“Think of a different nomenclature: Everything is, or will be, digital to some degree,” says Stefan Wenzel, Digital Executive and CEO with 18 years of experience in Ecommerce executive roles. In this interview, you will learn how he perceives the evolution of the industry and what tips he has for those who would like to try walking in his shoes one day.
Paulina: Let’s start by reminding our readers that you are in Ecommerce since 1999 and have been leading digital businesses for household brands like eBay, brands4friends, Otto, Mexx and McLaren Formula 1. How did it all get started?
I wrote my first email in 1993 and managed my first professional website project in 1999 - for Otto, where we built an online community for a best-customer loyalty program.
Digital intrigued me from the first moment with its rapid iterations and the ability to learn from user data and optimize for better results. Plus, the people were special back then, and still are – smart, open and entrepreneurial.
Different to the engineers and business economics folks around me, my background is in human sciences and psychology, coupled with a decent understanding of and passion for technology. Turns out to complement very nicely and add a competitive edge compared to most molded, ‘one-trick-pony’-teams.
When looking at the roles you had, it’s a broad mix with a golden thread around fashion & lifestyle. Can you elaborate a bit on that?
I was fortunate to experience digital commerce from various angles (brands, retailers, marketplaces), through various sizes (from start-up to multi-billion revenue) and out of different geographies (Germany, 5 years UK, 5 years Netherlands).
Fashion & lifestyle happened to be a somewhat golden thread simply because that’s my natural bias, but you can imagine the missions have been very different: Starting and scaling direct-to-consumer businesses and multichannel-integrations for a fashion as well as a motorsport brand; transforming a large-volume catalog-business into a successful online pure-play; integrating and scaling an M&A-asset as part of a large tech company; defining and implementing growth strategies for one of the largest platforms in Germany.
The combination of that width and the close to 10 years of working and living abroad helps me a lot in business as well as in leading large teams, highly appreciating true diversity.
How would you describe the competitive landscape in German Ecommerce?
Ecommerce has come a long way and accelerated its level of professionalism exponentially, driven by the rapid development of technology and its adoption by users. This makes it very difficult for smaller players to prosper, hence we see consolidation but also ‘coalitions of the willing’ to fight the all-dominant players.
Ten years after the launch of the iPhone we are looking at a mobile world. And whilst for example voice has started to take over the human-to-machine interface, lots of companies are still thinking desktop.
Having said that, I see a lot of tech-centricity in our industry. And customers – not only but especially in fashion & lifestyle - want more than speedy, flawless fulfilment. That leaves opportunity for players who are truly customer-centric to grab land. Large players focus on ‘science’ as things must be efficient at scale, small ones on ‘art’ but hardly anyone sees it. The intersection between ‘science’ and ‘art’ is where new opportunity at reasonable scale is. That’s why ‘one-trick-pony’-teams will fail in the long run.
What has had the fundamental impact on the direction of your professional career? What would you recommend to those of our readers who work and dream hard to rocket up the career ladder in Ecommerce?
First, think of a different nomenclature: Everything is, or will be, digital to some degree. Hence, there is no such thing as Ecommerce, it’s simply commerce. Also, moving boxes as the differentiating formula is long over, we are in the business of building and managing relationships with our audiences. Audiences that have more choice than ever, but still not more time at hand. So, getting their attention and exciting them wherever, whenever and however best possible is the game we’re in - technology-agnostic but inevitably highly digital.
Lots of today’s CEOs get caught-up in side-line transformation plays because digital is not part of their own DNA, hence not at the centre of their company. This will change over the next 5-10 years as more and more digital natives enter the C-level suites and former corner-offices.
You are in a good spot but keep learning and stay hungry. And, promotions typically follow impact, so keep pushing.
What are your plans as you are leaving eBay?
I’ll be leaving eBay technically by the end of the year. Key in that decision was, after years of business craziness, to get some deeply desired quality time with my wife and young daughter and take it from there. There is plenty of opportunity but I really haven’t decided yet, there is no need for a rush. As a side-activity, advising businesses is good fun too.
