Interview: Seb Villien, Head of Ecommerce at Joe Browns

Seb Villien has been Head of Ecommerce for the distinctive fashion retailer Joe Browns for over two and a half years. From a digital point of view, Seb and his team have developed an ecommerce strategy where they’re now building on further growth in the UK market, as well as tackling an international market. The ability to personalize experiences for all customer segments is key to the entire strategy of the business. We caught up with Seb to find out more....


By maintaining the mail order side of the business, how do you marry that online and offline experience?

Marrying online and offline is essential to get the optimum level of sales. We constantly test whether we need more of one type or another depending on customer segment. If we identify that some customers are really only shopping with us on mobile, we’ll give them a different mobile experience and ensure that our emails are responsive and more direct.

Whilst if we know that some of our customers are still actively opening emails on mobile but don’t shop on there, our emails will be tailored so that we’re giving them the information they need, making it easy for them to identify what they’ve been looking at so that when they’re back on a desktop it’s easier for them to complete their purchase.

Adapting to different segments and understanding their customer journey means we can create alternative experiences for how they want to shop. We’re now starting to look at different experiences for segments within the the UK, currently we’re gathering more data and then we’ll be able to serve the best content based on that.

How do you strike the balance between growth of the business through third-party websites and creating an online customer experience unique to Joe Browns?

We sell direct on our own website, on Amazon, La Redoute in France, Debenhams, on Very.co.uk and some of the other brands in the Shop Direct Group. Obviously, our customers will have the Joe Browns’ online experience if they come direct to us, but equally we understand today’s consumer wants choice and we want to ensure they have that. For example, if they have an Amazon Prime account and they want to use that they can do or if they are used to shopping with Debenhams and they want to add some beauty products or whatever else it’s fine as well.

On our website we provide the full range whereas on partner websites this might not be the case. We do see customers shopping with us, shopping with our partners, coming and going and it’s really about adapting to what people want to do.

With the adaptation to what people want to do, how do you think customer expectations have changed within the last couple of years? What have you seen?

We definitely see that people respond to freshness, new arrivals and new styles, however, because we’ve grown through being a mail order company we’ve had a fairly strict schedule of releases to coincide with the catalogue. Nowadays it’s much more fluid and there’s an expectation on the amount of new lines that are being pushed through, so we’re continually keeping products and designs updated for new launches.

How is the ecommerce agenda affecting changes that the business is making for growth?

A big focus in the past quarter has been the international market, and we’re continuing to analyse the data to see which locations might be the next big opportunity for us. It’s key for the business in the UK to have a strong offline presence as that’s where we’ve come from, but from an international point of view online will be more of a focus. It’s a lot easier from an operational standpoint to interact with customers online rather than over the phone.

In terms of driving future investments in different markets and prioritising the list of countries we want to tackle the ecommerce strategy has really shaped what we want to do. When you start trading in a different country and you begin to see sales grow you can create functionality for that specific market. Until we get to the point where you have enough data, we’ll be taking many of the learnings from the UK market.

And if we were to have this conversation in 6-12 months time, where do you hope you’ll be?

We’re on a journey of constant optimization, trying new channels for acquisition and trying new markets for global expansion. Being able to segment our customers and define them more specifically will mean we get a better return than ever before. As a medium-sized, entrepreneurial business we get a chance to solve lots of different things quickly. We’re well on our way but it’s constantly evolving as our customer expectations change.