Stuart Hill is the former head of customer logistics for ASOS, and is currently chief exec of wnDirect, the international logistics business he helped to found. Earlier this year, in March to be precise, wnDirect was one of the lead sponsors of the first ever eDelivery Expo (EDX). Here, Stuart tells eDelivery about wnDirect, ecommerce in general, and some of the challenges facing the sector.
eD: Tell us a bit about wnDirect?
SH: The idea for wnDirect came, initially, out of frustration. I was working at a leading online retailer and struggling to find a delivery partner who could support our international aspirations. The traditional delivery models seemed to trap retailers between two options: unreliable C2C ‘snail mail’ or premium rate, express services typically aimed at the B2B market.
Neither option was fit for purpose and, in our experience, was actively hindering international growth. The service was either too expensive for the consumer or the delivery experience so poor they were reluctant to re-order. This is what motivated wnDirect; an aspiration to create a reliable international delivery solution available at a fraction of the cost but that was almost as fast as the premium express services.
eD: What problems are you solving for ecommerce professionals?
SH: The team at wnDirect has a lot of retail experience so we have dealt with many of the issues we talk about first-hand. The fundamental problem for retailers wanting to offer an international service was that international delivery solutions available were either too slow or too expensive. Neither being attributes online consumers generally look for! The larger international logistics companies are also reluctant to offer smaller retailers (who don’t get have the volumes) competitive rates which means, in many cases, international delivery becomes unfeasible for them.
wnDirect was developed specifically for ecommerce so is fit for purpose. Other logistics providers make ‘logistics’ their business whereas we have made ‘international’ our business. Terms such as ‘global delivery’ and ‘Europe’ make us think of single entities whereas, in reality, the world, and even Europe, are made up of different countries which have different cultures, requirements and ways of doing business. Consumers expect different things and in order for retailers to achieve success the tailoring of the last mile is just as important as the rest of the journey. We enable retailers to converse in local language, we have developed solutions which ensure local customs and duty requirements are fulfilled and we enable them to leverage our local market understanding to their benefit.
We have also embraced the smaller retailer and allow them to access competitive rates by leveraging our total volumes. Why? Because we think it is the right thing to do but we are also excited at the thought of being able to support new and emerging brands. One of the most exciting things about eCommerce is that it has motivated a shift in the consumer’s perceptions. Whilst they still seek out the big brands they are also excited by the notion that they might have uncovered the next big thing. Consumers love niche brands and by working with these SME retailers we can deliver their products to these forward thinking consumers.
Retailers of all sizes are often frustrated by data quality and the negative impact this potentially has on the customer experience, engagement and satisfaction levels. We’ve focussed our innovation development on simplifying integration and providing added value bolt-on services that provide data quality for retailers. Common issues experienced may be, poor or incorrect delivery address information, addressing formats that alter by each destination country, being unable to accept foreign characters at checkout, missing key customs and duty information eg HTS Codes, wnDirect have developed a suite of tools that can help resolve all these issues.
eD: What keeps you motivated?
SH: The fact that there is always something more to be done, a new innovation to develop, is incredibly stimulating. All markets shift. Anyone who thinks they have ever achieved everything that can be achieved is doomed to fail. International eCommerce is fast paced, dynamic and ever-changing. It is incredibly rewarding, and fun, to stay abreast of those changes and then apply our thinking to what we can do to support retailers. New markets open up which present their own challenges to be overcome and certainly keep us busy.
eD: What do your customers say they value most about you?
SH: We are always keen to understand what our customers think about us – the good and bad points and have put in place a number of feedback mechanisms to ensure we have our ear to the ground. Most of our customers comment on the fact that we are genuinely open and transparent and approach business with a partnership ethos. This is nice to hear as this is certainly our desire. In order for us to be able to develop innovative solutions that really make a difference to the eCommerce world we need to make sure we stay close to the heartbeat. We can’t deliver what retailers need if we don’t understand what that is.
Retailers also cite the fact that they can have candid and honest conversations with us. It is a fact of life that sometimes things go wrong; you’ve got a damn sight better chance of resolving any issues if you are both pulling in the same direction and are honest with each other. They also like the fact they have access to the senior team. Whilst wnDirect has grown considerably since we launched I have always been keen to make sure the senior team don’t just sit in their ivory tower but actively engage with customers. Knowledge and understanding of the retail industry is what brought us here; we aren’t able to throw away our USP by letting our interest and knowledge wane.
eD: What do you think the current big issues are for the sector?
SH: EU Competition Commissioner Margarethe Vestager is going great guns to create a single European market that will, in her own words, ‘focus on removing the barriers to the cross-border sale of goods and digital content erected by private companies.’ This is a big issue for the sector as she aims to remove the European digital borders the Commission say exist in eCommerce enabling European consumers to access goods, content and other services no matter where they live and travel in Europe.
It will be interested to see how this plays out and how retailers respond. The reality is the internet allows customers to freely check the prices of a multitude of physical goods and services. There are a lot of web savvy consumers out there and they know all too well about price differences across borders and the brands that reinforce them. To be honest I think it can only be a positive thing to create an even playing field. Not only does it motivate fair competition it will also create enhanced brand loyalty and trust as customers no longer feel cheated but, instead, more respected. Although it will be interesting to see how retailers respond and whether they increase their European prices to the highest price point or not. I think it makes perfect sense…how it is implemented will be interesting!
eD: What are the coming challenges and opportunities you see?
SH: There are a multitude of opportunities. China and Australia continue to offer significant opportunities to retailers as well as the more recent emerging markets such as Africa and the UAE.
One of the most significant challenges is how retailers continue to differentiate themselves. Many online stores offer the same products and, therefore, customers make choices based on product price and delivery options. By offering choice, flexibility and low cost, often free, delivery options retailers have been able to attract the online shopper; but this has come at a price. The consumer now expects their goods to be delivered quickly and efficiently in a time window that suits them; all for little or no charge. This trend is also being seen outside of the UK with international consumers expecting the same level of choice, service and cost effectiveness when it comes to delivery even though that parcel is traveling thousands of miles.
Whereas home delivery and same day options were once seen as innovative the ever demanding consumer continues to drive the bar higher and these once premium services are now essential. Retailers recognised that by offering flexible and convenient delivery options they could differentiate themselves from their competitors. Unfortunately by the time most people have adopted something it becomes the norm.
This isn’t likely to change. The consumer is king. However, the change we are witnessing is that retailers are being far more savvy ensuring the delivery options they select don’t just win them a customer; they also make financial sense. We have just launched wnCollect, the world’s first international click and collect solution, wnCollect, and have seen a significant interest from retailers around the world who can see the benefits of offering such a convenient option; one that allows the consumer to feel like they are in control whilst enabling them to keep an eye on the costs.
eD: If you had to summarise your view/vision in one sentence, what would it be?
SH: Never assume the job is done.