If you want to reach out, don’t hesitate to message me via LinkedIn.
Since the fulfilment of the American dream of GANT’s founders nearly seventy years, ago, the company has grown into a global brand. In this interview with Swana Walters from GANT Germany you will learn how the company is adapting to the ultra-dynamic online and retail reality without discarding its heritage.
[Paulina, EC] You work as Marketing Manager eCommerce at GANT Germany, a branch of an American lifestyle brand offering premium clothing, accessories and home furnishings for men, women and kids. The history of the company started in 1949, but when and why exactly did GANT start to sell online?
[Swana Walters, Gant] In Germany, we started our online business with our own online shop de.gant.com at the end of February in 2013. So we’ll celebrate our jubilee of five years in 2018.
Looking at GANT’s sales figures (both, globally and in Germany alone), how much of your sales comes from your online presence?
Actually, I am only allowed to speak about the German performance. We noticed, especially in the last two years, a huge increase of online sales. However, we will not abstain from our retail stores. Although our online business is really successful I think that there’ll be a progress of an increasing conflation of online and retail.
You have your own online shops, but you also sell on third-party marketplaces such as Zalando. Why is it important for a brand to be available in different places online? Does it mean that even such a big, global brand such as GANT cannot rely on its custom online shops only? Why is that?
That’s quite simple. It’s important for a brand to be omnipresent. Because of that we are able to target different customer groups and intensify our online presence.
GANT is present in over 70 markets, 750 stores and 4,000 selected retailers. These all are located in very diverse markets such as the USA, the UK, Japan, Turkey, Spain, Germany, to name just a few. How different are your online customers from these countries? Can you see any specific patterns of preferences or behaviour among them?
Surely, there is a difference between the German customers and customers from the Asian countries. Mainly, this focuses on the different preferences concerning the visual communication. In general, it’s possible to compare the behaviours of the European shoppers. There’s always the need for simplicity regarding the handling of the menu, check out etc. of the online shop to generate a great shopping experience for our customers.
As a global company, how do you work out best ways to target your customers online locally, that is, in each of the diverse markets? Is there a global brand sales strategy that you have to accommodate to the individual market requirements?
Of course, there exists a global sales strategy. We adopt this strategy and match it to the German market. We are working with different ad services such as retargeting, affiliate, SEA and SEO and Social Media Ads.
How do you know which methods of targeting the customers are most successful in a given market? Do you exchange your experiences with colleagues from GANT working on other markets?
We are in steady communication with our global HQ in Stockholm. Especially, when there are brand campaigns, we are planning and discussing the online presence in advance. After that we are always doing a debriefing about all assets and actions that were used which I think is really important for optimizing the presence of further campaigns.
Would it be possible for you to share an experience when GANT’s eCommerce strategy or a marketing project developed in one market has been particularly successfully (or unsuccessfully) planted onto another market? Is there any specific success or failure story that you could share with our readers?
We had a quite huge brand campaign at the end of 2015 that focused on our history as a shirtmaker. Spreading globally and using a lot of different BTL and ATL advertising efforts, we were able to strengthen our image as the shirtmaker in all markets. But to be honest, there’ll be an almost bigger marketing brand campaign that will start in October this year. So stay tuned for the upcoming campaign ;-)
For quite some time so far, selling to China has been a hot topic in the European eCommerce. Since GANT is available there too, I must ask this question: what experiences does your company have on the Chinese market? Be that a stereotype or not, especially in terms of clothing, China is perceived as a market flooded by low-quality cheap products. GANT, on the other hand, offers premium products.
Of course, there does exist a large social divide in China. On the one hand, I agree that low-quality products are a huge topic, but on the other hand there do also exist the typical GANT customers who prefer premium quality and are willing to pay for it. Even so, China isn’t one of the focus markets for the brand yet.
Let’s get back to the wider perspective: what are the key players – and your main competitors – in your industry sector (both, globally and in Europe). What is your current industry position?
