from those early years?

After five years of selling books online, I moved into fashion with Charles Tyrwhitt. The founder Nick Wheeler has always been obsessed with customers; he’d listen to them on the phone, he’d read their emails, he’d speak with them in person. He’d always be questioning what could be done better - it’s where I learned the importance of being customer-centric.

Reviews and customer feedback also influenced the way we accepted payments. In Germany, for example, credit cards weren’t going to cut it and we had to accept open invoicing. This was a huge revelation to me - I had no idea! It taught me a lot about cultural nuances and that one size certainly doesn’t fit all when you’re operating in different markets - a great lesson to learn so early.

Retailers that harness the best of online and in-store will do well.

At Deckers, you started online before expanding to physical retail. What do you think the two channels can learn from one another?

Firstly, it’s important to remember that both ecommerce and physical stores do the same thing: People come, they browse and they either buy or they don’t. The difference is that, in a physical environment, you can touch and feel the products and get a one-to-one interaction with a sales assistant. Online you get a lot of data and can serve up more tailored experiences. But you only have to step into a store to see how much information you don’t get online; you can’t see shopper facial expressions or get direct feedback. You also realize how much effort goes into to closing a sale. That’s hard to replicate online.

But really, instead of comparing each channel, it’s better to see them as two sides of the same coin - both contribute to the shopper experience and the retailers that harness the best of both will do well.

Onto our favorite buzzword: Digital transformation - what does it mean to you?

To me, digital transformation means accepting that technology is at the center of the way a consumer interacts with your brand. In a practical sense, it boils down to the good old PPT: people, processes and technology.

People within the organization have to be ready to embrace new technology. You need a forward-thinking C-suite willing to invest and you need buy-in from operational staff. The good thing is that, with the right tech in place, everyone starts to see the benefits pretty quickly.

Then you need to look at how your processes work: how will your go-to-market be impacted? How does mobile change the way customers interact with your brand? For example, in fashion, the old seasonal collections don’t resonate any longer. It’s all about buy-now-wear-now. How can you take advantage of that with technology?

The days of large, legacy enterprise systems are over.

And finally, tech is changing fast, you have to be agile to be able to react to the market and consumer demands. So it has to be cloud-based and micro serviced – the days of large, legacy enterprise systems are over.

What do you think are the biggest barriers to digital transformation?

Proving the ROI of digital transformation to get the initial investment is tough. There are no tried and tested formulas for rolling out new changes and you’ll be competing with existing teams for internal resources. You need to have some acceptable risk.

In ecom, if you’ve set things up properly, it’s relatively straightforward to integrate changes. It’s when you roll-out omnichannel capabilities into legacy systems that things can start to get complicated.

it’s vital to get in-store tech right otherwise, staff simply won’t use it.

When installing new tech in-store, it’s vital to get it right otherwise, staff simply won’t use it. You need to educate them to see the opportunities rather than the threats of new tech. But remember, feedback from in-store staff is invaluable. So, it's a two-way street.

Another hurdle I’ve come up against is a mistrust of data. People tend to favor experience and gut-instinct over numbers. And sometimes they’re right. The great thing about ecom is that you can test hypotheses, measure the results and keep what works. Then test again.

In the past, you’ve talked about implementing an agile way of working at Deckers. How did that go?

Agile signified a huge change for us. As a fast-growing multi-channel, multi-brand, multi-language organization with multiple payment set-ups, you have many moving parts to maintain and optimize. It became clear that the old top-down, waterfall method of management wasn’t working for us.

Agile has let us improve our systems 10-fold. The ability to make small, incremental changes quickly on the go meant we could adapt and evolve much faster. It also means we can implement changes faster and learn on the job, iterating as we go.

If you decide to go agile, it’s essential to choose tech partners that have the same way of working. This means no huge pipelines and fast turnarounds - like Adyen (incidentally).

Payments shouldn’t be seen as a cost-center. They’re an opportunity to differentiate yourself.

How do you see the role of payments fitting into the overall CX?

Since my early days with Charles Tyrwhitt, I’ve known how important payments are to the customer experience and conversion rates. For example, I’ve seen what it’s like to launch a Dutch website without iDEAL and I’ve seen what happened to the conversion rates when iDEAL was supported - it virtually doubled.

Payments shouldn’t be seen as a cost-center. They’re an opportunity to differentiate yourself and surprise and delight the customer by offering the payment methods your competitors don’t.

So, what do you look for in a payments partner?

It’s important to have a payments partner that understands the complexity of global ecommerce and the diverse methods required. You want a partner that helps you reduce declines and friction around fraud . And, if you’re a retailer, you want a partner that can truly do omnichannel payments. In reality, there are very few that can do it properly.

I’ve been working with Adyen ever since I helped roll out Decker's ecommerce sites across Europe. It became clear that our existing payments provider couldn’t see beyond Visa/Mastercard and didn’t understand the cultural nuances of Europe. Adyen stepped in and got things up and running really well.

What makes Adyen special is that it thinks and acts like a tech company that does payments, rather than a bank that does payment technology. That’s key because it’s always looking to embrace change and focus on what the consumer is doing – which is pretty unique.

Adyen thinks and acts like a tech company that does payments, rather than a bank that does payment technology.

Aw shucks. What do you think is the most exciting innovation out there at the moment?

There’s definitely a heightened awareness of the role of payments and how it can contribute to customer experience. For example, buy-now-pay-later is huge at the moment.

I recommend everyone keeps an eye on AI. And voice is only going to grow - it’s the way my children interact with their phones. People don’t type these days, they talk.

Another exciting trend that’s taking off now is personalized video. Consumers are much more visual these days and it’s really resonating.

And finally, what’s next for you?

I love digital transformation and the challenge of bringing that about in large organizations. And I love global ecommerce and growing brands internationally - so I’m open to opportunities that encompass those things. But who knows, maybe fate will throw me a curveball and I’ll end up doing something totally new. Either way, I’m up for it.

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