Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Fayez Mohamood, CEO and co-founder of retail marketing platform Bluecore, discusses the power of personalization and Covid’s e-commerce “wake-up call.”
Name: Fayez Mohamood
Title: CEO and co-founder
Which other industry has the best handle on the retail experience? What can apparel learn?
Brands in the health and beauty industries know how to sell experiences, not just products. And they’re leading when it comes to personalizing these experiences due to the personal nature of their products, which have to be tailored to the individual. Many brands offer try-before-you-buy options in-store with testers and makeup artists readily available. Digitally, they’ve come up with virtual makeup try-on tools so shoppers can find their perfect match.
These hyper-personalized experiences are powered by a combination of great product and customer data, which is something we’re seeing apparel lean into more. Brands like StitchFix, with their personal stylists, and Proper Cloth, where shirts are made-to-order to exact specifications, are great examples of personalized apparel experiences.
How would you describe yourself as a consumer?
It depends on what I’m buying. For purchases like apparel, I look to brands to help me discover products I’ll like so I can easily and quickly make a purchase. For bigger purchases, like electronics, I’ll spend weeks doing research until I know everything about a specific item (ask me anything about Dyson vacuums). If the characteristics of a product can be expressed in metrics, I’ll spend a lot of time on it. If it’s more about a feeling or thought, I’d rather rely on product recommendations to make a purchase.
As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?
Customer service and the experience with a brand. Can I discover something quickly, and does the brand make it convenient for me to do that? And if I ever need to interface with a brand, is there a sense of them knowing me as a customer? These are things that will make or break brand loyalty for me. I’ve been really impressed by the experience Best Buy and their customer service representatives offer; they’ve really figured out how to offer a customer-centric experience.
What’s your typical work (or weekend) uniform?
Which fashion era is your favorite?
I don’t think there’s been a better time to explore fashion than right now. It’s easier to discover brands now than it was 10 years ago, and you can find items customized exactly to your fit and style. Fashion brands are also extremely accessible to everyone, with rental services like Rent the Runway and resale and consignment sites like ThredUp and The RealReal.
Who’s your style icon?
This is a hard question for me because my dream experience is to have apparel brands supply me with a few outfit options based on my size, the occasion I’m dressing for, and other variables like the weather. Rather than a style icon, I’m looking for a style technology to make the apparel purchase experience as easy as possible.
What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?
Over the past year, we’ve been specifically focused on laying the foundation for long-term stability for the hundreds of retailers who look to us to compete in the world of online shopping. This process was eight years in the making, to be fair, but the last year saw even the world’s longest holdouts recognizing that they needed technology that was built for a digital-first world.
Now, all retailers are looking to e-commerce as a primary revenue source, and they’re all competing in the same space to drive growth. This shifting dynamic has put us in a position to work closely with them through their ongoing transformations.
This month we closed our $125 million Series E funding round, which will let us keep building for this demand. We just reached a $1 billion valuation, as well, which speaks to the need for what we’re doing.
How would you describe your corporate culture?
We have been culture-first since day one. That applies to both our employees and our customers. To put our customers at the heart of everything we do, we have to have a diverse team that can offer solutions across customer types and use cases.
Our success-based business model makes it so that we don’t make money unless our customers do—it’s all about their success. And internally, we pride ourselves on creating an environment where people can bring their most authentic selves to work. That enthusiasm translates into how they work and interact with our customers on a daily basis.
What can companies learn from Covid-19?
The move to digital shopping was a major wake-up call to those omnichannel, enterprise retailers who still did the majority of their sales in-store and didn’t consider their e-commerce sites primary revenue generators. In addition to that, all retailers were suddenly competing 100 percent online—not only against each other, but against highly curated digital-first experiences from brands like Netflix and Spotify.
The contrast between the experience these retailers offered online and what others were doing—and how a poor experience affected conversions—jolted retailers into action.
Beyond retailers, I think all companies have learned that they must be open to change and be flexible enough in their processes to make quick decisions, as necessary.
What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?
To be digital-first, retailers need to win in e-commerce. And to win, they need personalized marketing. More than just simply figuring out how to generate sales online, retailers—in both apparel and beyond—need to be able to market to and retain customers to compete there. Brands should be focused on rethinking their people, processes and technology and optimizing them for the digital-first world, all centered around putting the customer at the center of their business.
What keeps you up at night?
I’m constantly thinking about how to best stay in tune with our customers as we scale, at the same level as we did at the start of Bluecore. I’m also thinking about our internal culture as we scale, especially in today’s Zoom-driven world. How do you create an authentic and diverse culture in this remote environment? How do you attract and keep the best people? We’re doing the best we can, but the future is all unknown, and it’s the unknown that keeps me up at night.
What makes you most optimistic?
Our customers. We work in an industry that is so resilient and, after going through so much, came back stronger and different than before. It’s this culture of getting things done and always finding a way that makes me optimistic and really fires up our team.
Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction:
This year, we launched Bluecore Advertise, our first product line to operate outside of retailers’ owned and e-commerce shopping channels. Bluecore Advertise activates retailers’ first-party shopper data on more than 20 digital ad channels, including Google, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and others, so that they can target their shoppers wherever they spend the most time, with consistent, relevant, one-to-one experiences. We leveraged a channel that’s traditionally used for customer acquisition to also support retention and long-term profitability. Now, retailers can use their owned first-party data outside of their owned channels.