Selling Lifestyle American Sportswear our competitors are brands as Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Marc O’Polo and also the premium sector such as Hugo Boss. In Germany, we are currently working to establish GANT as a brand as well-known as it is in Sweden.
In your opinion, at the moment, what is the hardest part of selling online for such a big brand as GANT? Have you noticed any specific new challenges that have recently arisen in the clothing sector?
As everywhere in the retail and fashion business, we noticed the rising customer need for variety and being offered something special. It’s no more just selling products and fashion, today it is all about selling experiences. So we set ourselves the task of providing our customer with a unique shopping experience online as well as in our stores. For instance, we host different events in our stores such as flower workshops which is a cooperation with bloomon, or gin tasting.
Let us focus a bit on Germany alone. Your position at GANT Germany is definitely a very demanding one. How is the brand doing in the German eCommerce? How would you describe this market based on your experiences? What do you perceive as the most difficult part of your job?
We are really successful with our online business in Germany, so we are satisfied and happy about that. The market is really fast-moving, so it’s important for us to catch up with the newest trends and developments of the industry. There are so many digital opportunities that it is hard for us to prioritise. But we are confident to widen our online activities and advertising efforts in the future.
The best things come in threes - E-Commerce Berlin Expo returning for its third Edition on February 15, 2018!
The team of E-Commerce Capitals is returning to Germany’s capital to bring back the third edition of E-Commerce Berlin Expo, one of the hottest industry events of the year. Berlin, Europe’s melting pot of tech, culture, and more, is hosting the event on February 15, 2018 at Station.
The free-to-attend event, which drew over 3000 international visitors and hosted over 85 industry leaders, such as DHL, Idealo, Rakuten, PrestaShop, Meet Magento Association and Lengow, was a huge success last year and is expected to multiply in attendance this coming February.
Notable speakers of the second edition included Karl Wehner, Alibaba Group, Dominik Johnson, Yandex, Laurence Kozera, Google, Karsten Köhler, Hubspot and Frank Schlesinger, ImmobilienScout24.
This past February heated discussions surrounding, the Russian and Chinese markets, e-commerce in social media, sales channels, performance marketing and programmatic marketing, SEO tips for e-commerce businesses and data-driven e-commerce were led by industry experts across four stages.
Following the success of the the past editions the E-Commerce Berlin Expo team is already working in full force to provide the most insightful experience for participants of the upcoming edition.
"We are extremely excited with the upcoming edition of the E-Commerce Berlin Expo. Having started in a rather modest setting with limited resources since the first edition, the event is growing rapidly every year so we’re very thrilled. I am mostly looking forward to reveal our amazing agenda for the third edition, which is also only possible thanks to all the great people who decided to share their knowledge. We’re genuinely grateful for the collaboration with them. At the time we are able to confirm a line up of a big variety of industry leaders as well as great e-commerce startups.", says E-Commerce Berlin Expo PR Manager, Charlene Pham. Here’s a small spoiler of confirmed speakers for the E-Commerce Berlin Expo 2018.
At the leading e-commerce fair speakers, such as Luka Brekalo, E-Commerce Manager L'Oréal, Daniel Kramer, Manager - E-Commerce & Sports Facebook, Lior Barak, Senior Marketing Analyst Zalando, Rob Cassedy, General Manager Ebay Kleinanzeigen Ebay Inc. and Rowan Merewood, Developer Advocate Google will cover topics around current and future industry trends, challenges and solutions. Want to participate? Attendance is free of charge, visitors can register here. Or interested in joining OXID eSales, DHL, Hosting.de, DS Smith, LeaseWeb, AX Semantics, Händlerbund eV and many more as an exhibitor? Choose a booth available for you here.
