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ASOS CEO shares secrets of online apparel store success
Jan '14
Photo Courtesy : Sam Atkinson
Photo Courtesy : Sam Atkinson
London’s premier members club for fashion professionals welcomed e-commerce titan and CEO of ASOS, Nick Robertson to The Industry’s first networking event of 2014.

Chaired by Lauretta Roberts – advisor to The Industry and director of global trend forecasting giant WGSN, Nick narrated to members first-hand how he went from packing boxes in a warehouse to an OBE award winning national treasure; crediting nothing but a stroke of luck (and some PR) as his secret.

Organised exclusively by The Industry, the interview couldn’t have been more timely. Packed to the rafters, the event sent a slew 100 people strong to the Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design; including chairman of Hearst publishing, Terry Mansfield and fashion editors from the Sunday Times Style, Harpers Bazaar, Elle UK, Vanity Fair and American Vogue.

Starting up in 2000, just as the dot com bubble went pop, the question on everyone's lips was how ASOS managed to sidestep the crash at a time when everyone else was burning through cash? “It was luck,” modestly reveals Nick. “But also because we had such little money, we couldn’t really go bust – and my brother had put in half and I couldn’t stand the thought of sitting around the table at Christmas having lost it all.”

Jokes aside, in the past 14 years ASOS has racked up some serious credentials. The juggernaut ships over 80,000 orders a day, to 29.5 million users in 237 countries – and the £1 billion bullseye that Nick cites as his target number is in close range.

“While we might look like we’re moving at a million miles an hour, technology is still fighting to keep up,” tells Nick. “There aren’t enough developers to do the things we want to do.” And yet despite this, he insists that he will never invest in bricks-and-mortar: “The dominance of the big brands, or the asset that they had – you used to walk down the high street and they were there – is disappearing very quickly. What relevance does physical retail have in a virtual world?”

To the outside, it might look like Nick’s on a mission to takeover but the entrepreneur was keen to press that ASOS is a gateway for smaller businesses. “I don’t want to compete against Amazon,” he says. “Amazon isn’t everyone’s friend because it undercuts other brands,” says Nick. “ASOS isn’t the enemy, we are an enabler. If it’s fashionable and twenty something year olds want to wear it, why wouldn’t we stock it?”

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