Personalization is key to online customer engagement.
Edgar Huber, President and CEO of Lands' End Inc., talks about the importance of customer satisfaction and quality of products for the success of apparel business, in an exclusive interview with Fibre2Fashion Correspondent Ilin Mathew.
Lands’ End Inc. is one of the leading international retailers of clothing and accessories based in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. Incorporated in 1963 and publicly traded for 15 years, Lands’ End, Inc. became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sears, Roebuck and Co. on June 17, 2002.
Huber is responsible for domestic and international operations of the company and is in-charge of fostering the company’s culture to provide customers around the world with the quality, value and service. With more than 20 years’ experience working with international brands, Huber is a proven brand builder, merchant and retail leader.
Huber holds a Masters of Business Administration from Wirtschafts University in Vienna, Austria and a Bachelor of Arts from the Business Academy in Innsbruck, Austria. In addition, he completed the International Management Program at HEC (Haute Etudes Commerciales) in Jouy-en-Josas, France.
First of all, congratulations for 50 years of Lands’ End’s success in apparel industry. A lot has changed in apparel world in the last 50 years. Is there anything that is still the same at Land’s End?
Thank you. We are proud to be celebrating 50 years as an authentic American retailer and I am grateful to be a part of such an honest brand with true values and a sincere respect for the customers.
As a company, we are constantly evolving and adapting to make sure we are selling innovative apparel and goods that are relevant for today’s customer. That being said, there are many aspects of the company and brand that remain unchanged such as our values and the way we do business. Lands’ End’s founder, Gary Comer, built this brand around high-quality products and top-notch customer service. He believed that if the customer is happy, then everything else will fall into place - which is why we are still successful fifty years later. Lands’ End prides itself on the quality of its products and sincere respect and appreciation for the customer, which are aspects of the brand that will never change, no matter how old we are.
The company got its start as a mail-order operation in Chicago in 1963 and it gained fame because of its unconditional guarantee along with high level of customer service. What do you think is the role of consumer satisfaction and quality of products for the success of any apparel brand?
I believe that in order to be successful in any industry, the customer needs to feel respected and appreciated. Customers want to know that they are getting the best quality products at the best price. Lands’ End’s unconditional guarantee policy, “Guaranteed. Period.”, is our way of showing the customer that we are not only confident in the quality of our products, but also genuinely care if they are satisfied with their purchase. Which is why they can return any item at any time, no questions asked.
Besides customer satisfaction and quality of products, which other factors affect the apparel retail business in today’s environment?
Personalization is very important to today’s consumer - the ability to shop in the way that works best for them, whether it’s online, via mobile or in-store is something consumers have come to expect. As the digital world continues to expand, there are more ways for retailers to target consumers using the messaging form of communication and product information that is tailored to each consumer’s specific wants and needs.
How important is personalization in online shopping and is it possible to give information that is tailored to each customer’s specific needs?
One thing we continue to explore is how to customize our online shopping experience. Personalization is key to online customer engagement. We recently began utilizing a new merchandizing tool that aggregates search results on our website in a more thoughtful and productive way, allowing us to better engage with our customers and help them navigate the site more seamlessly. We have also applied this same thinking to our email marketing, and are taking a more segmented and targeted approach to reach our customers. For example, several years ago, we would have been mailing five different email versions a day. Today, we send over 1,000 different versions each day.
Coming to bricks and mortar vs. e-commerce apparel retailing, how do you foresee bricks and mortar stores competing with e-commerce and other digital marketing platforms?
There will always be a customer demand for offline stores as well as e-commerce and other digital shopping platforms. Consumers like to have the option to shop the way that works best for them. I believe that in order to be successful, retailers must figure out how to connect with customers via digital platforms and in stores.
Seeing the growing competition from online shopping portals, do you think that offline apparel retailing will remain a viable business in the US and other countries in near future? Why?
Again, there will always be room for both online and offline apparel retailing because consumers like to have the option to shop the way that works best for them.
With a new influx of digital innovations, apparel brands are now focusing on social media for marketing opportunities. Do you agree? Can you expand on that a bit?
Social and mobile platforms are becoming an increasingly important part of how we communicate with our customers. As the digital space continues to evolve we want to make sure we are adapting our efforts to fit with the changing times.
The most important thing is to remain nimble and ensure we are accommodating where and how the customer wants to shop. Our digital team is constantly looking at industry trends and competitor sites to ensure we are going above and beyond to engage with our customers.
To what extent do social media platforms help apparel brands in better marketing their products?
Social and mobile platforms create another touch-point that allows brands to reach a different set of customers they may not otherwise be influencing. Additionally, digital platforms allow for real-time marketing, making communications even more personalized and relevant.
Sometime back, you have expressed interest in expanding Land’s End’s footprints beyond the US, the UK, Germany and Japan. Which are the countries you would like to focus on and what are the reasons?
We ship to almost every market in the world from landsend.com – which we refer to as our “rest of world” business. At this time, we are in the process of assessing our rest of world business and selecting countries where we are currently seeing robust interest in the brand and developing an ecommerce presence that is tailored to that country’s shopping needs ranging from currency and culture to language. In addition to Canada, we are exploring how to bring the brand to Russia and Australia where we are seeing interest from consumers.
The issue of sustainability is becoming ever more prevalent due to growing ecological awareness. What is the best method to achieve transparency and sustainability in apparel supply chain?
It is important to look at sustainability from all aspects of the business - including the practices of your business partners. Lands’ End strives to implement sustainability in all of our products and our processes. To look at sustainability from all aspects, we review the practices of our business partners in both the United States and Worldwide. We also developed a supplier scorecard that allows us to rate potential suppliers to determine whether or not their values are aligned with Lands’ End’s.