The E-Commerce Berlin Expo will be taking place for the third time on February 15, 2018 at Station Berlin. Doors will open at 10 AM and is expected to welcome more than 4000 visitors. The annual fair has become one of the leading e-commerce events in the Berlin with representatives from Google, Otto Group and Alibaba Group as past participants. Learn more at: http://ecommerceberlin.com
Mobile Commerce is on the rise in Germany; climbing to ever higher growth rates in one of Europe’s biggest markets. However, latest statistics on device usage show that mobile success cannot be taken for granted – and that there is an even bigger growth spurt yet to come.
Beginning of this year the We-are-social report “Digital in 2017” gave fresh insights about digital usage and activities in many countries all over the world. The comparison to other nations is particularly valuable to business analysts and managers in charge of online/offline retail strategies.
In times of fast market development and quick changes of digital habits strategies have to be reviewed and checked regularly. The customer journey became highly unpredictable, so we all have to watch our clients and similar markets closely to learn who they are and who they become.
A digital mature population
As one of the leading digital nations Germany is in 2017 again on top-6-position worldwide with 89% of the total population being online. Over the last years the country established its position in close neighborhood to South Korea (90%), Canada (91%), UK (92%), and Japan (93%) following the internet-leader USA with a staggering 99%.
Considering social demographics (https://service.destatis.de/bevoelkerungspyramide/) and taking into account that Germany is also in the digital field struggling with an ageing population, it is fair to say that the spreading of internet is close to reaching its limits.
The numbers of internet usage might or might not increase by one or two percentage points – if at all: the internet penetration in Germany is well advanced. Growth can no longer happen by new target groups discovering the internet – they are all already active online.
In fact Germany with its 72% is on position 3 of the most active e-commerce populations worldwide 72%; same as South Korea with equally 72% and right after the UK with 77%.
Meaning: Digital economic growth can and will happen if and only if the 72.73 million internet users will be interacting even more. And it seems as if they will.
Massive mobile boost
This is confirmed by the fact that indeed the total amount of internet users did not grow between January 2016 and January 2017. But there is an impressive two-digit growth (+17%, an absolute number of 4 million users!) in other digital channels, such as social media and mobile!
So while there was no change in how pcs or laptops are integrated into daily live, since last year 4 million more people chose to get a smartphone and use it for their social interactions. This is indeed a massive growth in an already mobile and digital conscious market.
Where’s the money?
But funny enough this mobile growth is not mirrored by actual mobile purchases: meaning a checkout on the mobile device.
With only 26% of people actually buying from a mobile device’s screen Germany is far behind its digital advanced peer group that we saw in the comparisons on internet usage and e-commerce.
We would expect to have similar numbers of usage in the mobile segment, too. Even more so if we keep in mind that last year’s growth spurt was only in the mobile segment while other numbers stayed equal. But why?
As the digital purchase activity is high, and mobile usage is high too, an obvious conclusion is that people actually try to buy on mobile devices, but it simply does not work for them!
Money flows where user experiences leads it to. Spending money is always a matter of trust, so people are very sensitive if a digital purchase experience does not turn out as expected. They follow the saying: “if it doesn’t open, it’s not your door!” And will go buy somewhere else.
In short: mobile commerce numbers in Germany are comparatively low not because people don’t browse with a purchase intention when mobile – they do! But they stop at some point in the process because it is still hard for them to do the checkout.
From mobile minimum to *really* understanding the user
If this explanation is correct, it equals to a strong call-to-action for all digital represented companies, designers and service providers: make it easier for the people to shop on mobile!
Don’t copy the content and procedures to a different screen size! If an online shop is accessible through a mobile browser, it does not yet mean, that it is usable.
Pages are often too full, visuals don’t work on smaller scale or have to be scrolled to fully grasp them. Fonts and buttons are not adjusting and too small to be read. Attention is not focused and guided, checkout steps take too long to load. Forms cannot be filled and buttons cannot be clicked by anything bigger than a baby-finger. And that’s just a few things about the template. All these problems can be avoided with the use of a responsive web design that automatically adjusts to different screen-sizes of the browser.
But a responsive design is not yet the end of the story. An online shop can be responsive but still fail to show its full potential on the device in question.
All texts and visuals have to be well-chosen to meet the target group’s mobile expectations. Next level is the question of how to guide the customer’s attention and make him stay and interact. Due to the little space on screen, the navigation is often reduced and hidden behind the meanwhile standard three-bar-icon called the “hamburger menu”. The problem is: once it is out of sight, people don’t use it to browse and interact. If the start screen is not seducing to dive deeper into the shop they will leave soon.
Does this all matter?
All this would be not as urgent a topic if customers would stay loyal to the desktop and would only browse on mobile occasionally. But numbers prove otherwise. In fact the web traffic of laptops and desktops has fallen within 12 months by -11% while that of mobile devices grew by the huge number of 40% (32% phones + 8% tablets).
But can’t we be relaxed about the question from which device the client is going to place the order? No, we cannot. The user’s clear preference is mobile.
The smartphone is meanwhile deeply integrated into our daily life and fast at hand. Customers want the mobile channel, and they will use it. If they are unsatisfied with your offering they will turn to a competitor’s, if that one works well. Or else they will increase their purchase volume on the big generalist platforms with high quality of service and well-working mobile apps like amazon.
Top Five ‚DO’s in mobile commerce
https://www.slideshare.net/slideshow/embed_code/71406287 (EN, Digital in 2017: Western Europe)
OXID eSales (Reponsive Visual)
After visiting OSCON and seeing how other companies were engaging in open-source, I decided to share some of the more interesting things I learned with the community around Shopsys Framework - our clients, partners, fans, employees, advisors, consultants and investors.
Overall, OSCON has probably been one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended, simply in terms of having access to developers. Where else can I find and talk with MySQL/MariaDB, ElasticSearch, Apache Foundation and Acquia/Drupal co-founders? Although I ended up skipping some of the workshops, I made sure to attend two days worth of conferences, and below are some of the major points that stuck out for me and how we might best apply them to our own framework.
Business Around Open Source
Monty Widenius, co-founder of MySQL (which was sold to Sun for $1bn with $70m revenue) and founder of MariaDB, recommended using a Business Source License for some parts of software instead of relying on an open source + proprietary (e.g. dual licensing). The BSL means that the code is open and becomes free software under specific circumstances (e.g. after 4 years). After a short chat about the SSFW, he recommended using the MIT license for our platform and the BSL for modules.
Monty put it into perspective like this:
If you are a service company, you need 100 developers working for clients for every 10 developers working on the product. Valuations of those companies are usually double the revenue. If you are a software company, then you need income from selling licenses - it doesn’t matter if all of your software is proprietary or open source and only 1/100 customers end up paying. Valuations of these companies usually have 10x their revenues + Y x user base.
On the other hand Carolyn, the IP & licensing expert working at a Canadian software company (which she didn’t want to name) was quite suspicious about BSL as it is not approved by the Open Source foundation. She agrees with having the platform under MIT license, but recommends keeping modules as proprietary as they tend to include a company’s "secret sauce" (our particular know-how). She also recommended using yearly fees (both unlimited or limited, e.g. for 3-5 years) instead of asking for a high one-time fee. She strongly recommended including revenue from licenses in any open-source startup strategy, especially if they have a small/niche market. Conversely, one often celebrated open source Linux business, Red Hat, has one huge advantage and takes the opposite approach to niche marketing - instead, it relies on a huge ecosystem.
The Awkward GPL License
The GPL license is one of the most disliked licenses among their users (especially corporate users), yet it is a very commonly used license on commercial open source projects. It has a strict copyleft with limited distribution. It is unclear what the distribution is (especially in terms of internal distribution within corporate entities). Additionally, GPL causes adoption struggles for bigger companies as well - every usage of GPL source code needs to be approved by the legal/IP department. That is why companies prefer permissive licenses like MIT, BSD or APL.
To summarize, the copylefted (GPL, OSL, AGPL, LGPL) open source software producers (like MySQL, MariaDB, Magento, Oro) benefit from these issues and they usually offer another license (such as a dual licensing model). As a result, big companies prefer to buy a commercial license from a provider.
Newer alternatives to the GPL license, with less annoyances but still strict copylefts, include OSLv3, AGPLv3 and LGPLv3. OSLv3 has probably clearest definition of distribution and derivative works. Unlike MIT/BSD/APL, the GPL/OSL/AGPL/LGPL licenses have another advantage for the producer: their software can't be forked and redistributed without publishing changes.
For those of you who don’t know, Copyleft is the rule that when you redistribute the program, you cannot add restrictions which deny other people access to the program’s central freedoms (of free software, not in terms of money). However, it should be noted that a program which uses copyleft licensing does not need to be published to fall under this rubric. The copyleft applies only to the provided program and not in-house modifications to the software.
But things get even weirder. Software under AGPL (modified version of GPLv3) has a different requirement: if you run a modified program on a server, your server must also be allowed to download the source code corresponding to the modified it is version running. I am serious! MongoDB and Shopware are among several businesses who currently use this license.
On a side-note: MariaDB uses GPLv2 because it is based on MySQL that uses GPLv2 as well. Additional products (MariaDB Enterprise and MaxScale) fall under BSL.
License Selection Diagram
After dozens of hours spent researching licenses, I’ve created a simple license selection diagram. Feel free to use it for your projects.
Perfect Product Approach
You never start with a perfect product - it always takes time to make software better and better and the journey never ends. As Iwo (VP of Sales Operations) told me, Shopgate had a totally ugly, crappy mobile app in 2013 in comparison to what they have today. Now Shopgate is one of the leaders when it comes to the mobile store industry.
PHP Is The King
And yet, PHP is barely a top topic among speeches in conferences. I had discussions with many developers and project managers (at OSCON, Shopify Unite, GenereteNY) and most of them told me that PHP is the most used programming language for back-ends and cores of applications - especially in the e-commerce segment.
Many people told me that PHP is a safe choice as it has been here for more than 20 years and it will probably be there for decades to come. Even in the US, most web developers are PHP devs. Also, there is a higher probability of being able to find someone you can hire who has an advanced understanding of PHP, versus .NET, Java, or especially some modern-hyped-languages like NodeJS, AngularJS, ReactJS, etc. Personally, I am firmly convinced that PHP is the best choice. And among PHP frameworks, Symfony and Laravel are the most known and preferred in the US. For enterprise apps, Symfony is definitely the best choice.
Despite the popularity of PHP, there’s no doubt that some modern e-commerce sites will still prefer JS frameworks for front-ends and this is something to keep in mind when dealing with future clients (most people told me that they would bet on ReactJS above all).
Other Issues In A Nutshell
FLOSS vs Proper Business Strategy
The perception of open source as a free libre open source software (FLOSS) as it used to be in the beginning is completely gone. From all new projects over the last few years, I got a feeling that open source plays only a small part of their business strategy. Simplified, there are three strategies:
Big Software Houses' Attention
The presence of big software houses like IBM, Oracle, DELL, Google, Microsoft, etc. was really mind-blowing. They were the main sponsors but made remarkable efforts to be speakers as well (their approach does not hit the target every time, of course). I talked about it with some attendees and they told me that open source is considered a very feasible alternative to how software products will be created in the future. Whether you believe it or not, open source is receiving a lot of hype and is in the crosshairs of big software houses just as much as software-as-a-service or cloud. But it’s also clear that many software houses do not know how to deal with this transition, so we can expect there will be probably many acquisitions in the next few years.
Side note: the US government has passed a recent law that at least 20% of all delivered software must be open sourced.
All the conferences I visited this spring (OSCON, Generate & Shopify Unite) provided me with a lot of inspiration, introduced me to great people and new networking opportunities, and helped me learn a lot about the evolving future of open-source. But I would love to hear what you think? How do you perceive open-source and what trends have you observed?
Author: Petr Svoboda, founder of the ShopSys Framework